Ranging from the amorphous to more clearly recognisable forms, Rebecca Warren’s sculptures create a bold new figure for the female nude. Her subject is one of the most traditional in art history, but she subverts the inherited cliches associated with the genre, redefining what sculpture should be or should look like. With their earthy, unfired and unfinished look, they unveil a tension between thought and process, while creating a unique, new sculptural mode.
Warren, who belongs to the same generation as the YBA artists from the 1990s, has developed an aesthetic entirely her own. Clay, a very flexible medium, allows her to explore unconscious free association. “The beauty of working with a material like clay is that it gives you that freedom to change things... I like to keep the quality that they’re breeding quite quickly and they’re made quite quickly, that there’s a sense of them perhaps not being complete, to keep them alive and dynamic and fresh”.
In her work, Warren wryly addresses her fascination with artists who have overtly fetishised the female form: photographer Helmut Newton, cartoonist Robert Crumb, and abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. Her earth mothers quote from their imagery, and from that of and modernist sculpture, highlighting a shared interest in sexualising women’s shape by discarding heads or any personal attributes, and filtering symbols of objectification – aggressively cartoonised buttocks, nipples and postures.
Warren's show entitled 'SHE', comprised six large sculptures in unfired clay. These sculptures are approximately life-sized and female but wildly free in their anatomical exaggeration, abbreviation, and expressiveness. Breasts, buttocks, and hands appear as prominent focal points. Heads seem to have fallen victim to evolutionary redundancy. In spite of or because of their deformities the figures possess an uncanny psycho-physiological rectitude and a purposeful energy. Their surfaces are rough and at times seem barely modeled from the raw blocks of clay out of which they emerge. "SHE" unashamedly evokes and engages with a powerful history of expressive figurative sculpture stretching from Degas and Rodin through Boccioni to Fontana, taking in Picasso and the German expressionists for good measure. Warren seems to want to grapple with this lineage of male masters on their own terms, rather than women sculptors of the female form such as Elizabeth Frink. Warren's references to popular culture and to psychology show that she is culturally conscious, but neither irony nor critique is a significant motive behind these works.
© Harriet Grace Abbott, all rights reserved