Though winter and spring seem to be playing a sick game of hide-and-seek, “thesis season” is no doubt upon us (and unaltered by Mother Nature’s on-again, off-again sense of control). For seniors in the visual arts department, however, “thesis season” refers to the entire spring semester, with some thesis shows happening as early as the last week in February and continuing through the first week in May. To accommodate solo exhibitions for each senior in the program, some students show during the same week, utilizing exhibition spaces at 185 Nassau Street, now the main headquarters for the Department of Visual Arts, as well as Hurley Gallery, an added venue for exhibiting seniors since the opening of the new Lewis Center for the Arts this year.
This week marks the fifth week of thesis shows in the visual arts program, with senior Paulina King’s exhibition “Somatoscapes,” currently on view in Hurley Gallery. Primarily a sculptor and photographer, King has worked with tri-color film portraits and process-oriented sculptural series that combine industrial materials with a spatial sensibility informed by the natural world. In “Somatoscapes,” a title that signals the importance of the viewer’s bodily relationship to the sculpted environment, King shows new works that explore materiality and repetition within an immersive landscape.
A series of pyramidal sculptures serve as the focal point of the show, exhibiting King’s year-long exploration into patinas, which cover their triangular surfaces. Cut from plywood, each piece is then treated with metal coatings and a solution of ammonia, vinegar, and salt to produce a patina on top of the wooden surface by the end of a one to two-day drying period. By varying room temperature and the salt solution’s formula and application method, King achieves a range of colors and textures throughout her series. As a whole, the works have the appearance of an unnatural mountain range, with coppery and blue-green colorations covering the clustered peaks.
There is a simultaneous stability and complicating subtlety to the works, whereby the initial associations of solid metal and monumental ancient structures are nuanced by the realization of their simplistic plywood construction, along with a knee-height scale that packages the pyramids as art objects rather than massive architectural features. This contrast also appears between their hard, geometric edges and the delicate, swirling surfaces of the patina, which have a more organic look. Certain patinas do more work than others in bridging this space between geometric and organic, such as the three pyramids that feature a brick-like pattern, alluding to geometric units and physical construction processes.
Working at the intersection of natural and industrial forms, King draws influence from her own relationship with nature, having grown up with enviable views of the western United States. Many of her sculptural works have been installed outdoors — one wooden piece King created last year now lays in a field at the family farm in Kansas — and she even considered exhibiting her thesis show in an outdoor space. Commenting on her thought process between the natural and industrial aspects of her practice, King said that the two often seem to work together, but ultimately manifest in different ways. “So, the metal pieces look industrial, and even the pyramids [do, too],” King said, “but when they come together as a collective, they form an organic shape that feels more natural than the object alone.”
“Somatoscapes” by Paulina King is on view until Saturday, April 7, 2018. Hurley Gallery is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.