"Excess" has not always been highly regarded in the somewhat austere world of contemporary art, unlike the Baroque and Rococo periods that openly celebrated visual, formal and material excess. In the case of the Baroque, this excess was always in the service of some higher ideal, generally spiritual in nature. Philadelphia artist Candy Depew appears to, in her own way, have a handle on this concept.
Depew’s mixed media installation at the Clay Studio, a little at odds with the stark white space of the gallery, is made up of decorative elements gone wonderfully haywire. Inspired by English gardens and Versailles, Depew also draws from her work in ceramics (she’s a resident artist at The Clay Studio) and her work as a printer at the Fabric Workshop. The first arrangement is contained within a long cloud-like fabric shape resting on the floor. Depew herself designed and printed the green, gold and cream leaf-patterned fabric. In the center, for soul searching, a small oval mirror hangs askew before a red velvet pillow. To augment the viewer’s reflection, there’s an irregular frame made from extruded flourishes of copper and gold-colored clay.
The second assemblage begins with a similar flattened cloud shape made of fabric printed by Depew. The fabric, with flowing blue and cream stripes and gold lines and bubbles, suggests water. Hung here and there on the fabric are blue willow-patterned china plates inset with rhinestones. There are also smaller, more gestural bowls, as well as decorative clay extrusions with lush blue and white glazes and gold-leaf accents. These richly patterned swirling fragments are mounted on the fabric like froth on the churning sea.
The final arrangement is the reflecting pond: a kidney-shaped coffee table with a glass top and a wood-framed mirror. Ten tiny porcelain clusters of extruded squiggles and arabesques sit on the glass tabletop. There’s a black cloud (literally) hanging over this scene bearing 20 hanging porcelain lights. The lampshades are roughly constructed — the wetness and droopiness of clay is preserved in the forms — but are sweetly decorative, with scallops and punctures. Three cushions give an invitation for an intimate, if unconventional, communion of spirits — and bring to mind an updated and eccentric tea ceremony.
I sometimes think about William Blake’s words, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Let’s hope Candy Depew is as committed to "excess" so she’ll continue to develop this lovely and unusually interesting body of work.