Sunday, March 1, 2015

Letha Wilson

That feeling I get from a big open space, like the ocean or a heap of mountains with a spread of land in front of it, on a good day, can parallel the feeling I get from seeing art. I remember spending entire afternoons in a gallery full of Rothkos at the Tate in London during a summer that I spent there as a teen. I longed to be the only one in the room, waiting out the time in between when the tourists haphazardly bumbled around. It was the same gooey excitement I got from standing in front of the Grand Canyon with my headphones on a few years earlier. Letha Wilson is able to eloquently combine the intimacy of experiencing art and the grandeur of experiencing nature into one encounter. She was well into working on her next solo show (opening at Grimm Gallery June 6th in Amsterdam) at her Marie Walsh Sharpe studio a couple weeks ago when I came by. We spent the afternoon into the evening watching the sun go down out her window over the Brooklyn bridge. The view wasn't bad, we thought, but it wasn't quite as sublime as the warmer winter nightfalls of the Southwest.

Artists get their ideas across in a slew of different ways, through varied use of materials, dimensions, or colors. Wilson describes her newest works with a different set of variables. One that uses action, gravity, and a collective understanding of the natural world that came before us. Whether or not we have gone to the places that are photographed in Letha's work, we inherently know where those places are and the powers they hold. She takes images, solely with her Yashica-Mat medium format camera, while hiking in states like Utah, California, or Colorado, and hand processes them before adding them to her overflowing flat file collection. Her artworks get their start somewhere in this visual stockpile, and, most recently, continue to be manipulated with the shear weight and chemical effects of cement. It is as if these pieces are made using a sped up miniaturized version of the erosion and compression that make nature's sculptures. Like the multi-colored stratum of Utah's towering land formations and the Northern California wave-sculpted sea cliffs that can be found in Letha's photos. As I learned during our visit, she has come to this process through a lot of trial testing — her studio part science lab. Wilson shared with me her "cement bible" where she has meticulously written down all the factors that are involved with making each piece. The conclusions that she draws are obviously leading her to excellent results. 

A shared bottle of wine later, I finished up my drawing while gabbing with Letha about her recent visit to Milan. She was there on the occasion of her solo show Terra Firma at Brand New Gallery that just came down at the end of February. With loads of other stories to tell, from her hikes to her many residencies, my visit was as insightful as I had expected it would be. After ending our conversations on the topic of women in the artworld, she lent me her copy of A Room of One's Own and I was off to dream of bigger skies. To see more of her work go here:

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