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The Cavern Archetype
D.M. Giovanni Bianchi
Show Curator, Querini Stampalia

Painter, sculptor and designer, Claire Weissman Wilks was born in Toronto to a family of Lithuanian origins; much of her work revolves around the representation of the female figure, sensual and fully of eroticism. For many years, she was a “visual researcher” for the CBC, for which she received Emmy Awards in 1978 and 1980, the Art Director’s Cut Award in 1981, and the Oscar in 1982.


    A series of 16 of Claire Weissman Wilks’ monotypes (made between 2007-8), were shown, all of which focus on solitary female bodies which in contorted, crouched and huddled positions. The bodies are expressed with a strong emotional charge which underlines the artist’s expressionist streak. At the beginning of the show, the critic Enzo Di Martino, in his article, “the Monotype, this one unknown”, commented that the monotype is a particular printing technique that allows one to execute a unique example and resembles, in the way in which it is carried out, a painting technique.


    The title of these works, “Out of the Cave”, calls to mind the image of a cave that, intended as the archetype of the mother’s uterus, is present in myths of origins, rebirth and the beginnings of numerous populations. The cave appears in the dreams generally associated with the female figure. Thus, psychoanalysis has revealed the symbolic equivalence of female images to that of the insides of caves, dens, grottos which are generally related to maternity, sensuality and fertility. Drawn on the walls of deep caves, inhabited by our ancestors, are the oldest representations of the female figure, full of mystery and far from every esthetic celebration. Even Claire Weissman Wilks figures, which exude the same expressive intensity and the same primordial energy, do not suggest a celebration of feminine beauty as an esthetic standard, but rater directly and spontaneously “retell” personal stories of pain and solitude. They are images of a contemporary “Eve” full of doubt and human complexity. These women do not show off their rich heads of hair, considered by the artist as a purely decorative element, but rather their heads are completely lacking hair, as if to underline the sensuality of the “plastic” form of the head.


    The colours used in the production of these monotypes are dark and gloomy, and are characteristic of the atmosphere of an interior sensation/feeling, that is intimate and close. The female figures are dramatically confined by a free and spontaneous outline, which makes them vibrate in their space. They are figures which seem to emerge from the walls of the cavern in search of light and to show themselves to our eyes. 


    The cave also represents the place of identification, in that psychological space where the individual becomes him/herself and reaches maturity. In the cave, the organization of the interior “I” and its relationship with the external world is manifested; but one must exit the cave to contemplate the real world. And it is in the world, in contact with others, that we become aware of our solitude, and as the artist points out, “we live in our own case even as we live amongst each other”.


  In Claire Weissman Wilks’ figures, the hands are as revealing as is the face. Hands can have many positive or negative interpretations; they can separate or they can grasp to bring closer, they can be loving and show affection, they can pray, they can express desolation. For Claire, the hands are “the roots of the body”, capable of manifesting the intimate relationship between expression of a gesture and the expression of a look. These concepts remind us of Heni Focillon’s words, when he affirmed that “hands are almost living things . . . endowed with a rigorous and free spirit, and a physiognomy. Their lack of eyes and voice corresponds to an absence of the necessity to see or speak. The hand acts: it grabs, creates, and at times they seem to be thinking”/ The artist’s “vision” transmits itself directly to the fingers which give life to these intense figures.






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