Mimic, 1999. Canvas, paper, kaolin, graphite. 275cm x 168cm
For much of her career, Maria Chevska has been blurring the formal boundaries between paintings and sculpture, between text and art object. Materials have been appropriated to explore her concerns; canvas, rubber, plaster, wood, cloth and the paraphernalia of that traditionally female art – needlework. Embedded in the very materiality of her objects, in the interstices between matter and meaning, reside. the revelation of her work’s heart.
Cloth, particularly taffeta, has frequently provided Chevksa with a shimmering screen onto which to project what the French feminist philosopher Helene Cixous has called “Writing the Feminine”. Pulled across the wooden stretcher the taffeta acts as skin and screen, membrane and permeable surface that hints at a sensual, tactile association which is both corporeal and maternal. Yet the embroidered marks that often cover her work, inchoate as the flickering of an electrocardiogram, are not gendered, nor their meanings corralled in the arena of sexual politics, but rather they are a ‘reaching towards’, a striving for possible utterances or for renewal and possibility. This ceaseless, nascent state of ‘becoming’ defies the stasis of death. Cixous has said: “The political gesture of writing consists of pushing back death and its phantasms”. I write, therefore, I am?
Writing in Chevska’s work is not systemised, but an endless form of evolution. It foreground what for the artist is a central aspect of her work: the simple yet essential activity of repetitive and often very physical gestures which go into the paintings’ making, and which are manifest in the final object. A model might be the analysand’s experience of the process of analysis. A journey that ‘strives towards’, rather than arrives at a particular destination. Juxtaposed with the translucent shimmering skin of taffeta, Chevska has also at times permeated and soaked opaque quilting from behind with paint. This seepage evokes, within one resonant metaphor, both the bloodstained bandages of the dead Christ removed from the cross, and the leakage of menstrual blood.
In the Mimic Series, Chevska has employed the shadowy pictograms of Sign Language painted on paper laid over canvas; a white ground traversed by the curving lines of an illegible script. Language is one ofthe most potent symbols of individuation and identity. For as Herman Melville wrote: “Had Milton’s been the lot of Caspar Hauser, Milton would have been vacant as he.” A painting of Signs is an image of silence. Yet it is an ‘active’ silence that like the silence of meditation and prayer simply waits and ‘is’.
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999
Image © Maria Chevska 1999