During the month of March, we have the pleasure of hosting Sarah Hewitt as our Work in Progress (WIP) resident at TAC. She is a contemporary artist whose constructions are crafted using laborious textile techniques, sacred rituals, and synthetic, mass produced materials with vivid colors. She uses knitting, crochet, stitching, basketry techniques, weaving, and any concoction her hands produce to create forms. I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Sarah about collaborating with the community and the future of her work.
On her textile background:
I fell in love with weaving and fiber studios on a visit to Truchas in northern New Mexico when I was 13. On this visit I was introduced to Harry Cordova, a well-known weaver and the son of two weavers. Harry became an adopted father to me and I instantly felt at home in the old Spanish village. Every year we would return and my interest in weaving and traditions handed down via crafts deepened. At the time I always had a camera in my hand and photographed people I met on my adventures and hoped to study art in college. Instead my family felt I should have a more well-rounded education.. so I studied philosophy for my first two years in Santa Fe at St. John’s College.
Truchas is 45 minutes north of Santa Fe, and on expeditions with my college friends we would escape up to Truchas, entertain Harry, and have impromptu photography sessions. Finally, in 1994, I transferred to art school and finished up in 3.5 years with a BFA in photography and painting.
I am a bit restless and a nomad. Before I had even finished my BFA I had written Harry and said I was ready to return to Truchas, find a place to live and learn to weave. It did not happen quite that succinctly, but it did happen. In a year’s time I had bought a house in Truchas and started to learn how to weave, naturally dye, and spin. Never have I stuck to one modality in art making though. I painted and photographed through these years and worked very hard to start to combine the aesthetics. I remember the day it all came together very well and then in an instant I was off on to making something new.
On her work environment:
Quiet that I can fill with my own noise…My peak hours of production are from 11-6 and I need caffeine and healthy food to keep me going. Sleep is really important when I am working on putting together a show. Honestly, my life gets really boring when I’m focused on making. Clean eating, lots of hiking and walking my dog, yoga/Pilates, meditation, reading and then letting myself focus solely on making work. I go into space of deep focus and can get lost in it for long periods of time. Sometimes it feels self-indulgent, but I know that I am working towards something for a community or creating an experience for viewers. It is my job and it restarts every time I finish a show or an installation. Research, study, sketch, plan, throw that plan out the window and get to work. I also sing to the work when I’m in the studio.
On the ideal environment to show her work:
Right now I am dreaming about creating an installation for a church or creating my own fully woven temple – floors, walls, canopy, the whole shebang. I want to make a peaceful and exuberant space that is playful and sacred all in one breath.
Grad school offered me such freedom to just make for two years and try not to think about where a piece might go or how ‘finished’ something had to be. Actually the faculty tried to break me of all the finishing habits I had perfected. I ended up making big, wild, weird pieces that I thought would never exist outside my studio. It did not turn out that way at all. The pieces have gone on to show at a museum and various galleries. My favorite place for the works though are when they are all gathered in my studio and it gets so crowded and populated that it is nearly vibrating.
On what materials and techniques she uses:
I use knitting, crochet, stitching, basketry techniques, weaving – any concoction my hands produce to create the forms. I started to weave in 1997 and kept using looms until 2002 or so. Then I started working in methods that allowed me to be a bit more flexible in movement – I could carry knitting and crochet with me. I used to spin on a drop spindle in a car on long road trips.. I have restless hands.
In the spring of 2015, I felt a deep need to return to weaving. My mentors in school thought I was nuts, but I found a lap loom at Goodwill and started weaving really weird cloth on it. I remember someone looking at it on my table just shaking their head. I promised them, just wait and a couple weeks later I had constructed Way of the Shaman from that fabric. That summer I started weaving my version of tapestries and it just keeps going. The weavings start on the loom and then grew on to the walls in organic shapes. I take nails and start creating points for the material to grow. It is magical and maddening if I really try to plan it out. When a weaving is done and I need to map it out, archive it and document the points – it gets interesting.
On her time at TAC and showing in public spaces:
I love being in the window and engaging people on the street – NOW. The first time I was installing in a gallery in Chelsea – at street level with huge windows – there was no paper up or anything to conceal what was opening next. I got so overwhelmed and anxious because people started stopping and taking pictures of the work and me setting the work up. Luckily the gallery took charge and covered the windows so that I could focus. Sometimes I do not want people to ever see me with the work. I fear it ruins it but slowly I’ve become more comfortable being with the work in public places.
Last year at SPRING/BREAK I had a piece up and was talking to people, but I was distracted by an adorable little girl and her father. They were inspecting the weaving, looking at all the points and intersections. Slowly I went to the other side of the weaving, looked through and asked the girl if she knew who had made it. She shook her head slowly. When I said that I had she couldn’t believe it. She looked at her father, then me, then her father and touched the weaving. What a sweet memory.
On what the future holds:
Hopefully many more opportunities to exhibit, collaborate, make and travel. In May my work will be included in a fashion show near Chicago. Right now I am working on the yardage for those pieces. I am a bit behind where I’d like to be with them, but I am a planner. I plan in my head, worry, work, and then it happens. In October I will be installing works at Perimeter Gallery in Belfast, Maine. It is the first time people will see what kind of work I do, in the town I live in. For this show I have a lot of space to take up for three months. The building is really large and a great space for me to play. I have a rough sketch and an idea of what I am working up to. I hope the community responds well to it – that is becoming more and more important to me as our political climate has changed – community, collaboration, supporting each other. You can expect me working feverishly this summer on making larger pieces, swimming in the bay, hiking in the woods, designing and consulting for artists, galleries, nonprofits and looking forward to what is next.
I’m also working on an online forum for artists, performers, critics and activists who are working on behalf of feminism, the feminine and femme – www.riseofthefemme.com.
Photos by Sam Crow and Sarah Hewitt.
You can visit Sarah’s installation for Work In Progress from March 1-31, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays, 2-5PM at our Manhattan studio. Join us on Saturday, March 25th, for Artists’ Role Today – Round Table Discussion + Crochet with Sarah Hewitt.
KINDRED BEASTS: The 2016 Everson Biennial by Sheila Pepe
Sarah Hewitt is a new kind of itinerant artist whose varied education and experience has resulted in work that reflects the amalgamation of means, tropes, and references that resist the terms of received terms. Hers is a compulsively somatic studio practice channeled through a highly intellectual understanding of culture. While the work can take many forms, the pieces here amplify Hewitt's embodied making with depictions of bodies as sculptures. Fiber is literally the stuff(ing) of this work. Whether made or found, fabrics perform as skin, garment, fur, and jewelry. Strings are pulled or unfurled to suture, cinch, and tattoo. Among the many allusions the forms evoke, late Canaanite and Phoenician relief and statuary seems most apt. In all, Hewitt's work confronts with strategies of radical authenticity in order to affirm art making as a rite and its reception as a secular sacrament.
ACCIDENTS INTO INCIDENTS, April 2016
by Jennifer Conrad
New Mexico’s license plates announce the state as the “land of enchantment.” Sarah Hewitt spent years in that place of convergence, where the opulent decoration of Spanish Catholicism coexists with the spare, abstract symbols of Native American culture. In dictionaries, to enchant is “to exert magical influence upon; to bewitch, lay under a spell.” Between the wars, the French writer and mystic Romain Rolland (1866-1984) identified the “oceanic feeling” as a sensation of connection to everyone and everything in the world, reaching into the primordial. You sense that kind of connection in Hewitt’s work. Watching her in her studio, you see her wielding her materials without restriction, as if in conversation with other times and realms. To be in the presence of her weavings and sculpture is to feel the energy of another being beside you.
Through repetitive and meditative movement, her weavings emerge as sculptural skins in which intuitive feeling balances with tangible materials. Hewitt voraciously devours a wide range of sources, from theoretical texts to artifacts of visual culture. Among her myriad inspirations: Navajo patterns, Missy Elliott videos, Gustav Klimt paintings. The feminine is essential. Consciously evoking feminist art history, her work traces back to Womanhouse, the landmark installation organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro that reclaimed craft as a legitimate concern of fine art. Hewitt delights in cast-off materials, sourcing from warehouse remnants of plastic gold chain, trims of plastic raspberry beads and pompons galore. Her chroma is techno/color, like a rave gone mad, with jarring brights, neons and shiny materials. Rough Rider (2015) incorporates ten different colors/types of yarn interwoven with gold party foil streamers, a fluffy pink pompon and neon orange flag tape. Strands of yarn radiate from the main body of the weaving to pull it taut to the wall, and the frenetic lines read like highway arteries on a map.
Hewitt’s additive process resonates with that of Judith Scott, who began each sculpture with an object, wielded like a talisman, which she would wrap with yarn and other fibers, sometimes inserting additional objects until she decided it was complete. In contrast to Scott’s, however, Hewitt’s sculptures are sensual and fecund, entwining male and female anatomy. She aims to protect, swaddle and enfold in vibrant materials that are woven, crocheted and hand-sewn.
Hewitt’s haptic aesthetic converses with that of the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko, and in fact Hewitt references the Rothko Chapel in a dream proposal for her own temple of contemplation. Rothko wished to offer viewers a transcendent experience in the presence of his paintings. “To drag you into the sacred without consent”: Hewitt’s aim, stated on her website, lands us in a similar place, opening a portal within.
NAUGHTY BY NATURE
Santa Fe Reporter, July 7, 2010
by Marin Sardy
I once knew a guy who, when he was on LSD, couldn't handle being in nature. All that exaggeratedly twining, entangling growth was just too creepy for him, so he only took the drug in visually sanitized city spots, surrounded by concrete and steel. Although I found him absurd, as a biology student I had seen enough of the unsettling and uncontrollable messiness of life that I got his point. Now I'm reminded of it when I look at the sculptures of local fiber artist Sarah Hewitt.
Hewitt's heavily textured abstract forms, on display in the two-artist show Lost & Found at Victoria Price Art & Design, feel viscerally alive in ways we usually prefer to forget. Composed of wax and grass-like raffia - and vaguely resembling body parts, plant parts or unicellular blobs - the sculptures suggest breaches of their own limits. At once foreign and familiar, they're as beguiling as they are disturbing - because they are disturbing. Hewitt's waxy coatings appear membranous, her structural folds look vaginal, grassy openings suggest nests and elongated shapes recall standing figures. There's also a hint of violence in the deep red dyes and misshapen bends.
These forms are somehow human, yet invertebrate enough to make humans recoil - a reminder of how strongly we have historically tried to define ourselves as separate from animals. Even the most ardent tree huggers can rarely resist Disney-vision: the urge to tidy up nature, either aesthetically or structurally, so it makes more sense. But as Hewitt's work announces, that's just not the nature of nature.
Tying together sex, reproduction and the female body - literally - a sculpture titled "Umbilicus" has a heavily folded, basket-like construction hanging like a bou lder from the ceiling in a cage of red rope. The message, perhaps: Without connection to the mother, we would be in a free fall. Nearby, the droopy, blood-red floor sculpture of waxed canvas and grass titled "Mistress" is nearly painful to observe. Suggesting both boldness and injury, the spade-shaped form's gruesomely slumping lobes reach up to a prickly phallic appendage that tops it like a cap, enfolding emotional import into the body of fabric in ways I've never seen. Hewitt is like Louise Bourgeois with organic materials.
Beside these absorbing amalgams, Nancy Hidding Pollock's cairn-shaped assemblages come off as amateur and facile. At first, I took her stacked sheet-metal ovals to be just glorified interior decoration. To be that, however, they would have to be decorative. Instead, with neither cohesion nor punch and lacking the subtle visual sensibility that separates good design from bad, the result is awkward and not engaging.
It's much more rewarding to compare Hewitt to another female artist with sculpture showing in Santa Fe: Judy Chicago. The mother of feminist art, Chicago is world-famous, but her strength has always been her weirdly cerebral social gutsiness more than her artistic acumen. In The Toby Heads, a series of cast-glass busts and porcelain goblets made from a single model, Chicago attempts to usurp and reconfigure "masculine" media like auto-body painting. But her work has a way of not quite aligning with her vision of how it challenges prevailing attitudes. It comes off instead as either too straightforward or out of sync.
The pieces work best when Toby's elderly androgyny and mournfully downcast gaze, exaggerated by her bald head and the work's high-gloss finish, offer a touching look at human frailty. More often, the brightly colored translucent glass renders Toby clownish, like a caricature of an aging transvestite. Cups lining the walls portray her in even more extreme-seeming parody, with her painted two-sided faces gaping absurdly. Rather than building to something grander, the work's incongruities just seem incongruent. So as hard as Chicago tries to undermine gender-based prejudices in the art world, it's Hewitt who actually succeeds.
THE Magazine, July 2007, Page 75
Sarah Hewitt is all about the making. She explores expressive qualities of high-art basketry within the broad context of contemporary aesthetics. This ain't the underwater basket-making activity you did at day camp. This is high craft married to an uncanny ability to evoke emotion through abstraction, recalling both Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois. More than a touch of the primitivist/universal haunts her project. Despite being rigorously abstract her pieces always seem mysteriously endowed with the kind of arresting emotive presence traditionally found in figurative form.