By Kathryn McKinney
Ironic needlepoint has enjoyed a few iterations from feminist critique and reclamation, to kitschy hipster idolization. Richard Bassett has worked with the medium in three exhibitions with the Jack Fischer Gallery now, his latest “Options” a study in animal shelter mugshots. The title sums up the theme of the show nicely, as many are familiar with such images from perusing similar photos while picking out their own pets and weighing options for companionship, while the other side of the experience, that of the animals, can be summarized by their complete lack of choice in the matter.
Things happening beyond one’s control is a central idea in Bassett’s imagery. Previous series included security camera images of convenience store robberies, and the assassination of JFK, situations more literal and violent in their nixing of personal agency. The confluence of image and medium, where these uncontrollable situations are rendered in the most meticulous and restrained of crafts, is a nice contribution to the post-modern needlepoint genre; a tight marriage of subject and medium offering reciprocal commentary. His reorientation of subject is also interesting in this latest series, moving from people to animals. Psychologically, an empathy for animals over fellow humans can be a basic indicator of clinical narcissism (pets require little intimacy and are wholly dependent upon their master.) The objects themselves, pillows, are props we use to support and comfort ourselves, a literal parity to the more abstract role of pets in our culture. “Options” expands nicely on Bassett’s previous work, exposing the narcissistic tendency in our society where imagery of human violence has become banal, but watching perceived “lonely” animals is still heartbreaking.