NAUGHTY BY NATURE
Santa Fe Reporter, July 7, 2010
by Marin Sardy
I once knew a guy who, when he was on LSD, couldn't handle being in nature. All that exaggeratedly twining, entangling growth was just too creepy for him, so he only took the drug in visually sanitized city spots, surrounded by concrete and steel. Although I found him absurd, as a biology student I had seen enough of the unsettling and uncontrollable messiness of life that I got his point. Now I'm reminded of it when I look at the sculptures of local fiber artist Sarah Hewitt.
Hewitt's heavily textured abstract forms, on display in the two-artist show Lost & Found at Victoria Price Art & Design, feel viscerally alive in ways we usually prefer to forget. Composed of wax and grass-like raffia - and vaguely resembling body parts, plant parts or unicellular blobs - the sculptures suggest breaches of their own limits. At once foreign and familiar, they're as beguiling as they are disturbing - because they are disturbing. Hewitt's waxy coatings appear membranous, her structural folds look vaginal, grassy openings suggest nests and elongated shapes recall standing figures. There's also a hint of violence in the deep red dyes and misshapen bends.
These forms are somehow human, yet invertebrate enough to make humans recoil - a reminder of how strongly we have historically tried to define ourselves as separate from animals. Even the most ardent tree huggers can rarely resist Disney-vision: the urge to tidy up nature, either aesthetically or structurally, so it makes more sense. But as Hewitt's work announces, that's just not the nature of nature.
Tying together sex, reproduction and the female body - literally - a sculpture titled "Umbilicus" has a heavily folded, basket-like construction hanging like a bou lder from the ceiling in a cage of red rope. The message, perhaps: Without connection to the mother, we would be in a free fall. Nearby, the droopy, blood-red floor sculpture of waxed canvas and grass titled "Mistress" is nearly painful to observe. Suggesting both boldness and injury, the spade-shaped form's gruesomely slumping lobes reach up to a prickly phallic appendage that tops it like a cap, enfolding emotional import into the body of fabric in ways I've never seen. Hewitt is like Louise Bourgeois with organic materials.
Beside these absorbing amalgams, Nancy Hidding Pollock's cairn-shaped assemblages come off as amateur and facile. At first, I took her stacked sheet-metal ovals to be just glorified interior decoration. To be that, however, they would have to be decorative. Instead, with neither cohesion nor punch and lacking the subtle visual sensibility that separates good design from bad, the result is awkward and not engaging.
It's much more rewarding to compare Hewitt to another female artist with sculpture showing in Santa Fe: Judy Chicago. The mother of feminist art, Chicago is world-famous, but her strength has always been her weirdly cerebral social gutsiness more than her artistic acumen. In The Toby Heads, a series of cast-glass busts and porcelain goblets made from a single model, Chicago attempts to usurp and reconfigure "masculine" media like auto-body painting. But her work has a way of not quite aligning with her vision of how it challenges prevailing attitudes. It comes off instead as either too straightforward or out of sync.
The pieces work best when Toby's elderly androgyny and mournfully downcast gaze, exaggerated by her bald head and the work's high-gloss finish, offer a touching look at human frailty. More often, the brightly colored translucent glass renders Toby clownish, like a caricature of an aging transvestite. Cups lining the walls portray her in even more extreme-seeming parody, with her painted two-sided faces gaping absurdly. Rather than building to something grander, the work's incongruities just seem incongruent. So as hard as Chicago tries to undermine gender-based prejudices in the art world, it's Hewitt who actually succeeds.
THE Magazine, July 2007, Page 75
Sarah Hewitt is all about the making. She explores expressive qualities of high-art basketry within the broad context of contemporary aesthetics. This ain't the underwater basket-making activity you did at day camp. This is high craft married to an uncanny ability to evoke emotion through abstraction, recalling both Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois. More than a touch of the primitivist/universal haunts her project. Despite being rigorously abstract her pieces always seem mysteriously endowed with the kind of arresting emotive presence traditionally found in figurative form.