A Story by Tony Z Sienzant

An art review describing the works of an artist from Bucks County, Pa. Her work is currently being shown at The Soft Machine Gallery in Allentown, Pa.


H A I R Y       C O N T R A D I C T I O N S

T h e     A r t     o f     R E B E C C A     R E E V E S

The art and psychology of Rebecca Reeves are full of not-so-quite apparent contradictions.

In the bath drain's slimy mucous of human hair, she finds beauty. In her desire to preserve the life history and integrity of antique furniture passed down through generations, she entombs them as miniature totems, so much so that they can barely breathe. Yet it is these very contradictions that give her pieces their mysterious power.

Reeves, a self-proclaimed clean-freak and only child, is mining her own personal psychology of desires and needs. Her compulsive obsession to clean is her way of ordering chaos and controlling her environment. When she scoops out the "cocktail of hair, belly button lint and soap scum" after showering, she begins the process of re-imagining them as "elegant sea creatures" gracefully moving "in the darkness of the sea." When she finds tiny toy replicas to recreate the antique furnishings of her home - and fashions pieces as an homage to actual rooms in her house - it speaks to her apprehension and ambivalence as an only child in shouldering the full burden of continuing her family tree.

Here's another contradiction: Rebecca off-handedly jokes that everyone knows she is "crazy." Yet, this particular 'insanity' can envision an art piece from beginning to end, and all the steps involved to solve its own inherent problems, before she even begins to create it. And this very same mind, can present images in a number of inventive ways.

Her archival rows of quiet pencil drawings (2009 -2011), which some viewers mistake for the actual swirls of hair itself, is a series of unassuming but persuasive presences. By sizing and framing each the same, Rebecca establishes a grand uniformity that takes up an entire wall, a uniformity that makes each little image an even more splendid treat for the eye in their variations. While such formatting may come straight from the conceptual artist's handbook, her unobtrusive symbolism does not: she titles these modest but classy hand-renderings of actual hair "Water Creatures," supplying just the right hint of metaphor. The fact that the drawings are done on the tan-tinged Rives artist paper (pronounced "reeves") is another smart use of symbolism that would escape all but the most astute viewer (self included).

The "Photophores" (2010-2011) are more decoratively representational. They are handsome pieces done in dark blue (the darkness of the sea, you see), incorporating flows of black human hair that mimic sea weed. Behind this layer of Plexiglas, one divines the movement of small, white wisps of the found tangle of hair (from her bath drain), looking curiously like glowing jelly fish. While expertly crafted and designed, I found these to be my least favorite, most likely because they allude too precisely to illustrations or pictures of underwater life.

Lastly "Family Preservation" (2012) and "Keepings" (2013) are the most conceptual of her works. Reeves has a background as a fiber artist and it is in these latest series that this interest comes to the fore.

All of these later pieces serve as miniature totems of her family history as symbolized by home furnishings, cocooned in thread, sewn into industrial felt. They seem little preoccupied with questions of composition as with simply portraying and encapsulating real objects, or should I say, surrogates for the real? Here one finds tiny toy chairs, desks, globes and chandeliers. Even a tiny violin in its case. The thread too can be considered a surrogate for human hair.

"Family Preservation (Dining Room)" takes the arrangement of the horseshoe shape of a Victorian hair wreath. Victorian women wove hair as a tangible remembrance of someone and the horseshoe was considered good luck. The violin appears here for similar reasons: Rebecca's family tree is filled with musicians. Her grandfather was a Methodist minister who played violin and piano. One uncle was a jazz pianist. Her other uncle was B.J.Thomas's pianist and conductor.

If the artist is using the idea of 'remembrance' to commemorate her family, the hair wreath motif 'looks back' in another way: it provides an adroit unifying feature to her earlier works based on human hair. But as a family keepsake, as a totem for family identity, it looks forward also.

Which brings us to "Keepings."

Just as the tribal totem was revered for its magical properties and possessed a religious icon component as well, "Keepings" are meant as prayers for permanence, for a lasting family legacy, for continuance, for eternal renewal.

Here, the gray color of the felt bed in which her surrogates are laid is like a metaphor of the blank slate she fears. Covered in threads, encased in wombs (tombs) of preservation, her surrogates not so much live out their lives in the present as utilitarian functional objects, as wait out a long burial from which they will someday hopefully emerge.

The violin is perhaps the most personally poignant of them all: inviting in its open case, it begs to be played. But wrapped up in thread (and all her family history as well) it will remain mute as if encased in amber. That then is the contradiction: like an overly-caring mother Reeves runs the risk of smothering that which she seeks to preserve, denying it its rightful life.

In the final analysis, this current work is her own particular chrysalis, of controlling one's fate, in cheating Death. And that may be the most compelling contradiction of them all.

- Tony Z Sienzant

(writer, artist, musician)


"Rebecca Reeves: Through That Which Is Seen" is currently on view with "Stage," an installation by Gregory Coates, through February 23rd, 2013 at Soft Machine Gallery, 101 Ridge Avenue, Allentown. 484-838-4252.

© 2013 Tony Z Sienzant

Author's Note

Tony Z Sienzant
Be unmerciful.

My Review

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Fair review. I must confess I'm unfamiliar with the artist so I have no idea how accurate your commentary is, but your writing is technically correct and you remain balanced throughout the piece, so you've done good work in that regard.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Tony Z Sienzant

9 Years Ago

check her website, it's the url at the bottom of the piece ...

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1 Review
Added on February 16, 2013
Last Updated on February 16, 2013
Tags: art, contemporary, psychology, obsessions, hair, fiber art, family