September 25 - November 20, 2021
From Lora Reynolds Gallery:
“Lora Reynolds is pleased to announce Boats: Horizons before the Mast, an exhibition of sculptures and paintings Michelle Stuart has made over the last four decades—the artist’s first solo project at the gallery.
There was a light far away, rising and falling like a soaring, tethered star. Night isolated the gentle sway of the boat. The sound was that yawning, agonizing, plaintive, wood-against-wood cry of the old sailboat. Music of a band in the casino floated across Avalon Bay. The smell of the Pacific is always sweet on the water…perhaps deep in the psyche there will always be perfume moored in the sea of one’s birth.
Since the 1960s, Michelle Stuart has been making sculpture, drawings and rubbings, collages, photographs, and site-specific earthworks—all connected by a deep sense of wonder for the natural world and the cosmos, culture and history. She pulls inspiration from archaeology, biology, literature, and her extensive travels to ancient sacred sites around the globe. “Coursing through her work,” writes curator Gregory Volk, “are appeals to wanderlust and voyaging—this from a famously itinerant artist who has been traveling her whole life, and whose work is so based on maximum curiosity about—and contact with—the world.” Although she began making work about boats in the 1980s, this is the first exhibition devoted entirely to them. “The boat is a beautiful metaphor for everything,” she says. “The whole idea of a voyage is so important to humanity.”
Stuart’s affinity for seafaring vessels and maritime expeditions is intensely personal—and might even have originated before her first breath: she was conceived in Sydney, carried across the Pacific Ocean in her mother’s womb, and born in Los Angeles. As a child, Stuart eagerly anticipated visits (and gifts) from her great uncle Jacques, a bachelor who spent his life at sea. “He brought with him exotica from distant lands, rare seashells and coral, embroidered Chinese coats, carved teak fans, satin and lace purses that smelled of sandalwood, and strange objects made by South Sea islanders. As a child I carefully preserved everything he brought me in a special place.” Uncle Jacques unleashed a passion for collecting in young Stuart, an impulse that has continued throughout her life. Her SoHo loft is densely packed with soil samples, rocks, seeds, bones, carvings—all matter of ephemera from her own travels, potent objects which often become actors in her artworks.
With raw materials so rich, Stuart’s touch can be light enough that some of her boat sculptures appear to be immaculately conceived. Painter’s Boat is little more than a wooden board—gouged and stained from age and experience—with an inverted paintbrush (its finish peeling and bristles gone) acting as its lone mast. Others are more elaborate: she wrapped the hull of Moon Ship with rough canvas, painted it white, and stacked the deck with blocks of wood that recall various components of a large ship’s anatomy—smokestack, bridge, portholes, living quarters. One flat-backed canoe is anchored on a hand-drawn topographic map, another fishing boat rests on a large drawing of a grid, a steamboat glides across a base of rippled concrete that summons the chop of the sea. All of the boats share in the rudimentary, handmade language of post-minimalism, and as such, have less to do with refined model-building than with childhood imaginings and the shape-shifting nature of memory.
The paintings use a similarly textured vocabulary, dealing more in impressions than depictions. Each work is a 12-inch square panel covered in encaustic medium with a smaller, frayed, irregular canvas rectangle bonded to its surface. The translucent wax—almost black, reddish brown, or taupe—variously recalls flesh, earth, and the surface of the sea. Some pieces of canvas are gridded, occasionally they carry an image of a hull or a mast, but most seem stained with atmosphere, like the sky is closing in on a lost boat or opening up after a storm. Some feel like maps of the ocean floor. They echo Stuart’s own journeys across the Pacific—both in the womb and as an adventuring adult.
Rather than traversing any literal sea, Stuart’s boats carry us to the core tenet of all of her work: that we are all perpetually sailing across mysterious, dangerous, beautiful, unknown, fascinating waters. Stuart’s boats heed no boundaries (between surf/soil, past/present, life/death, inner/outer space) in connecting distant lands, people, ideas—we need only climb aboard to fully appreciate the depth of our interconnectedness.
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul—not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.
Born in Los Angeles, Michelle Stuart lives and works in New York. Her Sayreville Strata Quartet (1976) is currently on permanent view at Dia Beacon. Her work is also currently featured in Partially Buried: Land-Based Art in Ohio, 1970 to Now at the Columbus Museum of Art and Land Art: Expanding the Atlas at the Nevada Museum of Art (Reno). Stuart’s work has recently been acquired by an extraordinary number of public institutions including: the Centre Pompidou (Paris), Chicago Art Institute, Dia Art Foundation (New York), Glenstone Museum (Maryland), Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Hirshhorn Museum (Washington D.C.), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Philadelphia Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Tate Modern (London). Individual museum shows include: Place and Time, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis); Michelle Stuart, Theatre of Memory: Photographic Works at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Michelle Stuart: Drawn from Nature, which originated in 2013 at the Djanogly Art Center (Nottingham) and traveled to the Parrish Art Museum (New York) and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, accompanied by a catalogue published by Hatje Cantz. Her work has also been the focus of solo exhibitions at the Centre d’Arts Plastiques Contemporaines de Bordeaux, Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), Kunstmuseum Den Haag (the Hague), and many other major museums and galleries worldwide. A room of Stuart’s work was also presented in Viva Arte Viva!, curated by Christine Macel at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.”
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