A definition of the word organic is ‘of, relating to, or derived from living organisms’. Artist Jessica Drenk takes this meaning to heart and uses it as inspiration. Her latest show, on view at Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD, previews some recent and past works that continue her explorations of taking commonplace materials and creating organic-looking sculptures. Her art varies by size and by the techniques she uses to craft these natural structures that are both fluid and intricate. They provide the viewer with a unique opportunity to perceive the beauty of nature from fabricated elements.
Raised in Montana, Drenk developed an appreciation for landscapes and the environment. She is influenced by her interests in archaeology, biology, botany and geology. She is moved by rock formations and ocean topography, evident in the fluidity of her work. She creates specimens related to nature and sometimes titles works with botanical names. She observes the beauty and chaos that can be found in simple things. This keen eye allows her to translate silhouettes and patterns into three-dimensional objects.
Interpreting the splendor of flora and fauna is part of Drenk’s identity. This is evident with Membria Varius (horizontal), two horizontal works, laying side by side, almost mirror images, in which the shapes gently cascade with depth and mass. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the artist uses coffee filters to create these coral-like organisms. She layers and mounts the material within the confines of wooden frames using an acrylic glaze to the get a variation in hues reminiscent of a bleached reef. Within the same series, Membria Varius (round) takes this theme to a larger scale. The abundance of brain-like flowers billows in and out within the confines of its enclosure. Due to the size, this impactful artwork has a more noticeable and continuous sense of movement between the porous forms.
The artist does not shy away from manual labor when it comes to creating her morphic sculptures. She molds her art by hand using electric sanders to form stalactite-like columns or stretched and twisted masses of wood. The results seem more likely to have originated in caves or by calcium deposits in mineral laden waters than to have been created by hand. This effect is especially evident with WAVE, ca. 2016, a 24” x 74” rippled panel that floats across the wall. This massive work draws you in with its undulations and the randomness of the openings in the tubes. Drenk has cut, carved and sanded PVC pipes positioning them vertically in such a way to create a beautiful and repeated pattern of light and shadows. Due to the size and the structure of the frame, the waves grow larger toward the center of the work, amplifying the impression of undulating motion.
Drenk’s newest approach to interpreting natural phenomena involves a transition from manufactured materials to stone. Her Immutable Ice series was inspired by a trip to Iceland in which she observed a beach littered with pieces of glacial ice. As the nearby glaciers shed off chunks, they are washed ashore and sculpted by the ocean into unique shapes until they melt out of existence. The artist has captured this moment in time, preserving the brief but exquisite existence of these fleeting forms by preserving them in marble, permanent and immutable. The overall characteristics of Immutable Ice II impart a sense of lightness to an otherwise heavy material. The low light refraction of the medium gives the sculpture its lifelike quality, exhibiting variations of thickness and jagged edges. The artist’s mastery of carving allows her to create holes and pockets so thin that it seems these ice-like works may thaw at any moment. According to the artist, this effort is a gesture, an evocation of a moment and a desire to preserve what which cannot be saved.
Also included in the exhibition are several small works from Drenk’s Porcelain Skins series. This is a bit of an experiment for the artist as she transforms common drug store items such as Q-tips, cotton balls and napkins into delicate, fossilized looking skeletons of ancient sea creatures. The process involves dipping groups of the material into liquid porcelain and then firing these in a kiln. During the firing, the cotton and paper ignite and burn away, leaving only the porcelain as a husk of the original material that shaped it. The resulting delicate fragility of these objects is the source of their beauty.
Art that represents nature can resonate as things both commonplace but essential in our lives. Drenk is influenced by her surroundings and continues to explore ways to sculpt found items into organic shapes. Her sculptures can cause emotional reactions like the pleasure we feel when confronted by the prominence of a majestic mountain, the vast expanse of the sea, or the ripples of a waterfall. Her compositions, and her ability to connote these forms in her work, stimulate this response. It is the artist’s intention to transform ordinary manufactured goods in such a way that they present themselves as natural objects: something functional becomes something pleasing, a simple material is made complex, and the commonplace becomes unique. In viewing them, a viewer might be inspired to recall a distinctive memory in their relationship to nature. Drenk’s sculpture provides a connection between the man-made and the environment, and can one hopes, enhance our encounters and ultimately our understanding of the natural world.
The Evocation of a Moment…A Gesture is on view through March 2, 2018 at the Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD. For more information, visit the gallery’s website www.adahrosegallery.com