Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.

Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.
I took this photo of my uncle Joe and his friend Louie with a Holga.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Martha Posner

Martha Posner is showing at Dalet Gallery, 141 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA, from April 30 – June 6, 2010. Opening Reception: Friday, May 7, 5 – 9 p.m. Gallery Talk: Saturday, May 15, 3:00 p.m.

Martha Posner’s work disturbs me – in the best possible way. Much of the time, I don’t know what the hell to make of it. I’m not sure what it’s about. It bothers me. And that’s a good thing. I think that’s what art—at least some art—should do. Robert Rauschenberg’s work has that effect on me. So does Francis Bacon’s. So do the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka. That’s not bad company Martha.

When I drive down the long dirt road to her farm to visit Martha or her husband, photographer Larry Fink, I’m always tempted to sneak away and peer into her studio upstairs in the 1812 barn to see what’s cooking. And cook she does, melting, stirring, then brushing beeswax from bubbling crockpots onto the dresses, shoes, and other, more amorphous forms she has mounted on wire armatures.

On my recent visit to talk about her work, she's not cooking -- she is in the studio preparing everything for transport to the gallery. Strewn among the quiet figures that feel like they are slowly turning and lifting, are screwdrivers, pliers, paint, nails, brushes, tattered clothing, tree roots, and older sculptures and paintings. On a small table in the corner, laid carefully next to a pile of two dozen not-so-neatly-piled paintbrushes, are a dead bluebird and a dead cedar waxwing. Delivered by Martha’s cats as presents, for now, they are to behold. Eventually, they may become part of an assemblage.

When discussing Martha’s sculptures recently with another artist, the person said to me, “I can’t understand why she would make her work out of materials that are impermanent.” Looking around her studio today, I remember what I said, and why I said it: “That’s exactly what attracts me to her work.”

Martha tells me the figures in her new series have come together quickly after she thought about them for months while working around the farm and tromping up and down the surrounding hills with her Yellow Lab, Max.

Several years ago, Martha completed a series of sculptures entitled Physical Memory, a phrase that seems to apply to all of her work. Like memories—my memories at least—her constructions feel incomplete, unfinished, unresolved. The materials and colors she uses suggest familiar, fundamental things: dirt, blood, hair, feathers, and bone. While familiar, in combination they both repel and attract. I’m drawn to touch them, yet a little frightened. “The last thing I would want,” Martha tells me, “would be for someone to think I’m trying to make angels.” She grits her teeth, as if dreading the thought.

What she does want to explore, she explains, is the “deeply physical and sometimes painful process of crossing between two worlds.” While her figures have both human and animal features, to Martha, the “categories are porous.” Although she doesn’t come across as a mystic, Martha’s work asks the viewer to wonder why wouldn’t spiritual and physical transformation be possible? The figures leave me without an answer, but their physicality has a resonance that causes the question to linger in my mind. Martha Posner’s work is of this world, but it’s also of another world—one I’m still trying to define. I hope I never succeed.