Consultant and writer on art education
Rhonda Gushee's art courageously exposes the complexity
of her own mind, memory, and ability to see ordinary
things as laden with far more meanings than might be
discerned at first glance. Her technical expertise with
media is matched by a deep understanding of the role
of explicit and latent symbolism in particular materials.
And there can be no doubt that themes in her work, though
personally significant, also have the power to touch
In Gushee's sculpture, for example, the connotative
richness of cloth and clothing is fully exploited. Fabrics
literally touch us, providing intimate sensory experience.
They are repositories of memory; bear the imprints of
hard use, tender loving care. They allow us to clothe
ourselves, selectively hide and reveal ourselves to
others. They also function as a second skin, protecting
us from harm. As media for sculpture, fabrics activate
tactile exploration. They invite mind traveling.
The Invisible, mixed media Sculpture
Rhonda Gushee, 2004
Many of Gushee's sculptures have an organic
quality. Eccentric curves and tubular projections often
suggest a torso with limbs, but not clearly human or
animal. These hybrid forms are fabrications - creatures
of Gushee's imagination, a surreal by-product of her
creative strategies and aesthetic sensibilities. Rhonda
finds and combines objects, then hides them from view.
The identities of these substances are transformed by
binding them together with layers of wrapped and stitched
Working in the manner of an embalmer - Gushee literally
and metaphorically encloses, protects, and preserves
from full view the substance beneath the surface. What
we see are irregular strata of fabrics, some pulled
tightly, others gently overlaid, tucked here or folded
there. The outermost surface often resembles a patchwork,
with just noticeable differences in textures, nuanced
tones and hues, these punctuated with lively and subtle
The result is a visually animated surface. Each fabric
alone, and in combination with others, alludes to something
more than meets the eye. Some fabrics are see-through
sheers, open and lacey, with intimations of gentility.
Some are veil-like coverings that recall rites of mourning.
Others are seductive, with a sinister aura, like black
hosiery stretched to the limit with rope-like twists.
Some have words on them, readable sections of text,
once coherent but now fragmented and not fully intelligible.
Dive, mixed media sculpture
Rhonda Gushee, 2004
Gushee's haunting forms, layered materials,
and strategy of assemblage are, in essence, metaphors.
The forms are analogs for the unexpected contours of
our lives. The materials are surrogates for layers and
fragments of memories we conceal or reveal to others.
The process of work has no pre-ordained endpoint; but
it is marked by meticulous attention to elusive emotional
states - from the reassuring, poignant, and tender to
the unsettling and ominous. Rhonda has said of her work:
"You can never read the whole thing at once."
I agree with her completely. Her work is wonderfully
intelligent, evocative, and enigmatic.