Contributed by Sharon Butler / Mike Cloud’s seductively playful and complex exhibition, “Quilt paintings,” on view at Thomas Erben through the March 31, features disassembled children’s clothes – not those that his kids have outgrown, but new outfits, some with price tags still attached. The seams are removed, and the pieces are organized into loose categories such as Halloween costumes and shirts with professional sports logos. After sewing each fragment onto a piece of canvas, Cloud cuts the canvas into the shape of the clothing, and then sews the resulting items into a larger, oddly shaped patchwork “quilts.” Next, Cloud attaches the quilts to customized spoke-like stretcher bars that poke out to the edges of the canvases and create halos around them. Fashioned with plywood reinforcement, the bar structures raise the fabric off the wall and create a sense of movement and excitement, like the lines cartoonists draw to indicate noise and motion. Other canvases are sewn into pillow-like objects, stuffed with foam, and hung sagging from the wall.
In many of Cloud’s pieces, the top layer is slathered with paint, often in muddy strokes that sloppily echo the sentiments, delivered by corporate manufacturers, on the children’s t-shirts (LOVE, BASEBALL ROOKIE, Mets, “all mommy wants for Christmas is a silent night”). For others, he paints crude images – for instance, a bunny running in profile, snowmen, or a donkey. It all adds up to a masterful fusion of raw materiality and folk presence with high-art sophistication: the quilt-and-pillow combo reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s famous 1955 painting Bed. At the same time, Cloud’s sewn constructions conjure both the practical utility and sociological resonance of the quilts made in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Those beautifully sewn quilts, acclaimed for their quirky but elegant abstract geometric motifs, have been made by a community of black women in the remote Alabama town since the 1920s.
Cloud made all of his quilt paintings around 2007–08, during the grinding George W. Bush years, when the United States was hard at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but before the stock market crashed and the housing crisis became dire. They convey a kind of manic energy tinged with desperation, longing, and a sense of the absurd. During that time, Barack Obama ran for and became president on a platform of hope, but inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It’s hard not to apprehend Cloud’s process of refashioning something new and intact into some other whole, lived-in and distressed, as a metaphor for the transition that Obama faced and helped the country weather. That isn’t to say that Cloud purposely set out to reflect the political situation, but rather that the work he produced at the time intuitively channeled and memorialized the angst and hope of that period in roughly equal measure. On top of being marvelous to look at and study, Cloud’s “Quilt paintings” seem a sobering barometer for the present moment, when angst surely exceeds hope but may be losing ground. ###
From the press release: After studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Mike Cloud earned his MFA from Yale in 2003. His work has been extensively shown, at venues such as MoMA P.S.1, Marianne Boesky Gallery, White Columns, Max Protetch, Apexart, and was included in Frequency at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2006. In addition to numerous reviews, his work was part of Painting Abstraction by Bob Nickas, Phaidon Press (2009). He has been awarded the inaugural Chiaro Award from the Headlands Center for the Arts, CA; a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and residencies at the Meulensteen Art Centre in the Netherlands as well as the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program in New York. Cloud is currently an assistant professor at Brooklyn College/CUNY in New York.
“Mike Cloud: Quilt painting,” Thomas Erben Gallery, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through March 31st, 2018.
EMAIL: Mike Cloud’s shopping list
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Sharon Butler, Comforter, 2018