Brothers Steven and William Ladd intertwine past and present experiences in their textile-based artworks.
SRQ Review | October 2022
in visual arts
Steven and William Ladd. Photo by Ryan Gamma.
“When William and I were in high school – he was a freshman and I was a sophomore – we had the same lunch period. We didn’t have enough money to actually buy lunch, but we had 50 cents to share a Nutty Bar. So, we’d grab a Nutty Bar from the vending machine, the divisions, and instead of sitting there having lunch, watching everyone eat, we’d put our socks over our pants, hop down the halls from the first floor up to on the fourth floor, just like a little moment of joy. Our friends in the classrooms watched over us. We called it the Nutty Bar Brigade,” recalls Steven Ladd.
Stories like this – the Nutty Bar Brigade was born as a work in 2012 – are commonplace throughout Ladd’s career: brothers Steven and William have long used materials such as beads and textiles to create abstract elicitations of their shared memories. In their new exhibition Steven and William Ladd: Lead with a Laugh, which opens in September at the Sarasota Art Museum, the brothers will venture into new territory as they chronicle the people and experiences that shape their lives today. “Since before the pandemic, we have been developing this whole new body of large, finely beaded landscapes that are about the present and the future – where are we going in our lives? What is our impact in society and what is our impact in the world? said William.
This shift in focus has resulted in twelve new landscapes – large-scale abstract works comprising hand-stitched boxes with various beaded objects in and around them – which will be exhibited in Lead with a Laugh, as well than Ladd’s new direction: Portraiture, but with their own unique twist. “We used to work on portraits of memories and people, but they took the form of these abstract landscapes. Now we’re really interested in exploring how to represent the people and experiences that have influenced us in the present in a more figurative way,” says Steven.
The title of the exhibition is not only a reference to Ladd’s infectious energy and joyful spirit, but also an ode to the exhibition’s wider function as a visual memory of the brothers’ career. . “If you were to write a memoir, where would you start? Many memoir writers actually suggest that you lead with an anecdote that makes you laugh,” says curator Emory Conetta. Lead with a Laugh, which traces the artistic history of the brothers, will include past works in addition to new pieces making their debut. “When you look back at all the important moments in your life, what do they tell you about who you are as a person and how do they inform you about how you will live in the future?” Conetta said. The result is both a retrospective on their career progression – chronicling a pivot in the style of hand-stitched boxes encapsulating intricately beaded objects to open boxes containing ‘landscapes’ evoking childhood memories and a freer style – and a look into their future.
“When we started, we were making these hand-sewn boxes that held intricate accessories and design objects. In 2008, we really pivoted away from including the design object in the boxes and just creating these artistic landscapes on our shared memories,” says Steven.
Then, in 2012, the Ladds created the Nutty Bar Brigade, which was emblematic of another shift to a more stripped-down style that featured only the hand-sewn boxes themselves. This transition led the brothers to experiment with different materials, such as papier-mâché. “The boxes had become more and more complex – everything was hand-sewn and had to be perfect. Eventually we started doing more things that were still very complex, but a bit more free-form, like pinning beads into papier-mâché and allow the pieces to be a bit rougher and larger as opposed to a hand-sewn box,” William attests. In recent years, Ladd’s style has come full circle as their subject matter has become more The “major career pivot” from bead sewing to pinning has shifted to needlework again, which is evident in the brothers’ intricate beaded landscapes and hand-stitched portraits. a fitting transition for the couple, a recognition of their growing up at a different stage in their lives – that their art will always return to the people and places that shaped them, from childhood to middle age.