Alamosa artist Jasmine Little showing at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Thornton Dial & Jasmine Little exhibition
Where: Marianne Boesky Gallery
When: Through Sept. 13
More info: Online viewing room open at marrianneboeskygallery.com
The coronavirus pandemic, to put it mildly, has not been a time of great opportunity for most artists as worldwide galleries and museums shut down and exhibitions tried to go virtual.
For Alamosa-based sculptor Jasmine Little, though, the disruptions led to a dual-artist exhibition with the great Thornton Dial and a show with Marianne Boesky Gallery in Aspen.
Opened July 2 after the gallery’s COVID-19 closure, the Boesky show marks Little’s debut in Aspen. She’s had her work shown in the U.S., Europe and Asia but never so close to home. Little normally makes a summer trip to Aspen to see the exhibitions at the Aspen Art Museum and downtown galleries and to attend Anderson Ranch Arts Center talks in Snowmass Village.
“I come frequently, but just as a fan and tourist,” Little said in a phone interview from home in Alamosa.
During the shutdown, Boesky — the star-making New York gallerist who expanded to Aspen in 2017 — and her team went looking for Colorado artists to show in the gallery this summer. Little said Boesky discovered her work through shows she’d had at Night Gallery in downtown Los Angeles and Sigfrids Gallery in Georgia. Boesky then cold-called Little about doing a show in Aspen.
“I didn’t anticipate having many new opportunities during this time,” Little said. “It’s king of amazing.”
Little’s family has been in Alamosa for five generations. Her father was a career U.S. Navy man, so she moved around throughout her childhood, settling back in her hometown 10 years ago after starting her art career in Los Angeles.
“I got jaded on the city and wanted a different experience,” she explained of the move to rural Colorado away from traditional cosmopolitan art-world centers, “and I wanted more time in the studio, less time working to make money to afford expensive rents.”
The exhibition includes four of Little’s tall cylindrical stoneware vessels, on which she has carved imagery inspired by art history from ancient Egypt through 20th century painting.
The walls surrounding Little’s pieces are filled with nine works on paper by Dial, which similarly draw on familiar iconography. Spanning 1991 to 2005, Dial’s pieces explore themes that have defined his career including the African-American struggle against oppression and quest for freedom, with historically and emotionally charged works like “Freedom Riders” and “Stepping Across the Blood.”
Little’s sculptures re-contextualize and shuffle historical imagery on the sides of her clay pieces, making use of brick and gravel and porcelain among other materials. After building the forms and slabs of clay, Little explained, she has to carve the designs immediately, which give the pieces an in-the-moment and improvisatory spirit.
“Some of them are not planned at all,” she said of the etchings. “I usually figure it out while I’m carving it. It’s exciting to see how the form shapes out and then figuring out the motif — whether it will be images that wrap around or like windows into a scene.”
She began making these large-scale works during an informal residency at a friend’s clay studio in Pasadena last year. Most of the time she sculpts her work in her garage here in Colorado, and then drives them to the kilns at Adams State University. With campus closed due to the coronavirus, Little hasn’t been making any new work during the pandemic.
And that’s all right by her.
“The pandemic is a big, historical phenomenon that is happening,” she said. “I understand some artists want to respond and have something to say. But my reaction has been to take a break for a bit. I’ve been hiking a lot, which has been really enjoyable.”
Little also opened a show of outdoor planter pieces in June at the Night Gallery, and during lockdown exhibited online through the National Art Dealers Association’s virtual fair.
The restricted movement of the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to more shows like Little’s in Aspen, giving local and regional artists opportunities in vaunted Aspen galleries and institutions that may have previously overlooked close-to-home talent.
“It’s an interesting reaction to the pandemic, for artists to be showing more locally,” Little said.