The Scavenger Queen
In the 1990s, Claire Weissman Wilks sidestepped the charted path she had so rigorously followed for several years. She entered into an interlude of experimentation that brought a new exuberance to her work. At the narrow point of the hourglass, she embraced the found world in which the artist scavenges for objects that are discarded, obsolete, worn out, broken, or no longer of any use. She fell in love with bottles, different in size and tint and texture, and on these bottles she " hung " sculpted clay figures. In so doing, by " intervening ", she gave the found object a new and singular identity - her nudes, exquisitely executed in clay, assumed different postures as they clung, climbed, encircled, and intertwined each glass vessel like overgrown ivy embracing a house. And they are, upon reflection, profoundly moving - so forlorn in their facial expressions as they hold on to the cold, transparent, and oh so smooth surfaces for their dear lives, fearing the ultimate mishap, the ultimate letting go into a shattering oblivion, beyond even Humpty Dumpty's worst nightmare.
Seen in this way, each of these " houses " - each of these empty glass houses, caught as they are in the clutch of human frailty - in their shape and in their meaning become powerful symbols - echoing in their emptiness all their previous functions, functions associated with that cluster of precious life-giving and nurturing fluids ... water, milk, oil, wine, and so on.
The juxtaposition between these " emptied " decommissioned vessels and their swirling, sometimes swarming nudes, enraptured and solemn, is disturbingly ironic: the vessel is empty and the female bodies, in all their beauty and pulsating sensuality, are suspended in a fruitless gesture. On the one hand, the effect on the viewer is gratifying as he/she marvels at the very fragility of the tableau, a tableau that reminds us not only of painted figures frozen in ceremonial procession on Grecian urns, but of Greek and Roman high relief sculptures chiseled in marble - communicating solidity and permanence, easy ruin and at the very least, uncertain durability.
These classical references, encoded and played out upon the field of a glass vessel that is void of its previous content, its previous function, create a profound effect on the viewer - one that is whimsical while tragic, spontaneous while frozen in time - or, to put it differently, here we have an artist who - as scavenger - has hung that which is timeless upon time.