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Classical 101

Columbus art exhibition features unique takes on negative space

Sculptor Meg Beech carving a clay sculpture
Jennifer Hambrick
Columbus sculptor Meg Beech carves a clay sculpture.

It’s the silence around the sounds. It’s the empty stage where dancers make moving shapes. It’s the spaces between the words of a poem and the margins at the edges of the page.

Negative space is the quiet companion often overshadowed by the subject of a work of art. But now, negative space is the star of an exhibition of work by two Columbus area artists.

Beauty in the Negative showcases work by vitreous enamel artist Beth Zanardelli and sculptor Meg Beech. The exhibition is on display in the Columbus Cultural Arts Center’s Loft Gallery through Dec. 30.

Though working in different mediums, both Zanardelli and Beech shape negative space in ways that give their work its distinctive flavor, in abstract forms and representational forms inspired by nature.

Early in her work with vitreous enamels – colored glass powder kiln fired into enamel onto a metal base – Zanardelli gravitated toward working in large forms. She creates expansive platters and bowls that become statement pieces when mounted on walls or placed on tables.

Zanardelli ’s stylistic signature, creating design elements from negative space, came about at the spur of the moment. While thinking about the design for a new platter, Zanardelli drew a chrysanthemum onto an unenameled copper base.

photograph of a red-and-orange vitreous enamel platter by Beth Zanardelli
courtesy of the artist
a vitreous enamel platter by Beth Zanardelli

“And I thought, I’d like to cut it out,” Zanardelli said. “I honestly don’t remember exactly why I wanted to cut it out. I just wanted to cut it out.”

She cut slices from the copper along the lines of her sketch. The chrysanthemum design emerged in the negative space of the resulting holes.

Zanardelli said many of her designs are inspired by nature – weeds, flowers, insects and other flora and fauna. Nature is also the primary inspiration for Meg Beech’s work, in which the rugged textures of clay roots and leafy fronds coexist with smooth and shiny fused glass accent pieces.

“There’s kind of a contrast between clunkiness and finesse,” Beech said. “Just like with people. We have our imperfections, but then there’s beauty in the imperfections.”

photograph of winding roots clay-and-glass sculpture by Meg Beech
courtesy of the artist
winding roots clay sculpture with glass accent by Meg Beech

Beech’s fascination with roots, she said, comes from a childhood memory of viewing a timelapse video of roots spreading down into the soil. Roots often grow upwards in Beech’s sculptures, something that plays into their power as metaphors at once deeply personal and universal.

“To me it’s symbolic. You think of roots like family, so I just think of roots like passed family members, kind of eternal,” Beech said.

Trained as a sculptor at the Columbus College of Art and Design, Beech creates her sculptures by removing slices of clay and allowing the resulting forms to emerge from within that negative space.

“That’s what I like about the clay. You can carve away and excavate and find out what’s underneath there, as well as adding pieces onto the sculpture,” Beech said.

Ultimately, Beech’s process both reveals natural forms “hidden” in the clay and preserves them in clay – in all their imperfect beauty.

“I just find such beauty in plants, sometimes the symmetry or the asymmetry, or just the uniqueness of them,” Beech said. “They have a personality. I’m attracted to that.”

photograph of a vitreous enamel platter by Beth Zanardelli (left) and a sculpture by Meg Beech
courtesy of the artists
a vitreous enamel platter by Beth Zanardelli (left) and a sculpture by Meg Beech

Beauty in the Negative, featuring artwork by Beth Zanardelli and Meg Beech, is on display at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center through Dec. 30.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.