A white hot sun is there one second, gone the next. It sinks into a flattened antique yellow, and the precisely placed ripples in its orbit begin to vibrate. Concentric patterns spin under the guidance of a ring of golden light. Irradiant lines collide while maintaining their assertive form, giving the impression of a tunnel inclining downward — way, way down.
Apt, then, that Tayo Heuser’s inner cosmographies form part of her new solo exhibit, “Looking In: Looking Out,” opening Thursday, Sept. 1, at Jamestown Arts Center. The title is certainly concise: Joining big works on paper like the aforementioned “Yellow Light” are windows made from abaca paper and “Proteus,” a collection of faux shells made from flocking and acrylic paint. (This conchological effort is her most saturated, appearing like a floating caravan of bright, puffy candies.)
Heuser aspires to a transportive quality in her artwork. “I use abstraction … as a way to transport inner emotions outside,” she elaborates. “My work comes from quietude and asks for the same.” It “silences the mind so that viewers experience a quiet space, even if it is ephemeral.”
The Providence artist exhibits drawing and sculptural tendencies in a harmonic alliance of what she calls their “inherent poetics.” Ventures in either direction yield a vacation to “abstracted reality” — the weightless windows let you gaze upon freshly sprouted worlds, while the drawings are high-speed gateways, unlocked for anyone’s use and “open to the unknown.”
“From afar my drawings are portals to move through and as you get closer, the fine detail continues to pull you in,” Heuser says, comparing them to “passageways.”
Heuser’s own history has a transient quality, having grown up in Africa and Europe before settling in the States. She was educated in French schools, where she used quill pens — an essential tool in her creative arsenal, even today. While her work does visually tango with the history of Western abstraction (one sees wavelets of Kenneth Noland, another admirer of the quivering bullseye), Heuser states that her oeuvre largely developed independent of this context. Having been reared abroad, she was exposed to a wealth of aesthetic systems from African, Eastern and Islamic cultures. The latter, with its emphasis on tessellating patterns and divine geometries, strongly influenced her affinity for shape- and line-driven compositions. “It is about patterning or ordering the visible reality into its essentials,” she says.
A compass and a triangle are Heuser’s allies in summoning these airtight geometries. So, too, is soundlessness. Heuser doesn’t listen to music as she plots and inks. She even holds her breath as the quill hits paper, with exhalation the revelation at the end of a line. Her paper is forged in a similarly intensive manner, with stretching, staining, and a curious grocery list (wheat starch, egg white, alum, soap and agate) cooperating to create a surface lustrous and robust.
Heuser and I meet at the gallery to preview the show. The remnants of the just-finished installation — tools and mounting supplies — almost seem to contrast her consummately ethereal creations hanging on the walls. But she explains that her process requires feats of physicality: throwing stains onto paper, lifting and tilting boards, the steadiest of hands. Acts of strength and acts of meditation merge in Heuser’s practice. The body moves, but the mind is still, their motivations made one.
The linear quality, earthy palettes and expansive size of Heuser’s images relay a somewhat cartographic sensibility, while her windows communicate the inimitability and modest magic of any fenestrated view. But where do these maps and openings lead? Do they spur odysseys outward or inward, or both? Do the acts of looking out and looking in need to be reconciled? “There is no need for a reconciliation,” Heuser responds. “Looking in and out are complimentary and not contradictory acts in our lives.”
Heuser muses that her art ultimately concerns “the idea that we’re always changing, always walking through another door, always looking out another window.” She pauses, the silence interrupted only by the faint sound of pen digging into paper. Then, she chuckles brightly and adds, “I hope.”
Secured by the moorings of geometry (reliable, sleek, fast but silent), Heuser’s portals invite the viewer to hop in. A rope fastened around your waist, you slowly kick off from the rims of her celestial circles, down into the sharp colors and yet sharper lines of a resplendent abyss.
Published in the Newport Mercury, Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Written by Alexander Castro