The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 17, 2013
|Realization, clay and salt, by Aisha Harrison|
Picture if you can sculpted figures with the strength and sensuality of a Rodin, but not idealized in any way — realistic sculptures of people who may be a little overweight or less than movie-star beautiful, in natural but perhaps awkward poses with faces that register pain. Now imagine they are people of African descent rendered in brown clay and coated, partially or wholly, with glistening white rock salt. That is what sculptor Aisha Harrison is showing at Susan Christian’s Salon Refu in Olympia.
Harrison’s vision of humanity in clay walks a tightrope between realism and surrealism. The figures are engaging, and many of them are eerie. They are sure to ignite an emotional spark.
“I am interested in the experience of power and privilege derived from an individual’s race, class and/or gender identity,” Harrison wrote. “I use materials and surfaces metaphorically. … the brown bare clay refers to my own brown body. The bare clay surface is never extremely smooth or refined. Instead of mimicking skin, I want the gritty, spotted clay to refer to all the elements that come together to make us who we are.”
It is the white salt that gives these sculptures their surrealistic quality. In some the salt is ground fine and thinly brushed on with acrylic gel allowing the brown clay to show through. In others the salt is courser and more completely covers the skin.
One of the most powerful pieces is called “Cleanse.” The figure is crouching and licking the salt off part of one hand and arm, and the brown clay shows through only at that point and on the figure’s face. I was so taken with the face and hand that I cannot now remember whether this figure was male or female.
In a similar piece, “Realization,” a woman is lying down in a boat. Her body and the interior of the boat are completely covered with salt, but she reaches out one hand to dip in the water, and the salt has washed away from the delicate fingers of that hand.
There are some in which streams or clouds of salt gush out of mouths as if they are speaking or vomiting salt. There is one mask that is stark brown on the outside and stark white on the inside. And yet another figure holds square masks of salt in front of her face and is standing in a pile of identical square salt masks.
Another favorite piece, “Dissolve,” is a crouching nude woman pouring liquid out of a pitcher. The flowing lines of her legs, arms, knees and breasts are lyrical, and her position is natural and “un-posed.” She demonstrates that the artist has studied figures closely. This is also the only piece in the show without any salt. Or without any recognizable salt. There is a stream of hard, clear “water” inside the spout of the pitcher that is probably finely-ground salt.
This is one of the better shows I’ve seen all year.
Salon Refu, Thursday-Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. through Oct. 27, 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360-280-3540.
"Dissolve" is an interesting piece, with the very compelling figure you describe pouring water out of a vessel while looking steadily and hard at a second figure, which is clothed and completely covered with harsh, knobby salt except for a small bare area around his eyes. The contrast between the dark, sinuous figure (it's a woman, but she's bald) completely free of "salt" and the blanked-out, blocky figure (a man) is very striking.
Love you, Alec. Thanks for your good attention, always.
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