Hannah Wilke (1940-1993) is known in the contemporary art for her latex sculptures or self-portrait photographs, often naked, that relate to her performances and her daring exploration of the female body in the 1970s. The drawings of the 1960s are less familiar, a gap filled by Hannah Wilke: Drawings and Sculpture at Marc Selwyn Fine Art through July 7.
Hannah Wilke Untitled, circa 1965 marker pen on paper towel 10 x 9 5/8 inches © Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY. Copyright Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY
The drawings are loose and gestural but even those that are seemingly abstract incorporate convex and phallic forms referencing the human body. Using a dark, soft graphite, she allowed the so-called “negative space” of the white rice paper to expand as dimensional and physical. Even using a simple black marker pen on torn squares of brown paper towel, there is the energy of thrust and parry. Most of the work in the show is in the neutrals of black and white but when Wilke work uses pastels, it is with a gentle sensitivity.
Hannah Wilke Untitled, c. 1965-66 Pastel and chalk on paper 24 x 18 3/4 inches signed and dated on verso © Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY. Copyright Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY
The presentation is enhanced by three of her 1970s ceramic sculptures, one white, one black and one that is white but painted with big black brush strokes. Each uses her technique of quickly folding over slabs of clay to emulate the vulva and it is partly due to such early works that she is considered a key figure in the Feminist art movement of that period.
Hannah Wilke Untitled, circa 1965 graphite, oil and acrylic paint on paper 18 x 24 inches © Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY. Copyright Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY
New York-born Wilke, educated at Tyler School of Fine Art, Temple University in Philadelphia, had initially pursued traditional ceramics and the physicality of that work never left her. It contributed to her interest in specifically female forms that later emerged as her massive latex wall hangings and floor sculptures. From 1969 to 1977, she was in a relationship with Claes Oldenburg known for his Pop sculptures also made of soft materials. She has a long history with L.A. since her first solo museum exhibition was at UC Irvine in 1976.
Hannah Wilke Untitled, circa 1975 white unglazed ceramic painted black 10 x 12 5/8 x 22 1/8 inches © Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY. Copyright Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY
Wilke died of lymphoma in 1993 but even after the diagnoses, she made a devastating series of self-portrait photographs about the human body, especially her own, about its mystery and ultimately its vulnerability. But this show is an opportunity to see how Wilke began her creative journey and there is joy in it.
Hannah Wilke Untitled, circa 1960 Chalk and paint on paper 30 7/8 x 23 1/2 inches © Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY. Copyright Scharlatt, HWCALA, VAGA, NY