Introduction to Tremors
Claire Weissman Wilks has celebrated life with drawings of joy, of sex and of human relationships. She is one of the few artists of this or any other time whose output has been forcefully involved with these most intimate and natural moments. In fact, it is only in recent times that women have dared to express themselves in this manner. Most who do, have been totally involved with the penis, much the same as their male predecessors.
Claire Weissman Wilks has dealt with nearly all aspects of the sexual and love relationship between human beings - heterosexual and homosexual. It astounds me how the art community, dealers, and even the public, respond to drawn interpretations of images they see every day in books, magazines, newspapers, and even on television and in films. It astounds me because she has probably met with more resistance to her work, in her milieu, than any artist since the abstractionists and avant garde in the forties and fifties. In fact, she has met with almost total rejection from commercial dealers. This says something for the potency, the intimacy of drawing itself, the way it still strikes to the core of our feelings.
I felt that her earliest works were overdone, a pitfall of almost every artist - no matter the almost sculpted presence and power of her loving couples. She appeared to be more enslaved by the subjects than in control of them: tyrannized by the model, what was “there” before the eye, rather than set free inside her imagination. An artist must be master of his of her own work and in doing so becomes the supreme editor. This is the essence, one of the major keys, to creativity in any medium - knowing when to stop.
But you must also know where to start - and this is where these works take off. For the first time, what is appearing is fantasy - timeless faces that stare into the blinding space of the moment, faces that are a mixture of pain and awe, pleasure and disbelief: emotions that no single word can sum. There is also a touch of the surreal - not much but it’s there - and for the first time negative space is moving forward. The first two lines of the best work start with the two edges of her paper. It may not be conscious but it’s happening.
A work of art survives more because of its negative space than its positive space. All art is abstract but not all abstract art is art. It is what is not said that truly penetrates and stimulates - what is not heard, what is not seen. It is the negative space, the silent moments, that enable us to see and hear - for eternity. For these moments live far beyond the obvious subject matter. These are participatory moments given to us by the artist. It is the true gift of the artist. It is the still of the night, the quiet open space that endures in us all, in all art.
The looser drawings have a primitive touch - faces with irregular features - strange and hidden expressions. One is not sure if the individuals love, hate, or in fact do fear one another. Some are very clear in stating one or two of these emotions simultaneously. In a strange, unexplainable way, these drawings look like small town sexual relationships as opposed to “big city” - like Cocteau with his preoccupation with small communities. Tight, incestuous, tangled relationships, which, because of their aloneness, take on their own life with their own laws, their own morality. I expect to see a dwarf come hurtling from either side of the drawing, or a white-blonde, pretty male in pale slacks and pale sweater soft against the white sand. The best of these works do conjure up other images and make our imaginations move.
The imagination is much more stimulating than the eye; it helps the hand work faster than the eye, fater than the brain, so paradoxically, as an artist starts to spill his guts and soul with more abandon, he does so with more sureness. This is not to say that everything has to be done with great speed, for an artist can mesmerize himself by blotting out certain sensory perceptions - holding back - not the whole brass band at once - all the time. Save a little for tomorrow - for the next work.
This is also happening in cases where a complete figure or more is indicated with a silhouette or a shadow-like shape or form. It’s terrific the way Weissman Wilks can capture movement, energy, the thrust of the human body with a smudge, a suggestion. Even the eye does not see every blade of grass, every drop of dew. This is how photography can fail, to be saved and controlled, edited if you like, in the darkroom.
The many terms we use today to describe erotic art are totally inapplicable. The word “obscene”, constantly misused, misunderstood and abused, involves a very personal, dogmatic judgement. We’ve come to know and fear the word since the days of “Old Hollywood - The Hays Office”, the censor in the thirties and forties. I know the word is from the French, but I like to think of it as “objectionable scenes” - as in films: celluloid standards, and the question is, objectionable to whom? The outraged observer always tells you more about himself or herself than about the “scene” - and so Dostoievski is right - you do not judge the work of art, it judges you. The eroticism in these drawings will be many things to many people. As a local critic said sadly on reviewing some of my own recent works (I think I even saw a tear in his eye) - he said, “It’s never going to go away.” I said, “What?” He said, “Abstract art.” Well, neither will Erotic Art, or these works of Claire Weissman Wilks. Too bad, all the drawings and paintings we do - they’ll just have to put up with it.