New York

Daisy Youngblood

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

A bald head lies like an egg in a nest of dried grass, evoking shades of Constantin Brancusi but remaining far from his aerodynamism, more like the post-Surrealism of Jonathan Borofsky’s and Enzo Cucchi’s bulging craniums; bodies wither to mere trunks or twig limbs, stumps. Both heads and bodies are meshed in nature, the arms and legs of half-metamorphosed Daphnes, the heads approaching the status of skulls, shrunken, but caught on their way to the natural state, i.e., on their way to death. In Daisy Youngblood’s figures the pull to earth is almost gravitational, the lower parts reaching there first.

Why is the head exempted at the last moment? The kind of necrophiliac detail that Robert Graham distributes over the entire figure Youngblood reserves for this part of the body (applying real hair, for example). This is not simply a surrealist reification of the unconscious, but the embodiment of that creation of unconscious forces, the conscience. These are staring faces, maybe the family internalized, and, because slightly shrunken, encapsulable in our heads—we can mentally pocket them. But they are unrelenting, literally haunting in their aspect of death. The connection between ghosts and conscience is older than Hamlet’s father. Contagious with the suppressed hostility and guilty desires of the survivor, the ghost must be propitiated, and Youngblood’s effigies are sacrifices made to themselves—victim and victimizer telescoped, natal innocence combined with sadistic finality. In one piece the figure is treated as a deer lying in a nearly fetal position, rear legs bound. The works thus manage to stand as projections of both a guilty and a clear conscience.

That ambivalence is the key to these low-fired clay sculptures. As taboo, they are objects not only of dread but also of consecration. As portraits they vibrate with Youngblood’s regret and sympathy for their plight, for their uncontrollable pain and aging, yet with her great fascination with it also. They are caught decomposing but never decomposed, in the airless tomb of the memorialist’s inner eye. They are protests of outrage on behalf of the models, directed at nature but displaced to the viewer by reason of the works’ ferociousness. Yet Youngblood has vampirized her sitters: as an artist, she has made homunculi of them, to be used by her to hold sway over her audience. And that cannibalization, the hungry defacing gaze of the artist, sucking out detail, unwilling to let go, is also an expression of love. One feels the depth of Youngblood’s homage to her subjects not by the degree of court she pays them in her images, but by the power with which she invests them.

Jeanne Silverthorne