Reviews excerpts and essays

For Passehl, the use of material is always personal-—minimal in its structure and arrangment, subsequently sublime in its aura and strivingly sensual in its layers.  The latter form the visual result of a search for the soft skeleton of possiblities and memories.
Art Düsseldorf, October 2019. Review of exhibition at Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne

The discrete object, the trust in nuance and its perception mark two works by Janet Passehl, born in 1959 in Massachusetts.  Even in this context, she, a younger ONE More participant, emphasizes delicacy and nuance. She turned the show into a small high church of today’s Minimalism, when in 2004 she discreetly dyed a cotton cloth with tea, then ironed, folded and put it on a pedestal for display.  
Georg Imdahl, Stadt Review, February 2009 (translated from the German)

Still, the result is surely on a more subtle scale than most work one thinks of done with a chisel and hammer or with modeling clay. Only with mindfulness and familiarity does it become clear that the artist's connection with her material was no less intense. The thinking behind her sculpture, in that respect, is further from a Readymade or a Carl Andre arrangement than it is from work modeled from clay, wood or stone. Yet, the irony is that conceptually, the work comes across as closer to the former category than it does to the latter. It has a foot, so to speak, set gracefully in each place, bridging the conceptual divide in its own confident way.
Even before what one might call 'quick art' – before, perhaps, a Warhol or a Lichtenstein – art that an be depended on to hurry you somewhere – a slowing down will certainly, to a degree, increase the possibilities for appreciation or assimilation. With, on the other hand, work in the nature of an Agnes Martin or an Ad Reinhardt painting, it will do so greatly. The more quiet the work, the greater the dividends from a well-tempered receptivity. Janet Passehl's work shares that gentle, calmate quality with those last mentioned and their kindred spirits in art history. The reward that is promised is nothing less than finding yourself brought gracefully, and solidly, into the moment.

William Anastasi, two excerpts from Grain (exhibition catalog) 2002

Artist statements

On the handwoven cloth, 2022

Nuance, time, duration, light, gravity, space, materiality, the act of paying close attention. These are my concerns, explored through simple acts performed on plain cloth: folding, ironing, cutting, draping, hanging. I work with cloth for its universal familiarity. I collaborate with the nature of the material, rather than impose upon it. While each of my works is a discrete piece, my inclination leans toward installation and conversation among the works, and between the works and the space they occupy.

Recently I learned how to weave plain cloth, and acquired an old loom. The weaving process is an enactment of the qualities noted above. Resulting pieces are nuanced documents of the effects of those qualities and phenomena. While previous works involved its disruption, the recent hand-weavings conversely address the construction of the ancient structure of warp and weft. What are the communicative possibilities of the extremely subtle differences that occur through slight alterations in tension, density, proportion, the nature of the thread, as well as the vagaries of the old loom and the body of the weaver? How might such textures be received as information in a world awash with fast-moving digital data? Can my work remind us of what we know?

On the folded, ironed cloth

Drawing is a sculptural act. Three dimensions are always addressed, even when a drawing is being made with a pencil on paper, because one must move through and across space in order to make the drawing. A drawing also necessarily involves time, because it evolves over time, from the beginning of a mark to the end of the mark and from the first mark to the last. 
The idea of drawing with the iron occurred to me as a means of making an invisible, or “silent” mark, a way of drawing that doesn’t leave an actual mark but rather the history of an action having taken place, material having been touched. In the realm of mark-making, the pressing is a kind of absence, a container of the past.  Yet the completed works have a strong presence because they have been touched so repeatedly and deliberately. 
The ordinariness of cloth creates a spontaneous bond of recognition between the object and the viewer through the viewer’s intimate familiarity with the feel of woven fabric against skin. This is a way of achieving, with non-figurative work, the level of empathy that is conveyed by a picture of a human being, for instance, or a flower. 
If possible I would include the smell of heat. 
While first and foremost the ironed cloth works are formal, political, social and psychological readings cannot and should not be dismissed.  One must necessarily think of who has traditionally done the ironing, and for whom.  The emotional impetus for this work lies in my fear of indenture and spiritual imprisonment. If I were consigned to menial labor, in order to survive I would have to create spiritual salvation by turning that labor into an aesthetic practice.  To do so would be both an act of control and an act of subversion. In Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, Gervaise’s laundry, stifling in summer due to the hot irons, becomes a joyous haven when she hangs a wet sheet over the entrance.  For a brief time before her downfall, her fellow poor and marginalized citizens are magnetized toward the space. 
While Gervaise created a site for ribaldry, my ironed cloth pieces are sites for rest and contemplation, the extension of a series of moments. Yet her creation and mine are each forms of desire and absorption. Furthermore, disobedience (or its potential), the tenuousness of control, and the tango of succeeding and failing to order one’s environment, are present. 

On the pencil drawings

My pencil drawings represent my exploration of the poetic possibilities of the ruled line.  Historically, I situate myself in what I consider to be the “romantic minimalism” of of Agnes Martin. I am also interested in the slight imperfection of detail of Donald Judd, as well as the cadence/anti-cadence of his sculptures.  But I am just as likely to look at Bonnard, or eighteenth century Venetian veduti paintings for a sense of space, light, and architectural geometry.
My favored paper for a long time has been Rives Lightweight White and has been carefully chosen for its pulpy, unforgiving surface as well as the yellowish tone and very slight translucence.  Lately, however, I have begun toexperiment with different papers, so that each of their properties can influence the nuances of my marks. The ground is the infinite space/light to which I react with a carefully drawn pencil line.  The next line is a response to the first line and how it has affected the space and light of the page.  My pencils are limited to 2H and HB, with occasional addition of 6H.  My other tools are a plastic triangle and a pink pearl eraser, which I sharpen with a blade.  Occasionally I use a tape measure to play with slight alterations in the distance between lines.
The finished drawing may contain the ghosts of rejected decisions, where erasure has disturbed the pulp of the paper.  Erasure may also affect the quality of a line drawn over it. Erasure, however, is never deliberately used as a mark for its own sake – it is always the result of an altered decision – but the erasures inevitably become marks which must be responded to as part of my drawing process.
 Conceptually, my process involves a kind of mental skimming off of layer upon layer of architecture to arrive at the delicate skeleton of shimmering possibility or memory – of emotion enacted within a space – of a meeting or a missing, a crossing, a moving through.  I often take my cues from the way that human drama and emotions play out in literature and film. Of particular inspiration have been the novels The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu  and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy.
That the drawings are representative of a human experience is enacted by the imperfections and deviations that occur in spite of the use of the straight-edge.  This has long been an interest of mine: the human need to order versus the inevitability of imperfection and chaos.  These drawings are tightly controlled, but tics are allowed to exist.  I make these decisions very deliberately. Each slight variation of weight, each different manner in which lines meet, cross, or approach the edges of the page, is extremely calculated.  Sometimes it is simply a slight alteration in the weight or the deliberateness of a line, that solves the drawing. Even the speed, or pace, at which the line is drawn affects the sensation of the outcome. This is the type of attention I believe is vital to a rich sensual existence, and I hope that my drawings function as instructions for attentiveness, both for myself and for the viewer.
Janet Passehl 2011