“Art in Review”, The New York Times

Art in Review

By Holland Cotter, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"A Place for Stone Gathering", 1983

Clyde Connell began making art when she was almost 50 years old — she is now 91 — and the contemporaries who most influenced her span several generations. Adolph Gottlieb’s paintings, new when she saw them, stirred her interest in pictographic forms; the example of Eva Hesse’s work a few decades later encouraged her pursuit of sculpture in low-art materials. In addition, Miss Connell points to the impact of black culture on her life, which she encountered as a plantation owner’s daughter in Louisiana and as a civil rights advocate in the late 1950’s.

Many sculptures exhibited at the gallery date from 1988 to 1991. Several take the form of tall pole-like totems; others are schematic, attenuated figures with applied iron ornaments. The primary sculptural material, which looks like a cross between stone and concrete, is a papier-mâché of newsprint molded over a wood core. The applied elements are fragments of farm equipment (links of chain, machine parts and so forth) nailed to the wood. Where these have been covered by the papier-mâché, their rusting forms burn through as blood-colored stains. Several sculptures are inscribed with runic-looking scripts, an invented visual notation of the natural sounds the artist hears in her rural home.

Miss Connell is at her best when she is at her most abstract. It is then that her synthesis of regional and non-Western culture, earlier 20th-century art movements and the crafts-intensive spirit of some of the feminist art of the 1970’s become something very much her own. With these eclectic ingredients, a case might be made for the post-modern character of her work. Its strength, however, lies neither in calculated irony nor in borrowed styles, but rather in a sense of having been worked by a guileless, individualistic hand.