This semester, SUNY New Paltz’s Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art has been exhibiting “In/Animate: Recent Work by Myra Mimlitsch-Gray,” a collection of metallic sculptures by the renowned metalsmith and head of the SUNY New Paltz Metals Program. The pieces adorning the white walls and tables of the bright white exhibition room reject traditional geometric standards, lending an air of surreality to the space as a whole.
Much of Mimlitsch-Gray’s work emphasizes liquidity and malleability, what she refers to as the work’s “shifting identity,” evident in the twisting and slicing of sheet metal.
“I have, through years, worked my way from exploring the traditions of the field to this place that deviates from that for various reasons,” she said. “[Liquid states and malleability are] part of the way of referring to things changing out from under us, causing us to question where they’re going, where they were.”
The exhibition features numerous different metals, including silver, vermeil, bronze, copper, brass and cast ductile iron. The type of metal Mimlitsch-Gray uses largely driven by what it provides structurally.
“Brass is less malleable and more resistant to change than copper, so if you need something to be strong in a certain way, you might choose brass over copper,” she explained. Different metals express different artistic values as well; silver, for example, is more expensive than other metals and exudes a degree of preciousness.
For as in tune with the art of metalwork as she is, Mimlitsch-Gray actually grew up thinking she would be a painter. As part of a pre-college art program recommended to her by her high school art teacher, she forayed into metalwork briefly in the form of a two-week jewelry-making course. It stuck with her, she said, “but I didn’t think of it as being so integral to my creative being.” She would return to jewelry-making as a college freshman, having been locked out of her first-choice painting class.
“There was no room in painting, but there was this jewelry class that had a space in it, so I thought, ‘I remember that, I think I’ll try that,’” she said. “And then the hook was set. After that, I just realized that this was it for me.”
That hook was the added challenge of working with metal. A clay bowl, Mimlitsch-Gray argued, could be roughly formed by a layman with a basic understanding of a bowl’s shape. Metal, on the other hand, would leave the layman “scratching their head trying to figure out how to proceed.” Unlike highly-moldable clay, metal requires specific tools and processes to be properly sculpted.
“It is a very demanding material that I enjoy being able to have a conversation with,” she continued. “Sometimes it’s definitely telling me what to do and then other cases, I get to tell it what to do.”
That difficulty comes with it a slim margin for error, as timing is often key. But Mimlitsch-Gray uses those errors as learning experiences.
“I’ve reached this point in my career where I know how to do a lot of things,” she said. “But I have set myself up for discomfort and unexpected outcomes as a way to continue to grow. I’m always putting myself into a position of being a student again.”
“In/Animate” opened on Aug. 31 and will remain open until Dec. 11. For more information, call (845) 257-3844 or contact the museum staff at email@example.com.