Shallow Water, 2020
Zidoun Bossuyt, Luxemburg
Link to Exhibition
Using an inventive process of pushing paint through aluminum mesh, Summer Wheat’s large-scale paintings resemble medieval tapestries showing female figures as hunters, fishers, and beekeepers. Wheat rewrites historical imagery through themes such as labor, discovery, and expressions of joy where traditionally only men were present. Drawing from a broad spectrum of art historical references, that range from Egyptian pictography to Native American imagery, from French Post-Impressionism to American Pop Art, Wheat questions the origin of these narratives through a contemporary perspective.
Long associated with cleansing and renewal, as well as the origin of life, water flows throughout Wheat’s new paintings. Shallow Water presents a new body of work referencing historical imagery associated with the substance and metaphors elucidated by the theme of water—washing (women’s work and domestic life), diving (discovery and innovation), wading (leisure), walking on water (biblical), and reflection (the ability to contemplate one’s own self and inevitable mortality)—that liberate these scenes from their gendered roles.
“Water is reflective. It is a mirror, a cleanser, a healer, and a representation of transformation. So often in art, water is used as a way to enhance a woman’s sensuality or convey a sense of purity. The women in these paintings are not there to be muses. They do not pose languidly in water, subject to the voyeuristic eye. These women play in the water, they rejoice in it. They use it as a tool and spill it freely. They collect and release water with their own bodies, acting as vessels. As water pours from their mouths, eyes, and ears they share the physical weight each carries. Resting on stacks of animals pulled up to the surface, the figures balance precariously, managing instability with ease and joy. Working together as a machine, women pull apart the hard shells of crabs, squeeze out the remains of fish, and become inventors in their kitchens. The women in my paintings are not passive figures. They occupy their own space and claim their own agency. In embracing the downpour, they seek new relationships with this essential life-giving force.” -Summer Wheat