Brooklyn-based artist Ted Lawson explores the theme of feminine sexuality with the cold perception of a scientist or a professor of anatomy. The artist seeks to portray the eternal beauty of a feminine “golden age” in bust sculptures such as Entropy, while also investigating the biologic and metabolic character of the female body. He attempts to capture the traces of time on the woman’s body, as in his work Eve, a direct reference to the first woman in Paradise and on Earth. While Entropy analyzes instantaneous changes, paying particular attention to physiognomy, Eve tackles another dimension of time, in an attempt to capture the span of a lifetime.
Brooklyn-based artist Ted Lawson explores the theme of feminine sexuality with the cold perception of a scientist or a professor of anatomy. The artist seeks to portray the eternal beauty of a feminine “golden age” in bust sculptures such as Entropy, while also investigating the biologic and metabolic character of the female body. He attempts to capture the traces of time on the woman’s body, as in his work Eve, a direct reference to the first woman in Paradise and on Earth. While Entropy analyzes instantaneous changes, paying particular attention to physiognomy, Eve tackles another dimension of time, in an attempt to capture the span of a lifetime. His body of work develops a multi-layered system of meaning which connects all of his pieces in a subtle way.
Entropy, which welcomed visitors at the entrance of the Affordable Art Fair NY in the spring of 2012, is a double bust of a beautiful young woman, sculpted in wood and painted white, in a manner reminiscent of “la femme fatale” of the Art Nouveau period or of the gracious female portraits of 18th century Rococo. In the first bust, the breasts are bound tightly in a corset, decorated with intricate, delicate embroidery. The hair is styled into a spiral—one of the artist’s favorite motifs—and the neck is encircled with a very thin ribbon. The figure wears a wreath of flowers and looks placidly straight ahead. In the second bust, by contrast, the breasts are exposed, the hair is disheveled, the neck accessory comes undone, and the flowers of the wreath are almost all gone, with only some oak and maple leaves fallen onto the woman’s chest. With the head tilted back and parted lips, the expressive rendition of the woman evokes a moment of orgasmic ecstasy. The two busts shift the posture of the woman from neutral and composed to lascivious and provoking.
The artist borrows the term “entropy” from the second law of thermodynamics, referencing a measure of the level of energy contained in a particular system. The artist extracts this notion from the field of physics to convey a sense of the woman’s metamorphosis under the impulse of erotic feeling. Considering that entropy increases in an irreversible process of a physical system and remains constant during a reversible process, it is up to the viewer to decide what kind of transformative process the artwork presents. In addition, the viewer switches his or her glance from one bust to the other, which adds a playful dimension to the work. The two busts materialize the two physical and emotional states of the woman, thus indicating an irreversible process. However, the beholder’s gaze, going back and forth, activates the transformation from one state to the other, making the metamorphosis seem flexible and reversible. The two busts also connote a set of dual relationships within the same person: from the ego and the alter ego to the negotiation of public and private life.
A similar principle governs Eve—a series of eight female statuettes, whose progressive transformation from an anorexic teenage girl to an overweight elderly woman highlights the signs of an ageing female form. The viewer becomes an active participant in this transformation, having to move around the sculptural group in order to fully understand it. The woman figures are placed in a circle, suggesting the symbolic circle of life, and—again—the direction of time in a duality of reversible and irreversible processes. Another “circle of life” metaphor is seen in Spiral (in collaboration with Fernando Mastrangelo), which makes use of a growth algorithm specific to the organic world—flowers, for example—infinitely multiplying three-dimensional geometric forms.
Ted Lawson, Eve, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
Lawson’s Mortality is a Myth (cast resin, silicone and MDF) embodies the mythological relationship of Eros and Thanatos and plays, once again, with the laws of physics: a life-size woman figure levitates, defying gravity, strangely sustained only by the trails of her dripping pink color (sweat? blood?). The position of the body is ambiguous: it creates a tension between the “Sleeping Beauty” waiting for a reviving kiss from Prince Charming and a funeral “gisant”—the recumbent effigy of the defunct on a tomb. Femur, an oversized bone in resin with geometric patterns, recalls the famous “La fillette” of Louise Bourgeois: an immense latex phallus with which the artist was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1982, holding it under her arm.
Considering his insistence on materiality and technique, and the obsessive investigation of the realm of physics, Lawson’s art can be read as a form of dehumanizing the female body, which can even attract accusations of misogyny. This reading of his work would not provide an attentive answer to the questions the artist raises, however. In an interview, Lawson declared that he is concerned with portraiture in sculpture “as a range of physical possibilities, rather than as a frozen moment in time.” The elastic notion of time and the ways in which it affects a woman, physically and emotionally, resides at the core of this artist’s creative imagination.