When visitors first step into the atrium of Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art, they’re met with two massive rays of iridescent light seemingly emanating from the walls. Upon closer inspection, the light dissipates and thousands of strands of colored thread reveal themselves.
The installation, Plexus no. 34, is the work of Dallas-based artist and UT Dallas alumnus Gabriel Dawe MFA’11, who has crafted different iterations of his Plexus series throughout the country. Displayed in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., to Denmark and New York, the works make use of the contrast between the size of the thread and large, open spaces.
“The intent of the Plexus series is to materialize light, to give it density, so that I can offer the viewer an approximation of things otherwise inaccessible to us — a glimmer of hope that brings us closer to the transcendent,” he said. “That difference in scale makes the thread disappear, in a way, leaving the color behind. You end up with these very ethereal structures.”
Plexus no. 34, which will be on display at the Amon Carter through July 25, 2018, uses 18 different colors of thread in large swaths spanning the walls of the atrium.
The series is a natural transition from Dawe’s previous embroidery work, which holds special meaning for him. As a child, Dawe remembers stealing little pieces of thread in attempts to make his own designs, in part because his grandmother refused to teach him.
“My mother’s family in Mexico was very conservative in a way, and I would spend a lot of my time with my grandmother,” Dawe said. “There was a lot of macho culture in the household that got passed down to us, and there was a strong dichotomy between boys and girls. So, when I started trying to find my voice as an artist, as a grown man, I revisited that frustration. That’s really what ignited the desire to work with textiles — to challenge those notions, in a way.”
Still, growing up in Mexico City had a positive influence on Dawe, who recalls going to art classes and museums constantly. Fascinated with poster design and photography, Dawe chose to study graphic design at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico.
In 2000, he moved to Montreal and worked as a graphic designer for several years.
“I had a big burnout, and that’s when I decided to quit design,” he said. “That’s basically when I really plunged into making art, trying to show my art, and trying to make it as an artist.”
Dawe first conceived of the Plexus series during his residency at CentralTrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency, while completing his MFA in arts and technology at UT Dallas. He said he owes his success in part to the residency program, which provides space for eight artists (four visiting and four graduate students) to live and work in downtown Dallas.
“While my experiences as a graphic designer have had an influence on what I do, it was the 3-D work I started exploring in grad school that really took me by surprise,” Dawe said. “I hadn’t really done that, and it was a departure from the 2-D nature of graphic design.”
Dr. Charissa Terranova, associate professor of aesthetic studies and former director of CentralTrak, oversaw Dawe’s residency as a graduate student. She said his current, site-specific, thread-based installations grew out of his deconstructions and reconstructions of everyday pieces of clothing.
“The powder-pink, ruffled silk cuff covered in stick pins, which he gave me years ago, sits atop the jewelry box in my bedroom,” she said. “If I am not thinking about Gabriel when seeing one of his installations while traveling — as I did at the Renwick in Washington, D.C., I think of him for a moment each day when I see this work in my home. It has been wonderful to witness his evolution and the development of his experimentation with fabric, thread and sewing into full-fledged public space.”
For now, Dawe is focusing on his thread work. He most recently completed a 90-mile weaving of thread that will be on display for three years at the San Antonio International Airport. But Dawe said he doesn’t discount the use of other mediums in the future.
“I think there’s an organic evolution of the work. I’ve always had this vision of working with gold leaf for years, for example. I don’t know when, but I’m sure it will come up in the future,” he said.