Combobulation: The Art of Kyla Hansen and Alison Ragguette
V Gallery at Pasadena City College, Pasadena
through April 12, 2019
By Lorraine Heitzman
Kyla Hansen and Alison Ragguette share more than just the space in their current show at the V Gallery on the Pasadena City College campus. In Combobulation, as the name of the show suggests, both artists wield a sense of humor and share an irreverent way of combining materials and ideas. The work is sometimes quirky and surprising, but ultimately it is the poetic qualities that give substance to these two distinct bodies of work.
A great deal of the interest of the exhibit lies in the unconventional materials. Each artist is deft at either assembling and altering found objects or making elements and combining them seamlessly into a single sculpture. Hansen draws inspiration from found and natural objects and integrates them into her creations, whereas Ragguette fabricates her sculptures from scratch but combines the various elements in an implied collaged method.
Last year’s Psychic is one of Hansen’s strongest works on view. She evokes a desert scene that blends reality with artificiality by combining neon lights with a quilt, a fragment of a building, and a cactus fashioned out of foam. This neon-illuminated installation is shorthand for everything the desert offers and is a fitting memorial to tacky roadside America as well as the Southwestern landscape that she clearly loves. In her hands the glow from a shop sign, scraps and wildlife become a poignant sense poem of the desert.
On the Beach, an earlier piece by Hansen, is typical of how she merges natural and inorganic objects into her work. A freestanding painted stool serves as a pedestal for a tree stump with a cross-section of a geode on top and a branch extended from the side. Fabric, foam insulation, a rug pad and rope add to the mix of unorthodox materials. In The Valley, another work from 2018, Hansen combines construction materials, such as Bondo and epoxy resin with more traditional art supplies to create a bizarre facsimile of a natural object. On close examination, the geodes and crystals within The Valley are obviously artificial (humorously so) but effective in their own closed system that makes perfect sense.
Ragguette’s work is primarily focused on beautiful forms and languid lines, although she also takes a humorous autobiographical turn with her tabletop sculptures. In the large wall sculpture entitled Cross Section Ellipse, the artist entwines unglazed porcelain spherical shapes within ribbons of translucent silicone rubber, like shells caught up in strands of kelp. Hanging on the wall at eye-level, it stretches across one side of the gallery in a rhythmic, calligraphic frieze. Both delicate and subtle, the linear quality of Cross Section Ellipse invites a comparison to a narrative or a musical composition that can be read left to right temporally, but it can also be taken in all at once.
Cantaloupe Cluster is a smaller wall sculpture that is one-part plumbing fixture and one- part musical instrument. A silicone hand extends downwards from a porcelain spigot where pipes and funnels meld together but drip onto the wall. The plumbing especially implies a functional object, but the meaning is illusive without any help from the title. Like a beautifully composed bouquet of exotic flowers that exists only to please the eye, the work is self-sufficient, though mysterious enough to hold our interest.
Ragguette’s tabletop sculptures are another thing entirely. These fanciful sculptures are short stories of domestic travails and are reminiscent of Memphis post-modern ceramics: colorful, modular and comic. They are more brightly hued than her newer work and far more whimsical. Her technique here is ambitious, combining many shapes and gorgeous textures, but there are also exquisite moments that may get overlooked. Though Ragguette’s skill is impressive it is rewarding to see her move towards increasing subtlety in her newer work and wow us on a deeper level.
Kyla Hansen and Alison Ragguette know how to use their materials to great effect and seeing their work together demonstrates the breadth of their craft. What these sculptors have in common is the ability to make art with beauty and humor, and Combobulation amply demonstrates their skills in two separate but equally developed styles.