Going from T.J. Mabrey’s paper studio and then to her stone studio might be the equivalent of indulging in a Robin Williams wiseacre special and then suddenly finding your sandals treading the Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi in 312 B.C.
Wildly dissociative, perhaps, but a tenuous relationship shape-shifts into view after spending space-time with Mabrey’s aesthetic vision of rock-paper-scissors.
You see, Mabrey is largely inspired by science. Her close inquiry of both paper and stone reveals a fascination with “folding” – foldings and fissures of the human cortex; foldings and triggering of DNA; heiratic and ancient foldings of human history sparking mythic futures; biological “seeds,” both metaphorical and metaphysical; the grand play of light and shadow.
“Science and art has always interested me,” she said later, during a walk-though of her work throughout her home and “stone” studio. “When reading about DNA, I see the replication, the proteins folding. So it provides me an opportunity to show the variations within a given. It gives me, the artist, an opportunity to not put limits on my expansion.”
The walls of her “paper” studio at 1022 Reed St. are hung with large squares of archival paper, pressed on a matrix template of a 1/4-inch or so raised squares. Each square piece has meticulously cut, folded and variously open paper windows, some with hints of color, others with a mylar reflective surface, some with nothing, or a slash here or a circle there, but each square in two different groupings is a specific Mabrey question-and-answer expression of an adventure into limits.
In her sculpting, a word or phrase may intimate a theme of environmental concerns she may have, such as a beautiful horizontal white marble slab with “Missing” etched into it upside-down – a statement about corals threatened with extinction.
“Some work reflects some pretty nasty world situations, but through beautiful representation,” she said.
A series of marbles include “dwellings,” most are little houses, in one case a large house dominates, sometimes including staircases going to or from the dwellings situated in rock, one with a river running beneath – all harkening the viewer to ponder what particular aspect of “home” or “sanctuary” Mabrey was expressing at the moment.
The “Human Bean Pod” is both bean and a human body, encapsulating both, perfectly sculpted out of pink Persian travertine.
One piece the poet in me totally adores is “Smoke Spread (like) Thought (into) Cumulus,” only a few syllables shy of a stunning haiku that speaks to the power of the vibrational match of thoughts allowing the Law of Attraction to create form in the here and now.
Spread throughout her home and stone yard are ends of ancient columns, green Egyptian serpentine, pink Portuguese stone, huge “shell stone” blocks, and marble, 500 tons to be exact, that she kept in her move to Taos. Two large ancient chunks of marble from early Roman times she partially sculpted to emphasize circularity, leaving untouched half of each piece of abraciated pink marble, a gift from an Italian sculptor on her departure from her Italian stone studio sojourns.
An artists’ artist versed in many mediums, she told Vasari 21 art editor Ann Landi she learned more from four years’ of ceramics, woodcarving and other media with the Mexican-born Dallas sculptor Octavio Medellín than she ever would have at a university (vasari21.com/t-j-mabrey/)
Mabrey tut-tuts my amazement that she is a stone sculptor (I’m prejudiced in thinking stone carvers are nine-times-out-of-10 men), countering in fact that through the years she’s worked with an enclave of female stone sculptors in Scotland, China, Egypt and Italy, all cities where she’s lived with her Foreign Service husband Stephen. Particularly vivid is the memory of Egyptian women in full robes complete with hajib, covered with stone dust, sculpting happily away in their stone studios.
“I like the idea that I’ve lived my life as art,” she said in summary, “not created art as my life.”
Mabrey has shown work in Holland, Singapore, Italy, Egypt, New York, New Mexico, Texas and Washington D.C. She was represented for years by Hulse-Warman Gallery in Taos, which just closed last month.
For more information, see TJMabrey.com.
This article appaeared in Tempo magazine's "Gallery Glider" column by Virginia L. Clark on April 6, 2017.