Houston artist uses recycled materials to explore themes of water, life and renewal

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vital exhibit Margaret Smithers-Crump's exhibit "Vital" will run through Sept. 3 at the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts.[/caption]

Margaret Smithers-Crump used thousands of tiny pieces of Plexiglas to create the paintings and three-dimensional installations in her exhibit “Vital” at Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit is inspired by her interest in water and its relationship to cycles of life, death and renewal.

Smithers-Crump, a Houston resident, began working with Plexiglas 20 years ago and developed a method of sanding the material, then painting or drawing on it. With its ability to take on transparent, opaque or reflective qualities, the material resembles water, she said.

One of her pieces includes an assemblage of three pointed cones hanging from the ceiling like icicles over a burned wooden bowl.

“I wanted it to feel like it was something Neolithic people might do, in consecration of a very sacred moment when the ice begins to melt and you gather that water,” Smithers-Crump said.

The artist said the central piece of the exhibit, “Gathering,” conveys the idea of an aquatic food chain. Smithers-Crump arranged pieces of cut Plexiglas in a whirlpool pattern, with larger pieces—representing fish or larger organisms—circling the smaller pieces. The piece consists of over 2,000 individual pieces and took over six hours to install, Smithers-Crump said.

Smithers-Crump said she meant for the pieces in “Vital” to be open to interpretation. Several pieces of art in the exhibit resemble the structure of coral or veins in the circulatory system, she said. A selection of round, flat paintings resemble planets, but could also be interpreted as petri dishes.

The themes of rebirth and recycling are also present in a series of rectangular paintings she made from some of her artwork that had been damaged during Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Smithers-Crump said.

Curator Terry Capps said the museum had wanted to find an artist whose work would pair well with its summer exhibit of National Parks photography by Mark Burns. Capps said she was attracted by the themes of nature and conservation in Smithers-Crump’s art.

Mark Burns’ “National Parks” exhibit and “Vital” will run through Sept. 3 at the PFMFA. “Vital” is on display in the Rebecca Cole Gallery.
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