14th-century Italian frescoes inspire modern artist at MCA

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A contemporary Chicago artist has drawn inspiration from a series of 14th-century Italian frescoes to create an immersive carpet mural that’s on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art through July 7.

Jessica Campbell’s candid and often humorous textiles, comics and drawings critique the traumas and absurdities of gender politics. For her “Chicago Works” exhibition, Campbell re-envisions the life and artwork of Canadian painter Emily Carr (1871-1945), celebrated for her expressive landscapes, to explore the challenges women face in everyday settings and the creative possibilities of reading and telling stories from multiple perspectives.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is an immersive carpet mural inspired by Giotto di Bondone’s 14th-century Scrovegni Chapel, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance. Its frescoes depicting stories from the life of Christ are seen as an early precursor to the comic strip.

In the carpet mural, Campbell’s vivid, cartoonlike scenes interweave highly personal narratives from both her own life and Carr’s. Though the artists grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, nearly a century apart, many of the events Campbell recalls from her past took place in landscapes that Carr painted. The colorful floor-to-ceiling carpet dampens the sound in the gallery, creating a chapel-like atmosphere for viewing Campbell’s poignant and at times difficult scenes.


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