Rhonda Gushee


Laura H. Chapman
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 many.

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 fabrics.

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 patterns.

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.

The News Record, http://www.newsrecord.uc.edu, Volume CLXLL, Issue 18

Artist Spotlight
Sculpture showing takes on new twist
Rhonda Gushee pushes envelope
By Liberty Wampler, Staff Reporter

A simple pull of the string yields a mechanical squawk reminiscent of my generation's revered Care Bears.  And just like any child's toy, the sound becomes predictable and repetitive.

It's easy to fall into the routine of playing the role of inert witness when seeing a show for the first time.  If it's a painting show, you can dissect from afar.  The same usually happens at a film festival.

This was not the case with "Curiouser and Curiouser" now showing in DAAP's 840 Gallery.  Instead, guests will spend several minutes trying to find all of the hidden sound triggers within Rhonda Gushee's sculptures, feeling both investigative and kind of dirty all the while.
Gushee, a second-year graduate student in the DAAP College of Art program, focuses on social interaction and repressed memory in her new series of soft sculptures appearing in "Curiouser and Curiouser."

The artist approached these works with a background in printmaking.  Processes involving photo emulsion and screen printing emerge in this body of fabric sculpture through a repeated poem of Gushee's daughter printed on all surfaces, the impetus or inspiration for the work.  The fabric is formed and sewn tightly around doll parts that have been amputated, reconfigured and stuffed.

"You can never read the whole thing at once," Gushee revealed.
In spite of the traditionally formal and unapproachable inference of the white pedestal base as a display mechanism, this artist encourages all viewers to become actively involved. In the three-part sculpture "This is What She Does" guests might feel a bumpy doll head underneath a patchwork of whip-stitches.
An inscrutable thing about Gushee's forms is that they are bound infinitely by their own physical predicaments.  The struggle has stopped, forcing these beings to give into and accept new forms.  The objects "speak" at our command and are bound to perform.
Also featured is the work of painting graduate student Meredith Jones.  Large riveted, vinyl tarpaulin surfaces usurp the common conception of canvas.
"Snatch" features an elephantine tube-laden creature amidst a sea of multi-hued green acrylic paint.  Colors within Jones' exhibit range from sugary to dark.  These paintings, mostly vinyl with some adhered foreign substances, also provoke playful references  toward anime and cartooning.  They're extremely personal to Jones, who attributed male names "like "Ray") to some of the "personality" pieces, Gushee reported.
The third member of the "Curiouser and Curiouser" triumvirate is Kazuko Negoro, working the angle of atypical bakery with a banner of flattened cake facades running the length of one wall.  Complete with ribbons and rosettes, the media represents icing but is totally synthetic and often infused with a pleasant cake-y odor, much to the chagrin of hungry visitors.
As well as the chance to meet Gushee, Smith (sic) and Negoro, rumor has it that decorated cakes will be available for consumption at the show's "opening" reception from 5 until 7 p.m. tomorrow.