Artist Jessica Wohl searches for what everyone has in common — even if it’s a testy desire to be heard.
By looking at the seven quilts she’ll show in Weinberger Fine Art’s new exhibition, “Thoughts And Prayers,” it’s hard to say what Wohl’s political leanings are. But she contends that her particular opinions are not the point of this collection.
“We can have different beliefs but stand in the same space together and feel something the same as a way of identifying that there are still parts of us that are human, and we still care for one another, and we share things,” she says by phone from her home in Tennessee.
Her own family members don’t vote the same, so she expends a lot of energy thinking about connections.
Most importantly, she says, so many people across the nation seem to be hurting. For this reason, quilts make sense as an artistic medium for addressing differences.
Quilts are, after all, warm, comforting and soft. The fabric is both a metaphoric and literal symbol. As metaphor, the patchwork represents the “fabric” of our country, but it’s literally our country’s fabric, because she took it from worn garments she bought at thrift stores in several states.
Wohl says she hopes the bright color gradients and floral patterns will remind people of the kindness inherent in the act of giving flowers. After noticing the flowers, however, viewers might zero in on the words or the hard lines that clearly represent a barricade.
One piece titled “Members Only” is patterned to resemble a chain-link fence in front of an unobtainable but enticingly beautiful sea of blue.
“I’m trying set up a scenario where the viewer finds himself on one side of a barrier, whether that be an abstraction of a picket fence or a gate,” Wohl explains. “There’s something lovely that they can’t access, as a way of mimicking a lot of what many citizens in our country are facing: a lack of access to something that seems better than what they’re currently experiencing.”
Now an assistant art professor at Sewanee University in Tenessee, Wohl spent eight years in Kansas City, including four at the Kansas City Art Institute, and briefly worked with ceramic artist Linda Lighton.
It’s Lighton’s sculpture “Thoughts And Prayers” that serves as the exhibition’s title piece.
She has been an artist for nearly 50 years, but has spent the last eight focused on gun violence — ever since her husband witnessed a shooting near her studio, and she read that Kansas City is among the most violent cities in the United States.
However, she says she agrees with Wohl that she’d rather her work not jump out as representing one side or another politically.
“If you’re looking at the pieces, you can’t tell if I’m promoting guns or not,” Lighton says. “I can’t shame people. I want to have a conversation. Conversation is the goal.”
She has invited local politicians and activists to the opening in hopes of engaging them in a discussion about protecting citizens from gun violence. She’ll also have petitions available to sign.
In hopes of encouraging people to think more deeply about the issue, Lighton has been casting guns, AR-15s, and gas pumps “in the look of a Russian constructivism or social realism and putting them together.”
One of her sculptures, “I Don’t Want a Bullet to Kiss Your Heart,” stands eight feet tall and took two years to shape. Few would argue that it’s not a conversation piece.
“If everybody’s armed, we’ve lost civility, we’ve lost civil discourse,” Lighton says. “If we can’t talk to each other about our problems and learn how to listen, then what?”
Neither Wohl nor Lighton is sure that art alone can change the world for the better. But they agree that it’s a starting point.
“If all I can do is put something in the world that makes somebody think differently or makes somebody ask a question or have a conversation with somebody that they wouldn’t before,” Wohl says, “then that’s enough for me.”
“Thoughts And Prayers” receptions are 5-8 p.m. Friday, May 11; Friday, June 1; and Friday July 6 at Weinberger Fine Art’s Drawing Room, 1903 Wyandotte, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. Also on view through July by appointment, firstname.lastname@example.org@weinbergerfineart.com