New York

Clyde Connell

Oscarsson Siegltuch

Clyde Connell’s vision is distinguished by an uncommon sensitivity to the vitalistic aspects of nature; her work goes right to the quick of things. This 85-year-old artist (who only turned to making art full-time in her 50s) deals with a multitude of experiences both pleasant and painful, from cradle to grave, revealing the fundamentals of life in forms and images that are powerful enough to impress as icons. Her instinctive understanding of the magic of art was evident almost everywhere in this show.

A striking example of Connell’s ability to enchant is provided by Time and Space Mantis Man, 1983. This mixed-media sculpture, like several others–including Untitled, 1981, and Bird Guardian, 1985—consists of a wooden structure covered with a special mixture of glue and paper that hardens into a surface the artist herself rightly labels “skin.” With its built-in wooden bench and facing screen, Time and Space Mantis Man resembles a prayer stall with open sides. The tactile properties of “skin” give the overall work an organic warmth and an active surface that contributes to its protean character. It could be perceived alternately as an architectural/furniture object (a bench connected to a wall of panels) or as a symbolic configuration (a man with outstretched arms, praying in front of an altarpiece). When I sat down on the bench and contemplated the panels of the screen, which is covered with figural reliefs and various motifs carved into the wood, I experienced a rush of thoughts and feelings about shrines and sanctuaries.

Empathic response is sparked by Connell’s visceral treatment of her materials. In two recent works on paper, she treats the surface like the earth, almost as ground to be tilled. In People from the Mists III, 1986, the surface is built up through the application of inks and acrylic in calligraphic strokes, while in Collage, 1987, it is created by a process of adding and subtracting pieces of different kinds of paper, layer by layer. Connell’s interest in the metaphorical potentials of layers yields impressive results in “Bound People,” 1986-87, a series of mixed-media sculptures, of which eight examples were shown here (all but one consisting of a single figure). Each figure was carved from wood and then covered with strips of brown paper glued to its surface, after which narrow bands of raw linen were tied around its arms, legs, face, and torso. Although the slim proportions and simplified torsos give the figures a family resemblance—bringing to mind such iconic images as Egyptian mummies and Christ on the cross—each one is a highly individuated creation that succeeds in supplanting those references by its own strength as a symbolically endowed form. While some figures seem almost resigned to their insensate condition—blindfolded and kept immobile by the tightly bound linen—others appear strong enough to break all bonds. As with her other work, the interpretation depends on the subtlest of qualities, such as the relative weight of materials and the counterbalancing of linear rhythms, over which this artist is in complete command.

Ronny Cohen