Intensified Expressivity : Madeline Weinrib’s Climbers & Ramblers Series

Artist/designer Madeline Weinrib’s Climbers & Ramblers was first presented to acclaim in the United States in 2006 at Ralph Pucci International. The series includes fourteen carpets and runners as well as site-specific pieces. With scrupulous attention given to details of color, weight and feel each signed carpet is hand knotted in Pakistan by virtuoso artisans using handspun vegetable-dyed wool.

This series is an ideational amalgamation in which old and new and East and West are given parity, invoking a sense of balance in some senses while avoiding complete harmonious equilibrium through a gentle play of spatial incongruence.  Stasis is overruled through a quotient of unpredictability either compositionally, coloristically, or scale-wise that permeates the overall vision.

Weinrib states: “I rework traditional motifs through my special color sense.  My series is a body of work that involves a selective process of assessment and acculturation. I dive into the world of textiles and fabrics of the East through my drawings from which I pull out significant fragments.”

In visual terms these extracts or small motif passages transmit the DNA of ancient Persia and Arabia, embodying meaningful difference within the whole.  These small batches of otherness are interjected into a Western idiom of scale, proportion and metamodern color contrasts.  The result is intensified expressivity and pulsation metered through a quality of meditative groundedness.  

In her work Madeline Weinrib references calligraphic curves, sumi ink and arabesque outlines that recall (at times subliminally, sometimes more directly) the shapes of budding organic forms and suggestive of leaves and flowers.  The remarkable ease of her combinations attracts us to the subtle language of nature.  Her stylization in Climbers & Ramblers consists of motifs in pictorial space sustained through deft use of compositional devices. The artist-designer orders and adjusts and hones the spatial and coloristic worlds she creates: reiteration, enlargement, displacement, juxtaposition, and radical cropping infer continuity as well as progression and expansion in space.  Her structural and tonal mastery have been honed through years of experimentation and innovation in the field. Such virtuosity, annealed to a healthily idiosyncratic and perhaps slightly irreverent point of view, creates a riveting design sense that comes across as innate, effortless and inevitable as nature herself. What is remarkable with the Climbers & Ramblers series is how remarkably expressive it is, and how many pan-cultural and trans-cultural visual affinities it seems to contain. I discern a healthy climbing and rambling all over the global map: Western, Middle-Eastern and Asian aesthetics seem to be the mixed ground from which swells this botanical bouquet.  

Madeline Weinrib offers us a visionary ecology that expresses lightness and joyousness of springtime. Vitality and freshness are essential characteristics that permeate her designs. Climbers & Ramblers induce meditative conditions of suchness and becoming that permeate the optical and tactile properties of the weavings while an unusual palette of dusky tonalities generates an atmosphere of playful yet alert repose.

Climbers & Ramblers is an ideational amalgamation in which old and new and East and West are given parity and forwarded through Weinrib’s preternaturally nuanced ways of arranging of shapes, colors and lines that intimate the dynamic organizing principles of nature, what, in neo-Confucian language is described as li in conjunction with chi.

In the West the rough equivalent of the Asian concept of li is “emerging phenomenon” in and through which we see Nature’s delivery system and organizing patterns. The li is put into play through energy and matter, the chi. Manifested through chi is li; they go together as a complementary pair.  As an artist Weinrib’s task is to intuit and to remain true to her relation to li and chi. As a designer the challenge that Weinberg’s effectively rises to is the optimization of li and chi by integrating motifs, the design factors of East and West, as well as their respective cultural functions. Weinberg manages to pull this off with lyrical grace and freshness by being singularly mindful of the interplay of energies that are being applied and transposed or overlaid one on the other without having one system of energy (Eastern or Western) override or dominate the other.The beauty that constitutes Climbers & Ramblers demonstrates that Weinberg has been conceptually mindful of the design task before her: to embody the fusing non-Western ideals of pleasure, meditation and loss of self with Western exponents of ego assertion, transcendence and dynamism.

One of the dimensions of her mindfulness that has evidently been put into play (or practice) is Weinrib’s realization that in applying a 21st century schema of decorative or design principles into Climbers & Ramblers it was important to apply a judicious reductivist approach to form and composition so as to induce an element of clarity to both co-existent aesthetic systems of East and West without unnecessarily downgrading or dampening difference.  In classic mid-century Modernism such reductivism and its avowed implications of truth and purity had stressed the pleasure and importance of thought in Western culture and the concomitant claims of the supremacy of rationality quickly followed. Global postmodernism, fortunately, has opened wide the lens of culture to accommodate relativism, self-awareness and an appetite for trans-cultural and sub-cultural mash-ups that in turn have fostered a delight in unconventional cross-fertilized models of reflection and behavior. Going off the beaten path has been mainstreamed.Climbers & Ramblers as an artistic and cultural project is a signifier of Madeline Weinberg’s understanding of the historical and cultural roles that ornament, embellishment, pattern and ritual have continued to play in everyday life in the East and the West and the felicitous role that 21st century reductivism can play in creating a cosmopolitan trans-global visual language that openly accepts and comes to terms with plurality and hybridity. At the core of Weinrib’s successful work is her awareness that the pleasure of thought (while real) is never entirely cerebral. That it invariably comes attached with heart and skin.  If anything Climbers & Ramblers is Weinrib’s testament to her love of otherness and her celebration of how passion and reason reinforce one another.

The design values in the Climbers & Ramblers series imply an orchestration of Eastern and Western dualities; yet these oppositions, mercifully are not irremediably integrated or harmonized or muted to the point of self-cancellation. There is nevertheless a notable dimension of complementariness in Climbers & Ramblers in terms of what philosopher Alan Watts in his study The Culture of Counter-Culture refers to as a “transaction”--- a relationship between the polarities of the tiny and the enormous.  We see it and feel it in the way Weinberg extracts forms and colors and patterns from great exotic motifs of classic Oriental rugs and reframes them so that we come across them as if for the first time. The suggestion that parts or fragments play a large role in the cosmic experience of the whole is clear. As Watts writes “…dependency goes both ways. Every little organism depends on its total environment for its existence, and the total environment depends on the existence of each and every one of those little organisms. Therefore you could say that the universe consists of an arrangement of patterns in which every pattern is essential to the existence of the whole.”

Throughout the Climbers & Ramblers series the designer’s esteem and knowledge of historic motifs found in antique Persian carpets comes through. Weinrib’s deft conceptual re-purposing of these traditional Eastern elements is attained by conjoining them in surprising ways within Western pictorial codes of late postmodernism. Joyfulness and direct simplicity is embodied in this work, as are vitalistic sensations that favor the improvisational and the aleatory. The result? The rugs in Madeline Weinrib’s Climbers & Ramblers series, redolent with historical, ideational and psychic dimensions, have unmistakable presence that transforms the spaces they inhabit. 

By Dominique Nahas   ©2012 


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