Sue Scott Gallery

Strings, attached and removed

Cate McQuaid
Boston Globe, January 2011

Strings, attached and removed           

Sheila Pepe lets public join in

By Cate McQuaid




The yarn in Shelia Pepe’s latest installation at Carroll and Sons is loopy and droopy, crocheted, knit, or just hanging in shades of blue, forming a three-dimensional handicraft abstract expressionist work that fills the gallery space.  Pepe started with an armature of black cord and black shoelaces, and then draped and knotted her yarn pieces over, onto, and around it. 

If you knit or crochet, come on down.  Pepe encourages hook and needle workers to either add to the exhibit with their own handiwork, or start their own project with Pepe’s yarn and take it on home.  

“Our goal is to leave just the black shoelaces and cords”, said gallery owner Joseph Carroll in an interview.

So get there early, before too much of the piece has departed the gallery, because it’s worth seeing in its most elaborate state.  Called “Common Sense in Boston”, it is soft and domestic, yet also exuberant, splashy, and occasionally creepy.  It’s impossible to pass through without encountering strands hanging like cobwebs.  The work blends the dramatic gestures of abstract expressionism, associated at its height with a particular masculine bravado, with techniques and materials associated with women’s work.

The call to knitters also seems traditionally feminine, as if Pepe’s hosting a knitting bee.  At a commercial gallery, art is a commodity.  Objects have a weighty value that isn’t merely monetary; they have been carefully crafted for nuance and beauty, and so it’s rare that part of the process is to give it away, bit by bit, until it’s nearly gone.  Here, too, Pepe makes an improbable conflation- between a canny conceptual conceit and warmhearted community outreach.

For good measure, she has some small sculptures on view, pieces that are both gaudy and deliberately homely.  “Pink Shoelace Drawing # 1”, made of sewn shoelaces, looks like a fleshy organ.  The aglets in the shoelace drawings are impertinent, protruding here and there, more defiant than fringe.  “Grey thing with dangly bit on chain”, made of painted fabric, metal, and wood, looks to me like a professorial slug with a cherry-red head, giving a demonstration with a large splinter of wood hanging on a chain.  Ridiculous yet dignified.