Textile artist turned collagist upends expectations
By: Carolyn Kemmett
Nava Lubelski’s art takes the viewer on an adventure that always ends with open-ended questions, often about the arbitrary nature of how we assign worth to objects, people, and pursuits. Transplanted from New York City and exhibited around the world, the artist arrived in Asheville 17 years ago, and her intrepid exploration of complex ideas is both refreshing and provocative.
Lubelski is well known for her stitched canvases and coiled paper sculpture, but an upcoming solo show at Upstairs Artspace’s Front Gallery will debut her collage work. “I started working with collage over the last several years, pretty much coinciding with the pandemic,” she says. “It’s completely new work that’s never been shown before.”
For these paper-on-paper works, she has used single color pieces and layered them to powerful effect. Don’t expect these works to have a pristine quality to them, however. As with Lubelski’s other work, she incorporates paper that is considered flawed, with ink marks, dirt, glue, and paint splatters on it, and energetically builds on that. “I’m taken with the idea of looking for beauty and seduction in things you might otherwise think of as ruined,” Lubelski says.
“The intention isn’t to impress with my virtuosity of technique,” she notes, “but instead to convey the idea that this material, which might be considered ‘disposable,’ matters.”
It may even provoke viewers to extend the concept beyond the confines of materials — to ideas and people. Who gets to decide the inherent worth of something or someone, and how does context impact those decisions?
The collage work is also a riff on the traditional Slavic cut-paper folk art that originated in Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus — known respectively as wycinanki, vytynanky, or vycinanki. It often features symmetrically arranged images of birds and flowers that are outlined in black. “This connects to a through-line in my work, as I often play with traditional craft techniques and alter or dismantle them to explore different meanings,” she notes.
Lubelski’s collages explore her own Eastern European Jewish roots — a thematic undercurrent that she has recently acknowledged. It’s a history defined by centuries of ghettoization, displacement, and loss, right up through the Nazi atrocities of World War II — from which she herself is just one generation removed — that caused her to ask some more subjective questions. “I’ve thought about whether or how this culture belongs to me, for example,” says Lubelski.
She sometimes considers her process rhetorically — a challenge akin to working a puzzle. “What does it take to start with a dirty footprint, so to speak, and end up with beauty — art?” The works created by this self-dubbed “imperfectionist” fuel self-examination.
“Anything,” she declares, “can be repaired. Even when we look at the state of our planet, it’s worth the effort. … That’s where the wonder comes from.”
Upstairs Artspace (49 South Trade St., Tryon) opens Paper Trails, a solo show for Nava Lubelski, on Saturday, June 24. On Saturday, July 1, the gallery will host a “walk and talk” from 4:30-5:30pm and an opening reception from 5:30-7pm. The show runs through Thursday, Aug. 24. Info: 828-859-2828, upstairsartspace.org. (navalubelski.com)