Three strikingly different artists currently exhibiting at Grounds For Sculpture offer an opportunity to explore contemporary approaches, consider the juxtaposition of styles, and reflect on the mystery of just who it is that makes art.
Edwina Sandys’ exhibition “Provocative and Profound” fills half the museum building. Dismiss the title and let the eyes gather and mind pick through the literal and figurative fruit. You have until Sunday, April 13, to do so.
The work is an eyeful with an emphasis on bold areas of primary colors that contrast and suggest — scarlet (sensual) smacking against and merging with white (purity) — and strongly defined contours.
Sandys’ two-dimensional works show thick line traces of figures in planes of hues while her broad sculptures greet and command attention.
Instead of detailed or nuanced renderings, Sandys’ art is made of broad statements. Informed by the abstract yet sensuous lines developed in Europe in the early 20th century, the works work to please the eye and engage. One thinks of Matisse, his dance paintings, and his sensuous female figures.
The latter is a point, perhaps the point. “In my art, I have to start from myself. I start from being a woman. To some extent, I make things in my own image,” notes Sandys on a text panel.
It is an understatement. Sandys’ principle theme is the social construct of “woman” — and the singular is used often — and her reaction to the male social structure created to contain female sensuality and power.
The sum of the exhibition’s images tells the tale: the reversals of female images from white to scarlet in the print “Yin and Yang”; the large statue of a snow white hand with scarlet-painted finger tips holding an apple with a bite taken from it, “Eve’s Apple”; a gray-blue female torso with several targets — on the brain, the breast, the heart, the crotch — and dotted with darts, “Target of Abuse”; and the sculpture “Woman Free,” in which a rectangular slab or wall bears an opening shaped like the female figure that stands before it.
Sandys’ approach is to use the familiar male-developed line to depict female figures and move those images of objectified beauty to subtle commentaries rather than pronounced social statements. Lines linked to female sensuality now communicate a predicament of existence.
Some will no doubt find significance in the artist’s pedigree and make assumptions that may or may not be significant. She was born in England in 1938 and is the grand-daughter of one of the famous dueling artists of World War II, Winston Churchill (the other dueling artist was Adolph Hitler). She lived mainly in England until the late 1970s, when she started spending time in New York City and eventually became a resident.
Privilege, of course, affords opportunities and comforts; however, it is not immune to the human situation, and Sandys’ personal pains seems to have hurt her into art, to borrow a line from the poet W.H. Auden.
While some may find the work provocative, it is apt to say her artistry is sly, a polite rebellion in which one lets ideas slip in through a disarmed awareness, the encountering of an argument delivered in delight.
And delight is apparently always on her mind. “If I could have only one color, it would be red. I have always been like a magnet to red and only when sated do I turn to blue and yellow, the other primary colors. And then there’s black. You can’t beat the drama of black,” she says.
Black is evident in the other portion of the building, where William Knight’s exhibition “Out of Context” is also on view until April 13.
It is also a dramatic departure from Sandys. The exhibition is dark, edgy, and startling to the eye. Yet the sculptures suspended from the ceiling and emerging from the wall keep one looking, first in confusion, then association, and then recognition.
Yes. The works are various lengths of rubber strands and wire sprawling across the wall, pouring from the ceiling, or seeming to emerge from the walls. Yes. They look dirty and made of unappealing and mainly man-made materials. Yes. The lines look like natural images. Yes. They are like roots and husks and vines. Yes. They look like nature. Yes. They look like drawings. And yes. It is all of the above — an affecting visual trick for the patient and those not willing to dismiss what is in front of them too fast.
That is at the heart of Knight’s work. Knight says in a previous discussion, “Just because it is dirty and discarded doesn’t mean that you cannot look at it and change the context. I want to take it out of context.”
The “it” is his medium, discarded tires that he has picked up along New Jersey highways and back roads. “I moved from representational painting to abstract painting by a change of medium. I left painting and started using encaustic (hot wax painting). I loved that medium and started working in abstraction. When I went to the Vermont Studio of Art, I noticed roadside fragments of exploded automobile tires, picked up a dozen or two, arrived with these ‘little beasts,’ washed them in vinegar, and began to tease them apart — play with them and link them together.”
“I painted landscapes and plants for at least 10 years, representational paintings looking at the beauty of the nature. I forget about it consciously. But it’s there,” he says.
If Knight’s subject matter, choice of materials, expression, and the general tone of work seems to contrast with Sandys, so too does his background and engagement with art.
He was born post-World War II in Florida, where he lived with his orange juice entrepreneur father and stay-at-home mother. He notes that he seemed to have an inclination to mix art with nature before attending Tulane and Harvard. And then “I was interested in social science and how political thought influences our society. I wanted to be a teacher, but those areas paled and I didn’t purse them. I knew about the real world and becoming an artist was an inclination and choice. The art world seemed more deep and satisfying to me.”
The Burlington, New Jersey-based Knight does not start a work with any intent. “That comes from the shapes of the found objects. I start making associations, looking for contrast, or the surprising unity of disparate things, be they tire fragments or other objects,” he says.
The pairing of the two artists in the two half-sections of the building demonstrates a type of yin-yang of its own. And while the approaches and influences of these two artists contrast, their commingling actually seems evident in the third.
Athena Tacha’s contained retrospective in the Domestic Arts Building, “Sculpting With/In Nature (1975-2013),” on view to Sunday, March 30, mixes the industrial with the natural and pays attention to the human body, especially the female body.
Tacha may be familiar to the region because of her massive public art behind the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offices in Trenton, “Green Acres.” The work has several distinctions. It marked a development in the pioneering artist’s work, it was slated for the wrecking ball in 2012, and it was saved by Governor Chris Christie that same year.
While there are several small sculptures in the exhibition that fills the second floor of the building, most of the work is about plans and designs. Vitrines provide stations of proposed landscapes and buildings. Some designs are chaste, white, and austere, others are ribbons and patterns of subdued colors, and others are mottles of geometrics and organic shapes.
The model materials run from foam board to Formica to sugar cubes to acrylic (from a 3-D printer), handy substitutes for creations that call for bricks, concrete, stone, earth, and water.
The mind stirs when encountering projects to enliven public spaces, such as a Trenton plaza, or address a social need as in the plans for a homeless shelter — one that, Tacha says, provides “elementary protection from weather, basic facilities for personal cleanliness, a bit of privacy — a tiny space to call one’s own and to store a few belongings — and, most essential, an address, which in our society offers ‘identity,’ being able to get a job — a means of empowerment.”
Tacha, as curator Virginia Oberlin Steel points out, is interested in how art and the human intersect, and the scale of her work relative to the size of the human body is a critical factor in developing her public art. “I would like my art not to be set apart as art, looked at with awe or antagonism, but to exist in the context of daily life. In this way I would hope that the average person, crossing the work routinely, would eventually capture an echo of the rhythms that permeate the universe as I see it — in constant flow,” notes Tacha.
A quick biographical note provides an insight into Tacha’s work. The daughter of a neurosurgeon, she was born in Larrisa, Greece, in 1936, lived through World War II, a civil war, and post-war famine. She also embraced life, used art as its entry, and studied at the Sorbonne and in the United States. In the 1970s she became dedicated to arts movements that expanded beyond traditional artistic expression and embraced earth as a medium.
Her experiences prompted her to face existence and ask, “Where do I fit? What is this universe, and how am I part of it? Living systems are a really beautiful development of matter, and yet there is so much else. I believe everything is one whole, and I am a little part of it, like a wave in the ocean.”
Tacha says that “living matter, the matter of my body, is really inseparable from inanimate matter like the rocks and water, from the universe, the galaxies, the subatomic particles, and the energy that makes us.”
Like Sandys’ art, Tacha’s work also expands from her being (a female within a social context) and has created works that explore breast cancer, evoke rape, and propose, as demonstrated by a model in the exhibition, an “Emerging: Memorial for Women” — a 1988 proposed memorial for “notable women throughout history” that has yet to be realized.
What can be realized by the visitor though is the variety of languages and potentials that exist in today’s sculpture and the phenomenon that three artists — one from British aristocracy, one searching for art on American highways, and another from war-torn Greece — can meet in New Jersey and share in the making and advancing of art.
Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets $8 to $12. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.