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Downward Dada: Artist Turns Yoga Mats Into Cheery Collages

Humble materials elevated into high art.

When artist Alex Ebstein was studying photography, she was diagnosed with uveitis, an eye condition that required her to have multiple surgeries and impacted her vision. “I picked up painting because it wasn’t as dependent on the minutiae of the scale of gray,” she says. “It’s more of a tactile process whereas a photo is about a very perfect visual experience. It became so frustrating to me.”

Divided Vista detail

Ebstein has channeled her condition into intriguing mixed-media paintings that rely on a familiar, if decidedly unconventional, medium: yoga mats. Ebstein cuts out shapes from different colored mats she buys from a wholesaler, then pieces them together to create cheerful abstract paintings that owe more to the spirit of Jean Arp than BKS Iyengar.

Why yoga mats? After her diagnosis, Ebstein started to explore the notion of deterioration in her artwork by cutting “perfect” materials and hanging them on walls to see how they would drape, droop, and sag. Around the same time she had to stop practicing yoga because certain positions made the pressure in her eyes too unpredictable. She was studying the work of modernist painters,like Arp. How they explored abstraction through bodily elements resonated with her. “I thought about the contemporary manifestation of the body through products that stand in for the body,” Ebstein says. “Everyone knows a yoga mat is designed to the scale of a person and it’s used to stretch your body.” The artist also incorporates other materials like plywood and canvas taken through a hydrographic printing treatment.

While her creative use of materials draws the eye in, it’s Ebstein’s triumph over a challenging life experience that makes her work resonate. She will be exhibiting “Gathering Moon Milk,” shown above, at the Market Art + Design, in the Hamptons.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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