Julie H. Rose, “Specimen 140713,” 2014, silk, handspun stainless steel and wool yarn, felt, and transfer print, 10 x 8 in.
Julie H. Rose, “Specimen 140713,” 2014, silk, handspun stainless steel and wool yarn, felt, and transfer print, 10 x 8 in.
"Exquisite" is not a word I generally use, neither in writing nor speaking, but it seems the most appropriate term to describe Julie H. Rose's creations at Belfast's Åarhus Gallery. And if another proof was needed that a distinction between art and fine craft has become meaningless, her work would be it. It's not painting, it's not sculpture, nor assemblage, printmaking, fiber art, or jewelry. Yet it is all of that.

Imagine an artist not just taking inspiration from nature, but actually creating it, anew, with her own materials. In Rose's case that would be paper, clay, felt, silk, linen, cotton, beads, and printing ink. Like the fragile specimens that they are, her creations are displayed in partially painted shadow boxes hanging on the wall. Against fabric backgrounds, some of them printed with images of nature, there are rolled-up desiccated leaves, seed pods, vaguely aquatic growths, animal spines, fruits, and much more that, not being a botanist, I am unable to identify, or they may not be identifiable. The point is that of creation, not of re-creation.

The few simpler pieces, which are more abstract and seem to capture natural forces rather than specific natural objects, supply great tactile interest but are less intriguing. The vast majority of the 19 works on view, however, are fascinatingly complex compositions of delicate, almost ethereal forms. In "Specimen 140713" a small brown pod brings forth a plethora of undulating tentacles, some beginning to thicken into red fruits, like some spicy peppers. The arrangement is backed by a vertical layering of fabric, the topmost printed with natural imagery. This and many other pieces evoke an Asian aesthetic of asymmetry, simplicity, and high craftsmanship that wonderfully balances the material exuberance also present. In each piece, form, material, color and presentation seem inevitable and combine perfectly and seemingly naturally into precious close-ups of nature. There are diaphanous cocoons, sparkling fruits, skeletal shapes of pebbles and leaves, and soft, little nests. They call out to be touched, or to be worn like jewels. Yet they are also informed by a painter's sense for color and formal relationships, and they freely acknowledge their fiber materials, including visible stitching. In short, Rose is in superb control of the properties of her medium, whatever one wants to call it. The result feels like a harvest culled from her studio - a fascinating and immensely satisfying feast for the mind and senses.

"Julie H. Rose" is on view through September 28 at Åarhus Gallery, 50 Main Street, Belfast, 338-0001, aarhusgallery.com.

art current is a biweekly column written by Britta Konau. She can be reached at bkonau@gmail.com.