45 in Focus:
The body makes itself known in many ways in the works gathered here, the second in a series of group presentations related to our anniversary exhibition, 45 at 45. Physically, the body of the artist can leave the traces of its surface on the artwork or provide a model from which a work is cast. Large abstract works telegraph a sense of physicality by clearly communicating the action of their making, evoking a sense of sympathetic movement in the viewer. Or works can present a space held for a body, imbuing inanimate objects with a distinct sense of embodiment. In all of these, to retain a trace of the body in a work is to offer a physical connection with the viewer. The experience moves beyond the visual, and into a space that incorporates one’s entire being.
The physicality of Jason Martin’s paintings is evident immediately. Their thickly painted surfaces read as a record of the artist’s manipulation of the material, each swipe and pass at the aluminum support left raw and exposed. Martin’s manipulation of the thick oil paint across the surface verges on performance, as he works in the space between two and three dimensions. This is emphasized by the intrusion of the surface into the space of the viewer, not only with thick impasto but also with the support itself, which reaches over half a foot away from the wall.
The enigmatic abstractions of Sui Jianguo’s Planting Trace series record the physical presence of the artist. They begin as bits of clay squeezed in the artist’s hand, which are then scanned, the forms digitally enlarged and recreated using a 3D printer, and then cast in bronze. The concentric lines and whorls actually record the texture of the artist’s skin on a scale that renders it abstract.
American artist Jimmie Durham is acutely aware of his materials, their history, origin, and economic and cultural meanings. In this work, a wool blazer, listed as “sheep hair” in a nod to the fabric’s origins as organic material, has been encrusted with dirt and human hair in an assemblage that speaks to an elision between the human and the animal, the living and the dead.
In the midst of an exceedingly strange and stressful year in the United States and around the world, John Zane Zappas aims to bring a little relief with these carved wall-based sculptures. The artist laboriously smoothed composite wood into ergonomic forms arranged for massage. The open arms of the elaborate R RB BR R2 present the viewer with a soothing embrace, its manifold nubs and appendages almost architectural in design. While the works do offer practical relief, their playful shapes and beautiful variegated surfaces also offer formal relief; they are delights for the eye as well as the body.
Juan Uslé’s large Rush Hour captures the frenetic energy of downtown New York City, where the artist keeps a studio and where this painting was made. The diagonal, interweaving stripes create a vibrating visual pattern recalling the city’s interlocking streets and avenues. A playful, irregular set of stripes dances over this field, while one silver line curves its way across the lower left quadrant. One can imagine this last as a single body making its way in the vast urban landscape. Uslé provides a template for this sort of interpretation, historically mapping the rhythms and movements of the body onto his colorful abstract paintings.
Nick Cave’s powerful Platform employs casts of the artist’s body in surreal constructions that poignantly convey a sense of protest and rage. Raised fists become gramophones as if to broadcast their message, carved eagles perch on disembodied heads, and a chain of grasping hands rises from the floor to the ceiling, offering an exit route from the chaos below. Cave’s practice has often incorporated bodily involvement, as with his wearable sound suits, but rarely so eloquently as in the present work.
This elegant pair of works on paper by Sherin Guirguis pays homage to Egyptian activist Doria Shafik, who in 1951 led over a thousand women to storm the gates of Egyptian Parliament demanding women’s suffrage. Their direct action led to a legal expansion of the vote in 1956. Guirguis abstracts this historical moment by imagining the waters of the Nile, a source of healing and strength, rising up against the distinctive pattern of Parliament gates incised into the paper. The artist’s personification of the Nile as the body politic profoundly communicates the power of collective action.
Storming Parliament I, 2018
hand cut paper, ink, acrylic paint
78 1/2 x 29 1/8 in.
(199.4 x 74 cm) framed
Storming Parliament II, 2018
hand cut paper, ink, acrylic paint
78 1/2 x 23 3/8 in.
(199.4 x 59.4 cm) framed
Tim Hawkinson’s surreal Roliepolies deconstruct the body, reanimating it into a Frankenstein’s monster of reassembled bits. Hands, feet, knees, bellies, and craniums spurt forth from a central connection, forming spherical creatures that seem on the cusp of scuttling away. These remixed organic forms come from casts of the artist’s own body and produce a distinct physical reaction in the viewer. Recognition exists alongside confusion, prompting further investigation.
Heather Gwen Martin often discusses her natural linen canvases in terms of the body, referring to her smaller paintings as “head-sized” and relishing the very physical work of priming and painting large surfaces. The present work, at nearly five feet square, envelops the viewer in lyrical abstractions, telegraphing a sense of the physicality of its making. Even its title, Touch, offers a sense of bodily communion.