Daisy Youngblood

Beaver College Art Gallery

Experiencing Daisy Youngblood’s sculptures is like making eye contact with an animal in the wild. This selection of 12 works, dating from 1980 to the present, depicts both animal and human figures whose thin, clay bodies are poetically as well as materially vulnerable; sometimes, human and animal characteristics are reconfigured in a single piece to compelling effect. The ultimate power of this work is in its unique physical presence, which establishes itself not so much as objects of art do, but, rather, as ancient, mysterious forms in which we recognize ourselves. Youngblood creates this phenomenon by employing a contemporary formal idiom without making that vocabulary its content. Fragmentation is assumed; limbs are cut off or appear never to have grown at all. In Standing Gorilla, 1989, and Monkey With Leg Out, 1990, the limbs dissolve into the clay body in a protective gesture. And yet the overriding posture of these animals is remarkably confident: the gorilla uses frontality like a shield, and the monkey stretches one leg out with defiant ease. Tied Goat, 1983, and Elephant, 1991, both solve the missing-limb problem with wooden stick appendages. For the goat, the sticks serve to complete the drawing rather than suggest their possible function. Lying on its side, the goat’s unexpected human head strains away from its base on the floor, as if caught in some primitive ritual from which it cannot escape. Youngblood makes one of her more obvious links to the natural world in Elephant, where the animal stands on thick wooden stumps and sports a spreading branch for a tail. In a far more powerful piece using elephant imagery, Romana, 1987, the animal/human connection is reinvestigated. A female torso arches its back as if to provide a resting place for the elephant’s trunk. The head is missing its elephant ears, leaving only the sad slits of eyes as witness to this bewildering conflation. Offering an emotional contrast, the nipples of the torso are taut and alert, although it is not clear why.

In many of these pieces, the sex is identified much as the limbs are; though it is often missing, it bears an invisible weight. Hawk Woman (Capitalism and Sexual Dependency), 1980, and Pink Gorilla, 1981, are two female types; their sexes are marked by black holes, suggesting dark entrances to the body similar to the eyes and reinforcing their spirituality. Physical absence gives way to inner life, and the body becomes home to the spirit. Scale is also an operative element. All of the work is smaller than life-size (the largest piece being Tied Goat at 31 1/2 inches long); together their reduced sizes and disproportionate scale-shifts (one of the smallest is Elephant, at 8 1/2 inches high), create a world of their own, providing us with some distance even as we identify with them. Perhaps they exist as early versions of ourselves, less physically evolved but more spiritually intact.

Eileen Neff