Elise Ferguson's 'June Room' Stretches Its Stripes and Curves Beyond the Gallery's Edge

Installation view of Elise Ferguson, 'June Room,' at Romer Young Gallery, 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young Gallery)

Depending on which route you take to Romer Young Gallery, you might pass the Woods Operating Division of the San Francisco Municipal Transit System. And if you fail to notice this nondescript box of a building on 22nd Street, you’re forgiven. You have art to see.

But if your eye does chance upon this building, it’s likely because of its one decorative flourish: two red metal fences with four perfectly semicircular ends, faint echoes of Muni’s beloved “worm” logo, writ large and three-dimensional.

Just a block away, inside Romer Young, Elise Ferguson’s June Room provides more than an echo of that curvilinear graphic. The show is made up of the same building blocks that shape Walter Landor’s 1975 Muni logo: snakey curves and orderly stripes stacked atop one another, flowing into each other, turned 180 degrees.

But in June Room, Ferguson doesn’t stop at the ends of a groovy “M” and “I.” She assembles and rearranges her curves and stripes into a series of pigmented plaster paintings, a large-scale textile piece and one powder-coated aluminum sculpture.

Elise Ferguson, 'Triumph,' 2019.
Elise Ferguson, 'Triumph,' 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young)

Of course, Ferguson, based in Brooklyn, doesn’t spend her time riding Muni buses or waiting for the N-Judah (ahem). But the graphics that surely inspired Landor—Op art, Bay Area psychedelia—are, in turn, some of Ferguson’s reference points. Applying her patterns to a variety of media and with a joyful selection of colors, she tests their potency and effect. The results are mildly, wonderfully hypnotic.

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Whether you experience Ferguson’s sinuous patterns as mathematically precise or warmly handmade (spoiler, they’re both) depends on proximity.

A sideways glance at the pigmented plaster paintings reveals delicate, chunky edges on the beveled MDF surfaces. Layers of screenprinted color build up, stripe upon stripe, inviting possibly too-close viewing to inspect the faint impression of the screen’s mesh in yellow, teal and goldenrod strips.

The show’s three paintings (one a vermilion and magenta diptych) demonstrate tantalizing experiments in color relativity. Is that the same limey yellow creating curves on Mettle and vertical lines on Terminal? What exactly is chartreuse?

Elise Ferguson, 'Spruce,' 2019.
Elise Ferguson, 'Spruce,' 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young Gallery)

Opposite this grouping is Spruce, ten panels of seven-foot-tall Irish linen elegantly wrapped around three gallery walls—completely obscuring the window into the tiny office one usually sees upon entering Romer Young. Fixed only at the top, the linen panels (which, at this scale, start to look like a macro zoom on a crochet pattern) billow gently. Ferguson’s pencil-marks guide the painted yellow lines that punctuate the screenprinted curves and stripes, which shift, gradient-like, from a royal blue to a greenish teal.

At the center of it all is a sculpture called Armour, a five-and-a-half-foot tall column of matte vermilion-painted aluminum, its edges—if you peer closely—sporting a glossy magenta. Strangely inside-out, it saves its machined details, nested grooves radiating within circular and semicircular shapes, for the “interior” of the column.

Was it inspired by something that held plants? (What is it about sculptures that makes us want to assign function to them?) Opposite the machined shapes are what appear to be their “negatives,” trumpet-like triangles with vertical slices running down their centers.

Installation view of 'June Room,' with 'Armour' at center, 2019.
Installation view of 'June Room,' with 'Armour' at center, 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young Gallery)

And here I was, paying so much attention to Ferguson’s curves and lines. Suddenly, the paintings and textile work pop with negative space, rare bits of solid pigment or bare linen in a gallery filled optical color mixing.

After June Room, similar pops occur outside the gallery, and not just in front of Muni's Woods Operating Division. In the neighborhood crosswalks: limey yellow stripes run perpendicular to the standard, thickly layered bands of white. Ferguson’s work, while seemingly hermetic, expands outwards into the built environment. Like the Muni “worm,” her static lines and curves convey a sense of winding, circuitous movement with the simplest of gestures, wiggling their way into the very fabric of the city.

'June Room' is on view at Romer Young Gallery through Aug. 3, 2019. Details here.

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