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Elemental Things

November 1, 2023 to November 28, 2023



Heather Watkins
Elemental Things

The works in this exhibition developed through multiple, successive actions and gestures, each move informed by the last. Ink drawings made by pouring and guiding ink across a surface were then excised, freed from their grounds to become sculptures. Molded metallic reliefs that at first glance appear to be formed by great force, perhaps involving an industrial process, turn out to be ink drawings made on the back of a luminous, lightweight sheet of paper.

Watkins’ practice is rooted in a deep engagement with the transformation of materials. Through meticulous and embodied forms of touch and transference, she pushes materials such as paper and ink to reveal something unexpected, yet true, about their nature. Key to her practice is the desire to find ways to hand off a part of the creative process to forces beyond her control. This physical and sensory receptivity creates a space of open-ended collaboration and surprise. Watkins works with the elemental forces that shape our world—gravity, suspension, compression, evaporation—embracing flux states and unforeseen results.

Hidden Span, 2022
These shimmering reliefs, with their molten shapes almost pushing through the surface, are not what they seem. Evoking molded sheet metal, or perhaps, an industrial fabric, in fact, they are ink drawings, made on the back of a gold-pigmented paper.

Before Things, 2022
Reflecting on the mysterious nature of beginnings, this cycle of drawings was made by exerting paperto many cycles of saturation, compression, and transference. The titles, excerpted and rearranged lines from the beginning of The Metamorphoses of Ovid (translated by Allen Mandelbaum), call attention to the state of things before:

before the sea and lands began to be
before the sky had mantled every thing
before surrounding air had found its home
before earth’s weight had met its balanced state before the weightless force of fire shot up
before the ground, more dense, drew elements
before the farthest fields enlarged their reach
before descending rivers sought their paths
before the woods—unfelled—were clothed with leaves before the rains and mist that drench arrived
before the winds received their separate tracts before the seas would stretch and swell and roil before the stars, long hid, began to gleam

Unbound Volumes, 2023
A series of sculptural arrangements that grew out of a drawing practice Watkins has developed for years: pouring ink onto paper and guiding the line with the movement of her body. The ink—which she maneuvers by tilting, bending, turning, and holding the paper—begins to flow, then splits into multiple streams running across the surface as she guides the lines toward resolution. Watkins, has always regarded the ink flow drawings as sculptural; as the ink dries, the paper shrinks, creating a warped surface around the lines. Excising the drawn lines feels like a natural evolution, freeing them from their ground, embracing their full dimensionality.

Some of the works included in this exhibition were originally commissioned by and presented in a two-person exhibition curated by Stephanie Snyder at the Cooley Gallery at Reed College, Dark Moves: Fabiola Menchelli & Heather Watkins.