April Street: The Mariners’ Grand Staircase (Armoured Stars, Flying Clouds), SBMA
By Noelle Barr, LUM/UCSB Arts Writing Intern
“The Mariners’ Grand Staircase (Armoured Stars, Flying Clouds)” is a collaboratively sensitive installation constructed by Los Angeles native April Street. Currently on display in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s entrance, this exhibition was inspired by an historical tale about Eleanor Creesy’s voyage from New York to San Francisco—a monumental feat for a 19th-century woman, who accomplished the journey within less than half the typical duration it took to travel. “The Mariners’ Grand Staircase” is composed of 12 multi-media works by Street, four of which are acrylic and charcoal on wood panel, and the other eight dependent upon the natural flexibility of hosiery fabric.
Street’s color palette makes a subtle, yet defining, contribution to the installment: blue elicits the seafaring atmosphere; gold constitutes a potent moment in history, holding Creesy’s legacy to the veneration of celestial bodies; and the blushing sky romanticizes the narrative between the navigator and her captain.
“The Mariners’ Grand Staircase” is located amidst the Museum’s Park entrance staircase. Placing this exhibition within the Grand Staircase enriches the seafaring experience, particularly for any “Titanic” fans, for, we know the opulent Grand Staircase was a staple amenity aboard the ship. The location also has the potential to relay memories of ornate mansions, as it did for Street. The Grand Staircase constructs a liminal space for the viewer as they approach the installation, which invites them to synthesize the exhibition’s intimate visual and aural components with the narrative they bring to the installation.
The salon-style visual presentation embodies an historical connotation, like flipping through a scrapbook. It elevates the art pieces as though they are non-commodified objects hung for veneration, but rather elements contributing to an overall existential observation beyond the tangible. This arrangement places the work above our vantage point and metaphorically replicates the audiences’ physical form to that of the voyagers, looking to the heavens for comfort, guidance, and a collective experience.
Beside “The Mariners’ Grand Staircase” a repeating audio recording transmits a fictitious exchange between Eleanor Creesy and her husband Josiah Perkins Creesy Jr., captain of the ship. The element of dialogue, paired with sounds recorded by Street from her own excursions, enriches the narrative experience, romanticizing the scene similar to how one walks through Disneyland’s New Orleans square listening to 1920s jazz.
April Street is a Los Angeles-based artist, whose work has been exhibited throughout Southern California and across the seas. Street studied bronze-casting in Italy and painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A studio visit with “In the Make” from 2013 revealed her strategy and intention behind her cohesively painted drapery and overall narrative. Street’s creative mind envelopes “...the idea of building a form as a stand in for emotive attachments between the paintings, objects and a viewer” (2013). Of course, an artist’s content is always evolving and we can observe that manner in which Street pushes for the audience’s sensory participation in the “Mariners’ Grand Staircase.”
“The Mariners’ Grand Staircase (Armoured Stars, Flying Clouds)” by April Street breaks the preconceived visual constraints housed in art museums across America through its advantageous use of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s grand staircase, incorporation of sound and engaging visual narrative.
These sublime stories that float beneath our feet are what heighten our spatial vigilance and personalize the consumption of history into an artistic sentiment.
“April Street: The Mariners’ Grand Staircase (Armoured Stars, Flying Clouds)” is on display from August 19, 2018 to February 17, 2019 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St.
Three images: April Street, Cloud in Repose, 2018; My Eleanor, 2018; The Captain, 2018. Charcoal and acrylic on wood panel handmade frame. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo credit: Jeff McLane
Cover image: Park Projects: April Street, The Mariners’ Grand Staircase (Armoured Stars, Flying Clouds), 12 paintings with accompanying sound. Installation view, Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2018). Photo credit: Jeff McLane