Review: Artist explores form, shape and movement with thread

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

Nicole Czapinski's latest exhibition, “threaded colors // drawing lines,” on display at 707 Penn Gallery, Downtown, examines illusions of perception and space through the use of thread.

Thread is something of a theme that runs through Czapinski's life. The Bethel Park native is marketing manager at ModCloth, an online clothing retailer that was founded here but moved its headquarters to San Francisco three years ago.

For this exhibit, Czapinski, who has a bachelor of arts in visual art from Bennington College (2006), created 20 pieces constructed of wooden frames and stretched with sheer fabric to create semi-transparent, two-sided screens. With each piece, thread is woven in between the two fabric panels, creating polygons and other three-dimensional shapes that appear to float in space.

“The area between the two pieces of stretched fabric creates a space in which I can ‘draw' sculptural forms — forms that are suspended and easily manipulated,” Czapinski says.

The six large pieces in the show are internally backlit to illuminate the threadwork while also highlighting the negative, milky space, which becomes enlivened thanks to a delightful interplay of shadows.

For example, with the diptych “fragments frozen,” Czapinski says she wanted to create a sense of movement with the thread between the two sections of the frame. “You'll notice the smaller section has thread embroidered on the front panel of fabric; the long tails of thread are gathered and pulled in one direction,” she says.

From there, new colors appear and shoot out from that same space, creating movement with the thread. In this way, Czapinski says, “I wanted the smaller section of the panel to interact with the larger section.”

With “milky space,” another large piece that is set up like a diptych, she wanted to counter all of the straightness of the thread as it is strung taut between the two screens of fabric.

“I wanted to create something in one of the frames that was an organic shape,” she says, referring to the two white orbs of thread that take the forefront in each panel. “The two white, hand-stitched orbs were influenced by the glass pieces displayed in the gallery.”

The glass pieces she is referring to are 13 glass orbs, each about the size of a large snowball, that are arranged on one shelf in the rear of the gallery.

“These pieces came out of an awesome program called ‘Idea Furnace,' sponsored by the Pittsburgh Glass Center, in which non-glass artists are invited to create glass work,” Czapinski says. “I got to spend some time with two glass technicians that helped realize the glass shapes.”

“I was thinking a lot about breath and the nature of glass blowing,” says Czapinski, who is generally interested in perception and negative space. “The idea was to capture a breath of air in the form of glass.”

“Take a deep breath in, think about how your organs expand to accommodate the air and take new forms or shapes,” she says. “Now exhale. Glass expands, holding space quite literally like a captured breath of air — the orbs act as a visual representation of what the shape or the space of a breath of air might look like.”

Several smaller fabric and wood constructions take up another wall opposite the larger ones. Here, in pieces like “green dark green,” Czapinski successfully captures a Zen-like simplicity in the work, something she says she was striving for.

“With ‘green dark green,' I was interested in exploring layering (through the creation of) lots of shapes shooting out in different directions,” she says. “When the line work is super simple, you can follow along with the thread and figure out where the line goes, but with this one, it's more of a maze and invites the viewer to get lost within the frame.”

Here, the thread cuts through space and gets caught by the fabric to create the suspended shapes. “This is the magic moment for me when I'm creating them,” Czapinski says. “It's strange watching the line of thread work its way through the panel of stretched fabric, through the negative space captured within the frame, exit through the back of the stretched fabric and get caught creating the suspended shapes.”

The show culminates with a large “black line drawing” installation that takes up the remaining walls of the gallery.

“While working on the show, I wanted to create something outside of the constraints of a square or rectangular frame and decided to translate that desire into a wall drawing of thread,” Czapinski says. “By removing the frame and placing the thread in the space of a room, I was able to play with shadows that helped further enhance the 3-D line drawing.”

It's the perfect culmination to an exhibit filled with experimentation and exploration.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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