Sweet to One Another: Abby Cipar at Praxis
Abby Cipar’s art has a way of calling to you from afar.
It was a cold, dark evening in Akron and I was driving home from class. As I prepared to turn left from Broadway onto Market Street, I looked over my shoulder at the ornate façade of Summit Artspace. It’s a habit—I work there, after all. Cipar’s wonderfully puffy installation drew my gaze up to the third floor. I was dazzled by how their work grabbed my attention, even in my post-lecture haze.
I had a similar experience a few weeks later. I piled into the car with my comrades from Summit Artspace to see Cipar’s exhibition, Sweet to One Another, at Praxis Fiber Workshop. As soon as we turned onto Waterloo Road, Abby’s work beckoned to us through Praxis’ great big window.
I’ve always been especially drawn to large-scale work. There’s something soothing to me about being in the presence of something larger than myself. Cipar explains in their artist statement that Sweet to One Another is intended to provide comfort and familiarity to the viewer. The artist is successful in this regard—their soft sculptures are charming and welcoming. These works almost feel alive.
The works in this exhibition are teasingly familiar, but upon closer inspection, you’ll realize they’re from another realm. The forms are evocative of the human body—for example, Ramblin’ On resembles two pairs of glossy lips. But that’s all we get—a resemblance. Cipar invites us to explore our humanness and personify inanimate objects as we search for ways to fit in and relate.
It Takes a Village simulates a human face surrounded by that rather unflattering haircut we all had as a child. Folds and creases anthropomorphize the piece, and I found myself grappling with whether it was flora, fauna, or somewhere in between.
Overall, I must admit that I felt a mixture of emotions when experiencing Sweet to One Another. The almost-human qualities made me feel a little uncomfortable at times. But the fresh use of materials, attention to detail, and bright, saturated colors pulled me in. This might sound odd, but these cushiony sculptures seem ready to give you a hug.
I found myself enchanted by how Cipar’s work playfully asks you to engage. Cipar describes the exhibition as “a material culmination of the affection and acceptance I wish to extend to my past self,” and I found the tenderness they described to be quite palpable. I often read artist statements that say the work is intended to “engage with the viewer,” but it’s rare to find work that lives up to this statement. Cipar’s work certainly does.
Remnants #1 and Remnants #2 were a couple of my favorites in the exhibition. Cipar clustered textile scraps into what could be budding flowers or fungi. I always enjoy seeing the ways that artists repurpose scrap materials to give them a new life.
Firefly Glow is unapologetically loud and funky. Although the piece towered over me, I was still able to admire the way Cipar carefully draped the ends of the yarn on the floor. The soft sculpture component explodes from the canvas and becomes three-dimensional. The artist is not afraid of color and certainly doesn’t care if you are. “Overwhelmingly vibrant color becomes a bold form of self-expression and a statement which insists upon an absolute refusal to tone down the outward expression of oneself; it is an outright rejection of cis-hetero-normative conformity,” Cipar noted in their artist statement.
Cipar has carefully chosen their materials to align with the purpose of this body of work. “The work I make seeks to communicate the comfort and safety of queer spaces, so soft sculpture, by nature, aligns itself with that. Painting, in its traditional sense of paint on canvas, can also communicate these things. However, working with textiles and being able to receive materials from others, as these small acts of thought and care, contributed to my practice in entirely new ways. It has made me think very differently about acts of making and community,” they said.
Bursting at the seams: the dysphoria that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside lives up to its name. I couldn’t help but think of Meret Oppenheim and her famous teacup (Object). Cipar’s delightfully furry sculpture, perched atop a pedestal, looks like it may come to life—like we’re inches away from it lifting its head and revealing a pair of eyes.
Immense (a piece of the whole #1) combines media for an explosion of color and texture. The electric blue fabric shines under glittery splatter paint; Cipar draped a lime green textile scrap frayed the ends for visual interest. The dyed yarn fringe, tapered in the center, finishes off the piece beautifully.
Sweet to One Another looks fantastic in Praxis’ gallery space. The hardwood floors and array of plants in the window complement Cipar’s intent to mirror the natural world.
Abby Cipar earned their B.F.A. with a concentration in painting and drawing from the Myers School of Art at the University of Akron in 2021. They work in a variety of media but recently moved into soft sculpture and textiles.
“I wanted to challenge traditional ‘definitions’ of painting in a way that was similar to how I was challenging gender norms and binaries in my own mind and self. For me, this move into a new medium has been another avenue for self-expression and a way toward understanding myself. We express ourselves through things like clothing and accessories, and I often think about the way drag operates as a transcendence of norms. I would equate it to changing clothes and trying on something new, as a way to fit how I felt on the inside,” Cipar said of their shift into working with new materials.
Sweet to One Another is certainly worth the visit to Praxis. Bring an open mind and heart to experience these works completely.
Abby Cipar: Sweet to One Another
Through March 16, 2022
Praxis Fiber Workshop
15301 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44110
Wednesays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.
Grace Carter is an arts professional living and working in Akron, Ohio. She earned her B.A. in art history from Kent State University and is a graduate student at the University of Akron studying arts administration.