Linnea Spransy: Building labyrinths of creativity

Fifth in a Comment series on under-appreciated artists.

Appears in Summer 2009 Issue: Responding
June 1st, 2009

Evidence of awe" is one way that Kansas City-based visual artist Linnea Spransy describes her work. This no doubt conjures up some of the best moments we feel in the presence of art—a moment when art becomes a mystery that looms close, conveying what other languages cannot communicate as directly as the visual. The best art arrests us, demanding full concentration, or leaves us with an ache, or gives the heady feeling that the edge of something has just been revealed. Truly, it is best described as an experience of awe.

But this is not exactly what Spransy means. Soft-spoken, articulate, and voraciously curious, Spransy is much more likely to view her work as a testament to the awe she feels in everyday life. The act of creation inspires her to further amazement. Long before anyone sees her work and invites an experience of awe, Spransy has felt that beginning the piece meant stepping onto "a path into an undiscovered country."

She uses humble materials—acrylic on canvas, and sometimes ink on frosted Mylar or acrylic and coloured pencils on paper—in "almost self-evidently simple ways." This simplicity imitates the patterns found in nature, since she uses fractals, patterns where parts are just small copies of the whole, like ferns, snowflakes or even broccoli florets. Spransy often uses these while introducing a dash of chaos. It's kind of like a RadioLab episode on canvas.

Ricochet (detail)
Acrylic on canvas
48" x 70"
© 2009, Linnea Spransy

To witness these meek beginnings "transform into snarls of harmonic complexity" is something Spransy describes as "nothing short of awesome." They become something that "I—even with my admittedly overactive imagination—could, would and almost should not ever dream of inventing." These beginnings end up like Spransy's Ricochet—a commanding red acrylic on canvas whose overall impression is one of movement. The piece is four by six feet long, with one large pattern that looks like the chart of a dramatic wave "snarled" by another pattern reminiscent of a loosened skein of yarn. A closer look reveals buried galaxies of patterns. Beneath a layer of the skein lies a pattern resembling sea urchins or flower petals, and beside the skein dots have splashed onto the canvas. These harmonize and contribute to the overall impression of movement.

With pieces like Ricochet, Spransy designs the system first, establishing the rules she will use for the painting. She decides what to use as a module— a ribbon, stencil, graph or hook-and-eye pattern might serve the purpose—anything that is both simple and flexible.

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