ROZ CHAST SHOWS HER CRAFTY SIDE
Artist Roz Chast has long been a master at probing the subterranean landscape of family life, whether charting the anxiety passed on to children unwittingly by their parents (see her marvelous “Wheel of Doom”) or the insights children have without sharing them with their parents (culled from her “Big Book of What I Really Believe”). Her sympathies clearly lie with all the imper- fect characters she has blessed us with for more than 30 years in her cartoons for the New Yorker, and in the dozen books she has written, seeing them as co-conspirators aboard a global lifeboat facing stormy seas.
And so it seems fitting that in her real life she should open her bedroom closet each morning and encounter the “cremains” of her parents, her father tucked inside the Channel 13 tote bag he carried with him everywhere, and her mother, a life force if ever there was one, beside him in a maroon velvet bag.
Chast was only 23 when she sold her first cartoon to the New Yorker in 1978, becaming a regular contributor. Female cartoonists were a very rare breed at the time, and her characters looked and sounded different, rooted in the stuff of everyday life rather than in lofty ideas.
How good it has felt to laugh along with her as we’ve seen our own neuroses in hers, whether it was through her Berlitz Guide to Parent-Teacher Confer- ences or her take on the family road trip.
What most of us have not known about until now, however, is Chast’s art in other genres. In “Being, Nothingness and Much, Much More: Roz Chast, Beyond the New Yorker,” at the Bruce Museum through October 19, we get a glimpse of where that prodigiously talented imagi- nation continues to take her.
This is Chast’s first solo show in Fairfield County, and in addition to her trademark works on paper, there is Chast the Ukrainian egg painter and Chast the primitive rug hooker, and even Chast the rubber stamp maker. It turns out that Roz genuinely loves crafts, but transmogrified ones.
Her waxed and painted pysanky eggs are unlike those you’d find at a Lenten Church fair or on a Ukrai- nian family’s Easter table. Rather, they form a riotous Greek Chorus by way of Flatbush, or a collection of nesting dolls that came alive when Santa wasn’t looking. And her textiles, far from the floral motifs found in Acadian households, are much more likely to depict the spirits she imagines reside in the weird can collection in her Ridgefield, Connect- icut home.
While egg painting enables her to work relatively quickly and in intri- cate detail, her work with textiles forces her to slow to a glacial pace and move toward greater abstraction. Chast’s hooked rugs are pointillist marvels.
Discussions leading to this exhibit, according to Jack Coyle, the Bruce’s registrar, began about two years ago after he and Chast were introduced to each other at a mutual friend’s party.
In a recent phone interview, Coyle, not normally a curator, said, “If curating meant sitting on the living room floor selecting work with Roz Chast,” then he’d seek a permanent job transfer.
That the show has opened just shortly after the release of her acclaimed memoir, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?”
has turned out to be a fortuitous boost to attendance. While her memoir is a mixture of the hilarious, the deeply honest, and the poignant, the show has been designed, Chast said, simply “to be fun.”
Coyle reported the exhibition has been more than fulfilling its expectations. “It’s been a delight to walk through the gallery and see so many people pausing to read her commentary, and chuckling,” he said. On Sept. 17, Chast will give a talk at the Bruce about the show and her work in general. Reservations are highly recommended.