Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000 Page: 78
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by Dan R. Goddard
For El Paso artists Rachelle Thiewes and
Susan Davidoff, the desert is a perfect
combination of beauty and chaos. The
rugged terrain and prickly flora of the
Chihuahuan Desert provided the inspi-
ration for their joint show presented by
the Carrington Gallery in the Finesilver
Building in San Antonio. Both artists
like to go walking where nature is armed
and dangerous. Navigating the loose
rock of the trails as well as avoiding the
thorns, needles and other natural defens-
es of the far West Texas landscape and
wildlife is a kind of walking meditation,
a form of performance art requiring
intense concentration and full awareness
of what you are doing with your body.
Thiewes draws on the structure of
desert plants to create the designs for her
unique silver-and-slate jewelry. Her
necklaces suggest giant mesquite thorns
and her bracelets reflect the forms of
ferns and cacti. Using charcoal and oil, as
well as organic materials such as juniper
berries and tree bark, Davidoff records
the plant life of the desert in a series of
large, delicate drawings influenced by
Japanese landscape paintings, with flat-
tened perspective. Together, they collab-
orated on a series of eight artists' books,
which also feature poems by Austin
artist Beverly Penn.
"These works are all based on a
78 ARTLIES SUMMER 2000
series of walks we took last fall in
Madera Canyon," Davidoff said. "We
recorded our conversations and Beverly
used them as the basis for her writings,
which have three different levels: the
theoretical, the geological and the per-
sonal. We decided that what made the
desert so unique was the combination of
beauty and chaos, which became our
theme. You can't have beauty without
chaos. There's something spontaneous
yet structured about desert life."
Each book contains four drawings
by Davidoff and a single silver piece by
Thiewes. Bound by Smithville book-
binder Priscilla Spitler, the books are as
elegant and beautiful as medieval illumi-
nated manuscripts, but with a sleek, post-
modern look. There is no writing in the
books, but they are encased in metal
sleeves which have been engraved, almost
like topographical maps, with the words
by Penn. Along with free-flowing per-
sonal observations derived from the
artists' recorded conversations and objec-
tive descriptions of the region's geological
history, Penn writes more formal poetry:
Landscape, the breath of Manifest
Destiny. Landscape, the desirable
frontier./Landscape, the negotiable edge
between Garden and Wilderness./Inside the
Garden things are controlled, familiar and
inherently good. The Garden is created
Beauty Chaos Installation, 1999
Silver, 18k gold, charcoal and natural material on paper
12" x 12" x 12" w/metal slip cover
Courtesy the artists
Paradise./Outside things are inherently evil.
The beasts are out there, the savages are out
there./Wilderness is a realm to be tamed and
controlled/So shaped the American frontier.
In her large drawings, Davidoff
often works from small specimens of
desert plant life. She blows them up to a
giant scale, although the detail is
obscured in pitch-black silhouettes cre-
ated with layer upon layer of charcoal.
But like the Zen-influenced, monochro-
matic landscape paintings of the 16th-
century Japanese artist Hasegawa
Tohaku, her drawings are more emotion-
al and lyrical than objective and precise.
Her plants take on a rough-and-tumble
life, windblown and pulled in different
directions by the elements. Her drawings
are romantic, but not sentimental. As
part of her mixed-media pieces, she
includes scientific plant drawings from
turn-of-the-century surveys, providing a
vivid contrast to her own passionate,
Chance plays a large role in
Thiewes' jewelry designs, which are not
always practical or wearable. She makes
them while listening to the music of
John Coltrane, and like his music, her
designs combine improvisational chaos
with highly structured beauty. The silver
pieces are accented with finely cut circles
of shale, decorated with small stripes,
suggesting rock paintings or other
American Indian forms. Her silver work
is smooth and streamlined, almost mini-
malist, reminiscent of seeds or shells.
Echoing the structure of desert plant
forms, her jewelry shifts and shimmers,
changing spontaneously with the way
they are held or flung about, then resum-
ing a natural, ordered shape when the
law of gravity takes hold.
Dan Goddard is the arts writer for the
San Antonio Express-News.
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Kalil, Susie & Bryant, John. Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000, periodical, 2000; Houston, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228057/m1/80/: accessed April 7, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; .