Heavy Lifting, 2019
KMAC Museum, Louisville, KY
Link to Exhibition
Summer Wheat has a long-held interest in combining forms of high and low art, as well as melding folk traditions and craft processes with fine art practices. Visual data from the Native American communities that surround her hometown of Oklahoma City forms the basis of an evolving body of work that tracks through multiple courses of human creativity. The traces of prehistoric cave painting, Egyptian pictography, and European mannerism that emerge in Wheat’s work appear alongside the modern elements of abstract expressionism and color field painting. Pastry bags used for decorating cakes push the paint through the grated crosshairs, leaving little dollops that resemble tiny beads and creating a surface like that of a deftly woven tapestry. Viewed in person her paintings recall the pointillism of Paul Signac or the individual pixels of a digital image. These details coalesce into a compositional language that also contains references to the Modernist figurations of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Centering on agrarian, bucolic scenes of labor and survival among nature, she subverts the historical representations that cast only men in archetypal portrayals of human ingenuity and strength. While Picasso and Matisse may have helped to perpetuate the idea of women in art as objects purely in the service of the male gaze, Wheat’s allegorical still-life paintings show female figures as powerful warriors, healers, explorers, and makers of their own world.