Claire Watson’s unusual glove sculptures were on view at Art Sites gallery in Riverhead, NY during my recent visit to Long Island. Taking advantage of the opportunity to see unusual textile based work by an artist unfamiliar to me, I took time out from beachcombing to visit this exhibit.
Watson’s art is formed from ladies gloves that are taken apart and then reconstructed and altered. Doll parts and doll-making techniques are incorporated along with additional seams to form lines and shapes that change the original glove into an entirely new creature. The resulting forms are stuffed with sawdust and presented as discrete (and often unsettling) objects.
In making these sculptures, Watson hopes to suggest flesh (and its fragility), preoccupations with its containment or disclosure, and escape through role-playing and costume. She says she thinks of women’s traditions of handwork and long hours spent in sewing while she is working on these pieces, and also is reminded of dolls and toys. The artist has said that the shape of each sculpture comes from the gloves themselves- the extent to which they were deconstructed and then rebuilt evolved as the piece developed. In some cases, Watson made the gloves from sewing patterns. Other times, they came from the collection of gloves that she has accumulated.
I was quite fascinated by these sculptures, as each piece seemed to fool the eye as it traveled along the piece. There were legs that morphed into a hand, or fingers that attach to a doll’s head instead of a hand. Some pieces invited longer study, to discover clever construction. My favorite work of the exhibit was a piece that had gloves where each finger ended in its own tiny-gloved hand.
Also on display at this gallery was Claire Watson’s most recent work called “Familiars”. The sculptures in this exhibit begin with kitchen and household tools that have been transformed with polymer clay. These pieces start with sock darning eggs, wooden rolling pins, wooden spoons and mallets. These items were selected both because they are made to be grasped or touched by the human hand, and also because their shapes suggest parts of the human form.
The polymer clay that encases these wooden objects is flesh colored doll-makers clay which gives each piece the appearance of human flesh. The sculptures’ shapes have only a vague suggestion of human form or human body part. The abstraction of each piece is intentional, according to the artist, as she hopes the work will not suggest an exact form or use for the underlying tool, but instead will suggest mystery of functions that are no longer part of our common knowledge.
In a fitting summation of her work, Claire Watson’s artist statement includes the following thought:
“Language and art are tools, and playthings. I make objects to see what they will look like, but mainly to give form to ideas that can’t be put to words, and names to images that arrive in the imagination wholly unexpectedly.”
Claire Watson, a resident of Water Mill, received a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Rome and Philadelphia. She received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1990-1991, and is a 2007 Fellow in Sculpture from the New York Foundation for the Arts.