Rebecca Stevenson - February 2011
My sculpture exploits Baroque forms and kitsch subjects to explore issues around consumption, pleasure and desire. Using overtly sentimental subjects, the works are characterised by a fetishistic use of “wounding” and decoration that supplants or corrupts the object’s original meaning. Shifting between the beautiful and the grotesque, the work plays with expectations and assumptions of what constitutes (good and bad) “taste”, both on an aesthetic and sensory level.
I am concerned with both the visual experience and the meaning of excess, of sensual overload, of ornament and surface. Sculpted animals and portrait busts are cut open and the resulting cavities stuffed with fauna and fruit. Sugary white surfaces twist out like candy sticks, giving way to juicy apples and delicate roses; a liquorice-black bear is drizzled with what looks like lemon sherbet and decorated with marzipan-yellow scrolls; a lamb’s head unfurls to spill glistening grapes and berries. Referencing the Baroque fashion for elaborate sugar sculptures, these works are confections, served up for the viewer like bizarre delicacies from a banquet table.
My work is by turns charming, pastoral, unsettling and absurd. The spectacle, whilst apparently innocent, is not without unease for the viewer. The nostalgic or sentimental longings associated with “cute” subjects are confused by a more immediate, visceral urge to consume the work, either literally, because of its likeness to cake or confectionery, or visually. The pieces can be viewed as “pretty” or “sweet”, but can also be seen as expressions of primal fantasies, anxieties and desires related to sensuality, food and the body.
The Baroque can be thought of as describing not only an artistic style, but also certain natural patterns and forms, such as the breaking of waves on a shore or the veins running through a piece of marble. My work is driven by this almost Darwinian vision of the Baroque, associated with the profusion of nature, the processes of generation that can result in a hybrid rose, a coral reef, a mushroom or a tumour. Referencing the art historical traditions of flower painting, vanitas and ‘nature morte’, my work seeks to replicate nature, whilst at the same time continually allowing fancy and sentiment to influence or taint the work. The resulting pieces are intentionally hard to classify or describe; like curios or objects from a wunderkammer, they occupy a liminal territory, slipping between the objective and subjective, the seductive and repellent.