Friday, March 16, 2012

Tough Life

On a recent visit to the Tang Museum at Skidmore College I found a very interesting and powerful exhibit.  It is the work of  New York artist Nancy Grossman.  Prior to this show I knew of her leather encased "Self Portrait" sculptures of the 1960's & 70's, - but I'd seen only a couple.  These strange Leather wrapped heads (and One torso) are both absolutely gorgeous and gut touching, They speak of dire day-dreams, contemporary anxiety and perhaps, sexual exploration/exploitation. Here in her work is a marvelous appreciation of the natural material, an amazingly high level of leather craftsmanship and more than a hint of dark foreboding.
I like them!

The works which confront the viewer as we enter the gallery are some that look at first like large dark paintings but are complex assemblages of metal, rubber, leather and other found materials. Where the heads are encased in sumptuously buffed leather, these are crusty old straps, cracked rubber hoses, partially rusted pipe, etc., all looking as if retrieved from stable floor or muddy gutter where they'd been stomped and stuck together by time.  (I do wish I had photos!) They are much less confrontational than the heads and have a far more easy presence on the walls.

Nancy Grossman, Gunhead

I was completely surprised by Grossman's beautiful drawings, some like the one on the left, really energetic, others very finely detailed pen and ink like seminal "plans" for her sculptural heads and bodies. Nice stuff! I think they may have been done with another favorite, the Koh-i-noor Rapidograph Pen, which allowed her to render tiny buckles, finely stitched leather belts and multiple zippers. (Bless people who draw!) The strong drawing here on the left, found online, echoes some of the sculptural pieces you'll find lined up on display where they confront you, - eye to eye!

The over-riding message is one of suppressed violence, quiet sensuality, physical inhibition, - all eerily quiet and oddly devoid of struggle, - as if the subject has accepted the bondage as a self imposed "natural" state.  The leather bound full figure at the top lifts its arms not in protest but in acquiescence.  

 The show, titled "Tough Life Diary",  runs through May 20th.
 Run up to Saratoga Springs and see it.  -  I'll roll along again myself!

 "Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity."    T. S. Eliot

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