Narrative Illusions: The Visions of Mindy Herrin at the Customs House Museum this January through April is an aptly titled show. Herrin’s three-dimensional work incorporates realism, organic imagery, and found objects in imaginative ways. There is a trance-like quality to her figures, and sculptures laden with symbolism act like puzzles, leaving the viewer to decipher her vision.
Herrin, trained as a metalsmith, primarily makes small-scale sculptures. Her approach to the use of other sculptural materials, especially clay and fabric, are highly experimental, and each work tends to blend a number of media. Some pieces, such as Flowers for Alice I and II are tiny, at only 6.5” high. Intricately incorporating clay, copper, fiber, and encaustic, each one is a wearable brooch. The skin on these two faces is a mottled pink, flesh-like and yet also not. Discussing this, Herrin remarked that it “looks like there is a rawness to the flesh; it isn’t pretty or idealistic and is filled with imperfections.” This idea of our roughness being made visible is at the heart of the artist’s practice.
The narrative is key to all of Herrin’s art. The story often is not linear, but it is wholly intuitive to her creative process. The artist describes it “like journaling. I record my thoughts daily, but in paint, sculpture, and metal.” For the most part, she uses figurative and distinctly female imagery. These works are, in some respects, self-portraits. They deal with women’s issues—societal roles such as wife, mother, breadwinner, and struggles such as infertility, medical issues, and child-rearing—in thoughtful ways. The topics that Herrin contemplates in creating her work and that the figures, in turn, appear to mull over are often unpleasant, but they encapsulate the idea of process, of a journey, of thinking through ideas, images, and experiences, and of growing and learning through them.
At the heart of it, Herrin wants viewers of her art to ponder it: to find it confusing, to wonder what is going on, to guess at the content behind the form. Her symbolism is quite literal, rewarding the diligent observer.
“The narrative is key to all of Herrin’s art. The story often is not linear, but it is wholly intuitive to her creative process.”
Past, Present, and Future is about 25” high, just over the size of a large doll. The woman wears a tutu made of copper mesh, has two horn-like flowers sprouting from her midsection, holds a small animal skeleton, and has three heads, all looking in the same direction. The heads clearly are this past, present, and future self, with the past further echoed by the skeleton so centrally placed. The tutu adds a soft, whimsical touch and creates a platform for the curious horns. Flowerlike, their placement reveals that they are external fallopian tubes. The legs, veiny as though covered in vines, I am still teasing out and hope that you are, too.
hen asked about the reasoning for tutus to adorn this and other figures, Herrin shared that “I make my sculptures very anatomically correct. The tutu softens this for viewers. It helps them continue to look at the art and all of its elements rather than be scared off. And the copper mesh plays nicely against clay.”
The external fallopian tube appears again in Laparoscopy, a 10” sculpture made of copper, silver, plastic, bone, and rubber. This woman with an exoskeleton appropriately has little bug legs and wings. Her skirt does not hide her body, simply adding shape and motion to the curving figure. Wires on each side of the meditative face are a stethoscope leading back to the reproductive organs. A laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that can make our insides visible; specifically, it can be used to diagnose causes of infertility in women. This has been a personal struggle of Herrin’s, who is now the mother of a four-year-old, and her clever approach to this topic may be of comfort to others in this quiet struggle.
The Maker is a rare life-sized sculpture. A woman sits on a little wheeled object, with a flat facial expression and fixated gaze, her hands angled as though at work. The woman is covered in tattoos. Base designs in light blue contrast with vibrant flowers in warm colors. Flowers even sprout like mushrooms off her right upper body. Though she has no tattoos herself, Herrin expressed a fascination with the idea of telling stories on the surface of the body. The little cart that supports The Maker’s form is a found object from a factory near her Johnson City home.
In The Maker and many other works, there is a delicate balance between mechanisms and the body—the angular and functional versus the soft and fleshy. These mechanical elements add to the story: Does it help or hinder? Did the figure choose it? Is it in their way? Such are the questions the artist considers and asks us to do so as well.
Narrative Illusions: The Visions of Mindy Herrin opens at the Customs House Museum on January 16 and runs through the end of April. The show will be included in the Winter Exhibits reception on January 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, please visit www.customshousemuseum.org. See more of Herrin’s work at www.mindyherrin.com.