Martha Walker in the Media

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Review in Sculpture Magazine

November, 2015

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Martha Walker The Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Art Gallery

Martha Walker is a micro biology­-minded Surrealist whose recent show, "Broken World, Anxious Hea rt,” imagined a toxic garden. Long ago, its seems, life rose from luxuriant waters, briefly inhaled the air's sweetness, then froze. Denizens of this now-petrified forest of twisted steel skeletons include femi ni ne breeds undulati ng thei r potent animas and biomorphic forms caught between joie de vivre and a danse macabre. Formally elegant species defy weighty steel, and negative arabesques assert themselves within masses of dense metal. It's all best described as lyrical gravitas.

Walker's deft handling of molten steel produces these inverted narratives. Mixed Emotions (2015), for example, consists of a pair of out­ stretched, tentacled arms rising like starfish limbs performing a water ballet. But this animated form gives pause, for it appears more like an amputated remnant of a larger bei ng, now gone but recalled by the ghost-like shadow cast on the wall. Walker confers incredible buoyancy on these physically heavy sculptures through a difficult and slow "pud­dled" process. It involves dripping molten metal, one drip at a time (like wax from a candle) onto an armature, then using a torch to man­ipulate the material as it solidifies. The resulting bead-like forms perco­late through the surface, glistening like precious black pearls. In Pearl (2008), a smooth, womb-like shape, puddled and dark within, bursts into an openwork motif of petals. A woefully unstable oval poised on the floral center threatens to slide off like the slippery yolk of an under­ cooked egg. Ebola (2015) extends the uncertainty metaphor: Is the writhing figure being consumed by a mind-less scourge, or is some brutal force spawning a terrifying new organism?

This tenacious play of anthropomor­phic oppositions informs Walker's best work, including Reign of Tears (2010). Rising like an enormous dripped candle, this ski nny rod of bubbly blobs recalls Alberto Giaco­ metti's mottled emaciated figures. By contrast, Heart Of The M atter (2014), all abstract energy, finds Walker scribbling in space, spi nning art from a line just as nature unfurls a flower from seed. Here, an elegant open circle of swirls radiates from a compact center, like the filaments of a passionflower emanati ng from its central stigma.

"Broken World, AnxiousHeart”also featured two figurative works. The Light Within(2015), a full­ length figure of a woman in a dap­pled burqa, her yellow eyes ablaze, references the psyche of Muslim women. Vigilance (2013), according to the wall text, evolved during Walker's personal battle with can­cer. Neither work fit formally or contextually within this otherwise well-orchestrated exhi bition of semi-abstract forms. Herein lay the weakness of the show: the political and personal rationales explaining many of the works, like the presence of the two representational pieces, were often unclear. Their metaphors, like the vague reference of the show's title, became precious and disrupted the contextual flow of an otherwise compelling abstract narrative. Walker at her best affirms that "less is more'.

-Joyce Beckenstein