RAZZLE DAZZLE: Samantha Bittman
Samantha Bittman’s recent show Razzle Dazzle at Chicago’s Andrew Rafacz Gallery certainly promises what the title indicates. Playing with painting over patterned weave structures in often black and white compositions and subsequently layered onto a similarly patterned wallpaper, the optical effect of her works truly dazzles the eyes, blurring comprehension of where the weave ends and the painting begins, and then further to where the painting ends and the gallery space begins. I imagine Bittman is referencing aesthetics of razzle dazzle camouflage, a painting technique used during WWI for obscuring the shape and size of ships as a protection mechanism through complex patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colors, interrupting and intersecting each other – primarily black and white as well. I love making this connection between a complex painted form and it’s environment when thinking about Bittman’s paintings in the gallery.
“Creating loom-woven textiles with painted surfaces, Samantha Bittman simultaneously camouflages her patterns as she highlights their structure with thick acrylic—often revealing new patterns through the semi-masked surface. Referencing the dazzle camouflage technique used on World War I naval ships, the exhibition incorporates bold patterns to confuse, not conceal, throwing texture to the viewer as a distraction from the underlying patterns in the woven surface below.
Adding another layer to her paintings, the artist has installed a site-specific wallpaper that draws attention to itself while dually matching and contrasting the patterns found in the paintings—interlocking the works’ patterns while simultaneously disrupting the synchronicity. Bold prints overlap the corners of the gallery, distorting the viewer’s perception of space and erasing any traditional relationship with the space’s architecture. By flattening the three-dimensional surface through the wallpaper’s bold two-dimensional designs, the artist creates a space that inundates the viewer and renders it difficult to make immediate and precise visual estimations. Crafted entirely from the artist’s previously woven patterns, the wallpaper holds a different relationship to each painting, with some works blending in and others contrasting with their background. Another painting exists in a liminal space, half-concealed within the installed environment, neither fully contrasting or conforming.
Bittman presents a number of bold, black and white works in the exhibition. Her use of color remains limited to bright splashes of primary blues, yellows, and reds. These paintings add another scintillant layer to the otherwise optically charged installation. ”
Chicagoans, if you haven’t yet made it to this show, do us east coasters a favor so we can live vicariously. Lucky for anyone in Providence, RI right now (myself included) as Bittman is currently a visiting critic in the Textiles Department at RISD, and she also is preparing for another show opening in New York City this November. Keep an eye out!