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Martha Tuttle

Guesthouse JH, the private Wilson art studio of Camille Obering and Ben Musser, has already explored ways to further the art conversation in Jackson Hole.

Its most recent artist, Martha Tuttle, explores in her multimedia installation “Geologies” how art can exist and be experienced anywhere. It all depends on the attention a specific work demands.

“Which is not to say that everything is or can be art,” she said. “Nor should it be. But I think it would be a boring world if art could only exist within a predictable gallery template.”

Tuttle works with a variety of mediums and in a variety of forms and contexts.

“The questions I’m interested in — questions about spiritual/material crossovers and human/ geologic intimacy — are not, for the most part, medium specific,” she said. “Getting to make a book cover, work on costumes or organize a performance series helps me to reframe and recontextualize.”

“Geologies” is as multifaceted as one of the amethyst prisms included in one of the pieces, but it is also subtle: If you move too quickly, you might not miss just nuances but also critical aspects of the work. According to Tuttle, all the materials she uses are significant, either because of their source or because of their physical and aesthetic qualities.

“I spin and weave the wool parts, but not the linen or silk,” she said. “The wool begins as roving, which I spin, weave and boil to create a sculptural material which is sewn into composition with silk and linen painted with rock pigments and plant dyes and some graphite.”

Tuttle’s wool comes from different sources, but mostly from a ranch in New Mexico, where she grew up, and from North Carolina. Other elements, like stones she cast in steel or found minerals, some from several sources, including gem hunters she has gotten to know, the Tucson gem and mineral fair and her own collecting.

Obering first encountered Tuttle’s work online.

“I was attracted to it and thought it was very interesting,” she said. “And so I was going to New York soon after that and I contacted her to see if she would meet.”

About a month later, this past fall, Tuttle walked Obering through her show at Tilton Gallery on the Upper East Side.

“We just had a really nice conversation about art and about what I am trying to do in Jackson Hole,” Obering said, “bringing work out here that communicates themes that I think people are interested in but not dumbing down the work. And I think that resonated with her.”

After Obering reached out to Tuttle the process was in every way organic, both women said. They discussed Guesthouse JH’s space and its perspective on the Tetons, and from there Tuttle meditated on the variables for what became the current show.

Born in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Tuttle went to Bard College for her BA in painting, where she never worked with a brush and a canvas.

“Being able to touch and work material was always a part of my language,” she said. “Growing up in the desert, I was always a really physical, feet-in-the-dirt kind of person. I need to touch and bodily engage in order to think about what I’m making. So a lot of my practice feels more innate rather than chosen.”

In graduate school at Yale, she said, she worked primarily with unstretched fabrics. About a year after graduating she left Connecticut to attend Andrea Zittell’s residency, AZ West, where she recalls she battled with materials as unified objects, which in “Geologies” becomes part of how her work operates in the ambiguity of multi-genre art: part painting, part textile and part sculpture.

“There wasn’t any studio space, so I was mostly working outside,” she said. “Practically, I needed a structure for the works, or they would just be untenable with the wind and the heat and the dirt. But of course, I was working with them on a rock or transporting the works from place to place, so the stretcher wasn’t an invisible thing on the wall, I had to deal with it as a real object.”

Textiles, assembled to represent layers, discuss the passage of time. An airiness prevails in Tuttle’s work, not because of the monochromatic palette but because every layer is revealed — right down to the framework the pieces are stretched across.

“If you slow down ... you can see the moments of these seductions occurring and the juxtaposition happening in the art,” Obering said.

Certain aspects come out the more time you spend with the art, she said, like how the stretcher creates additional angles. The tension becomes recognizable among all of the lines, as well as the choices between how the minerals are used; a crystal might be a part of the overall piece or the fabric painted with coal dust.

“A lot of artists use synthetic dyes because they do not fade,” Obering said. “But for her — and this is something I really like — the natural process is that things evolve and change — they don’t stay the same forever.”

Tuttle calls upon the powers of nature in “Geologies” as she creates symbolic structures in her work.

“I’m from rural New Mexico, so I grew up around the geology of the West,” she said. “A lot of my childhood was spent outdoors, experiencing the conversation between vast space and the constant discovery of geological and botanical specimens. Certainly my work is very influenced by this juxtaposition of vastness and close-up inspection, looking out and looking down. I also continue to do a lot of research about and in the mountain West in the United States.”

On display at Guesthouse JH since Feb. 16, “Geologies” has so far been more than well-received.

“I did not know what the response was going to be,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”

Some people didn’t know Tuttle’s work and some have been following her for years, including one collector who had never met the artist.

“I was really pleased with the opening,” Obering said. “It was this synthesis of very positive energy coming from different angles.”

The salon-style private opening had Tuttle on site with her work for one night. Soon after, Obering was calling for more pieces, and within two weeks, all of the work was sold. Not bad for Tuttle’s first solo show out West.

Tuttle’s “Geometries” remains on display at Guesthouse JH through July 10. Viewing is by appointment. 

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