“Art should be beautiful, sensual, and transcendental,” says sculptor, Violet Dennison, paraphrasing John McCracken and providing insight into the directives for her newest sculptural work. Dennison is an emerging talent fresh out of NYU’s Steinhardt School. We recently discussed her raw, multiverse sculpture. In which, the artist offers an exciting and refreshing counterpoint to the trending ‘detritus movement’ taking her work further than mere groovy dyes and grainy façades. Instead, the impetus behind Dennison’s style comes from disco, sensuality, California car culture, and a suspicious yearn for utopian escapism.
The collection of works in Dennison’s Gowanus studio range in materials, from cement, plaster, burlap, granite, to wood, and measure from four to seven feet. Stylistically, they push at the boundaries of 60’s minimalism, entering into the viewer’s spatial field by modes of leaning, hanging, or existing as lone vertical structures.
Heavy fabrication and a dematerialized aesthetic are juxtaposed in Dennison’s work through her use of raw material and visual trickery. Materials are manipulated and meticulously re-invented, reaching a visual regression to a seemingly more organic state. Coated in dulcet tones of light pinks, blues, and pale greens, her palimpsest process delivers seesawing conclusiveness on their physical and visceral nature. “Is what’s in front of me heavy and cold or in fact light and sensual?” He or she must decide whether or not to trust his or her initial perception.
Elvis Block features grainy photography wheat pasted on a slab of granite, hung onto a painted chain that descends and coils at the floor. Multiple planes inform the ingestion of this piece, much like John McCracken’s leaning slabs made of fiberglass, resin, and wood. But instead of a leaning compound of abstract emotion, Elvis Block floats and resides inoffensively, allowing one to drift off safely into what one thinks of Elvis (sexy) and the remaining elements of the piece. The interplay of heavy materials with a harmless color palette frustratingly challenges the viewer, though concurrently, allows it to exist in a gestalt-harmony.
A Darker Side (#2) —a title taken from the Donna Summer song “Wasted” —strikes a tense chord between fragility and brutality. The sculpture gives the impression of brute monumentality as it stands as a deserted vertical beam, taller than the typical viewer. However, this shared quality is offset by the delicacy of patterned silk dyed in faded primary colors, creating intimate moments of realized detail within the context of the monolithic structure. Bringing privacy into a seemingly public-made space, and ultimately straddling the boundary between ornament and monument.
Moments of intimacy, as well as diaspora, are prominent in Dennison’s two sculptures Blue Velvet and TechniSpire in Tan (#1). In Blue Velvet, sensual peach and a fragment of velvet lull and dare the onlooker: Is this a previously dreamt escape? California-esc rays of deep blue and light pink are frozen in corrugated fabric and a floating wood plank. TechniSpire in Tan (#1) strains the attention of the onlooker, demanding him or her to get through the piece end to end. Gestural spirals, with relief in carved structural breaks, imbue the viewer and leave them in a rapt and fugal state, thwarting him or her through a hazy emanation of utopian chimera.
Dennison’s works examine questions of fragility, austerity, and the ethereal. Through physical and aesthetic mimicry, she makes these concepts palpable. But once you are straddling an incorporeal edge, what do you find? Her sculptural work is materialized extensions of such explored thoughts that lived in music that defined eras, and wander within internal and external exploration and exploitation. Though one may not receive answers within the works, the emotional essence manifested in former movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, most certainly get a three-dimensional revival.
Lucky for me, I got to ask Dennison some questions about her work— which was recently exhibited in the 2012 Brucennial and SPRING/BREAK show, New York City’s first curator-driven art fair at the Old School—and got a tiny glimpse into what may be going on in her head when diving into her creative process.
B/D: Would you consider your works to be influenced more heavily by material, or concept?
The starting point for all of my work is finding materials and experimenting with them. Making mistakes is often how I discover things.
Would you consider yourself a conceptual artist?
No. My art does not exist solely as the idea. It exists only as the object.
Which movements have moved you most? In terms of the style you have taken up in your work.
I am constantly taking tid-bits from different places. Sometimes I attempt to copy a part of another artist’s work that I see, but I also have been using blue velvet because I liked the color of a chair Kim Kardashian was sitting on in a photograph. I always find inspiration from the Abstract Expressionist movement and New York Minimalism. But that is just as valuable to me as a friend showing me how to wheat-paste or finding an abandoned can of paint. People always say artists are channels for what they read and watch and consume. I agree with that.
Does your work relate to spirituality?
Yes, in the sense that my own fire goes into the object. I hope the object possesses some sort of power and has an exchange with the viewer.
One of the photos on the wall of your studio is an interesting image of palm trees, seems like maybe you took this. If so, where was it taken and why?
I took this photograph outside of The Integratron, which is basically an acoustically sound building that was built by a group of people who received the mathematical equation from Aliens. They do this sort of ritual inside called a Sound Bath; the vibrations are supposed to realign all of your chakras. It really does!
Which artists have influenced you most?
For this body of work I would say, De Kooning’s “Door To the River” has inspired my palette of late. I often think about David Hammon’s show at L & M last year and John McCracken. I really enjoyed Molly Smith’s show at Kate Werble.
If you had to choose one: disco, a sound bath, or Elvis?