Blake Ward’s beautifully crafted sculptures are analogous to the inner qualities of our human existence.
Blake Ward’s newest sculptural series, Spiritual Collection, is typified by “Ushabti Renenet.” This bronze statue of a woman’s body stands less than three feet tall, and is missing several body parts: a head, both arms and a leg. Shoulders are square and back is arched; the body weight is supported by one strong leg, perched high on the left toes. The intact limbs are fragmented, but “Ushabti Renenet” exudes confidence: she is bound for another place, and not committed to the small pedestal on which she stands.
This piece is at the essence of “Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections” at Hilton-Asmus Contemporary in Chicago, and demonstrates Ward’s interest in the human spirit. The figure evokes traditional associations of the female nude: ideal body proportions and graceful forms. But sensuality is quickly usurped. Move around the sculpture and the figure’s inside layers are revealed — analogous to the inner qualities of our human existence. The visitor is presented with a decision: see the sculpture for its exposed physical beauty; its metaphysical qualities; or both.
“Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections” addresses this dichotomy. Ward, a Canadian-born artist, has long created figurative works. His Spirit Collection comprising this show deviates from his past work of solid three-dimensional sculptures. The exposed bodily interiors are a point of distinction: enabling the visitor to see in and through the figures. The representation underscores Ward’s appeal in the inner quality of his work and our human existence — including determination, integrity and spirit — as the artist explains on his website. This series suggests there is more to a person than what is perceived from the outside, and poses the visitor with a challenge: to focus on the person within, not just outside the body.
The tacit call to action parallels what has become our world today: one of surfaces. Posting pictures and status updates on Twitter and Facebook are commonplace; we repeatedly allow the world to see our exterior selves. Social media sites connect society more than ever, but these are often impersonal associations at a surface level. Indeed, the relevance of Ward’s sculptures resonates loudly.
The message, then, is about the human condition. It is a point made clear in the dialogue between the exposed interior and textured exterior of each piece: despite the imperfect physical rendering, there is still promise for humanity. The sweeping curve of “Ushabti Hetheru’s” body hints at growth and development; the erect stoicism in “Ushabti Tefnet” indicates an inner strength made visible. “Angel Urim” faces the visitor squarely: balancing on the stub of a leg and lifting the opposite shoulder, self-assuredly. Then, there is “Angel Valoel.” The arched torso with neither legs nor arms leaned forward, implying a glimmer of hope, or perhaps rebirth. Taken by the intensity of these movements, the visitor considers the figures’ motivation. And this gets to the heart of the show: looking beyond the exteriors to think deeply about the internal questions overlooked today: what are we striving for?; who are we developing into?; what is our purpose?
“Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections” is compelling and timely. Ward’s nod to Classicism — both in the physical elegance of the sculpture and their titles, many of which recall goddesses — is a reminder that humanity has always struggled with its complexity. Returning to this concept today is poignant in a world not only operating at surface level, but also overcome by unfathomable human destruction.
“Inner Perceptions, Outer Reflections” is on show at Hilton-Asmus Contemporary in Chicago until June 24, 2016.