On August 16, Gabriel Dawe became the fourth living Texas artist to install work in the atrium of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth. Plexus No. 34, commissioned by the museum, is a reflection of the artist's continued obsession with discovering the artistic limits of thread. The piece is composed of 80 miles of thread in 18 different colors, making it one the largest pieces in the Plexus series yet.
The Dallas-based artist worked as a graphic designer before returning to the University of Texas at Dallas to obtain his MFA. His most recent work, which was created with the Philip Johnson-designed museum in mind, will be on view through Sept. 2, 2018, as part of an ongoing effort by the museum to showcase more work by Texans.
When Dawe decided to work with thread it was a response to the gendered way we often think of certain craft-driven arts. He sees his work as a direct interrogation of the “machismo” many cultures insist men exhibit; in interviews he has often spoken of his grandmother’s refusal to teach him how to sew. In his early work, Dawe attached pins and needles to clothing or colored cloth, juxtaposing normalcy and danger, darkness and light. He challenges stereotypes concerning everything from color to craft.
But in the last few years Dawe has left behind those small sculptural pieces for large-scale, site-specific installations. He’s been traveling the country to install in museums, galleries and private collections. The pieces in the Plexus series, so named for the network of nerves and blood vessels running throughout the body, are extraordinary, often room-filling creations made almost exclusively with ordinary thread.
The colorful optical illusions are breathtaking and confusing in equal measure. Over the last five years Dawe has perfected his technique for creating them, which was more or less an accidental discovery in his studio.
“The results of that first piece in my studio were only the beginning, but I didn’t realize half of what I could achieve back then," he says. "The first year of doing this work I did four pieces total, all in Dallas. Each new piece was a whole new set of discoveries that blew my mind each time. All the information I gathered from those pieces gave me the foundational principles I still work with, however, it never ceases to amaze me that every new piece contains nuggets of new discoveries that ignite different ideas to try in the future.”
Dawe has completed over 50 pieces in the Plexus series, each unique. While some are small enough to be installed in homes and others are massive creations, they are all designed and installed on-site. “The installations are always a result of a dialogue with the space,” Dawe says. “The particularities of a given space will always inform what I can and cannot do, and that is going to affect the final result of any given installation.”
The Plexus pieces might appear to be a big departure from his earlier work, but Dawe insists they speak to the same aspects of his identity. “The installations are definitely more universal, but the work wouldn’t exist without the personal aspects of the previous work,” he says. “Because of the legacy of the material from those earlier works, I can’t disassociate the personal, however it’s a very subtle presence that might not come through as strongly."
Since Dawe began working on the Plexus series six years ago, he has had his eye on the Amon Carter as a potential site for an installation. “Installing at the Amon Carter is a dream come true,” he says. “When curator Maggie Adler reached out I was beside myself that I would be able to create a piece that would be in direct conversation with such an iconic architect.”
See Dawe’s Plexus No. 34 at Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art (3501 Camp Bowie Blvd.) through September 2, 2018. The museum's hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. More info at cartermuseum.org.