Art In Review
Sandra Sheehy: ‘Music From a Garden at Dusk’
Published: January 10, 2013
210 11th Avenue,
at West 25th Street,
Through Jan. 19
Despite the considerable interest in outsider art, contemporary self-taught artists still often end up in a kind of limbo, largely ignored by the mainstream art world. If Sandra Sheehy, a British artist born in 1965, had been active the middle of the 20th century and perhaps been institutionalized, her entrancing, obsessive assemblages might appear in all kinds of artist-organized group exhibitions. Instead, she lives outside London and takes inspiration from her garden; her work has been seen in New York almost exclusively at the Cavin-Morris Gallery, whose specialties include art of the self-taught. Her third solo show there offers an excellent review of her work while suggesting ties to past and present eccentric abstractionists like Eva Hesse, Judith Scott, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Alexandra Bircken and Anna Betbeze.
The first works Ms. Sheehy showed at Cavin Morris, in 2003, were wall pieces that resembled doilies run amok, or bits of colorful handmade moss. They were small, irregular pieces on which she sometimes drew or painted but more often built up with free-form embroidery, sewn-down bunches of fabric, shells, beads and small stones. By 2007-8 the pieces had grown larger, more dimensional and distended, resembling abstract rag dolls or big soft amulets. Then Ms. Sheehy shifted fully to three dimensions, making cocoonlike objects from chicken wire, fabric and paper that she then encrusted with bunched fabric, stitching, beads, sequins, shells and what not, all sheathed in semitransparent fabrics or extensive wrappings of thread or yarn.
The 27 works here represent all phases and show steady improvement, with two pieces that hang from the ceiling being especially good. But each of Ms. Sheehy’s efforts is an extravagant, compressed world unto itself, at once beautiful and grotesque, natural and willfully mad