If you’re within striking distance of the Brooklyn Museum, check out “Judith Scott — Bound and Unbound,” thru March 29th. Pure amazingness! Scott, a highly recognized fiber artist, produced a lot of original and fascinating work and has a compelling story. And her story and her art prompt so many interesting questions and thoughts.
Diagnosed in infancy with Down’s Syndrome, deaf and mute, Scott was diagnosed as profoundly retarded and institutionalized until age 44, when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area under the guardianship of Joyce, her twin sister. Joyce enrolled Judith in a studio art program at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. Scott spent seventeen years there (she died in 2005), working six days a week, and created a highly regarded and widely collected body of fiber artworks.
The Creative Growth Art Center, founded in 1974, serves an extended community of mentally, developmentally, and physically disabled adult artists. The Center provides a studio environment focused on artistic production rather than on defined therapeutic goals. According to Tom di Maria, the director at the center, “our philosophy is to nurture the creative process, not direct, control, or teach in a conventional way. We are very hands off, and give everyone lots of time, and Judith benefited from that. But after she began her first sculpture, she essentially worked independently and without guidance.”
Scott arrived at Creative Growth in 1987 and produced a series of drawings in various mediums, samples of which are included in the show. The looping, repetitive forms, with mixed colors and occasional collage added, seem a precursor to her intricate and and mysterious sculptures.
Once Scott was introduced to fiber, she had found her medium. Her earlier, totem-like works were bundled sticks wrapped with yarn and torn fabric.
Scott’s process typically involved wrapping a found object armature with yarn, rope, thread, fabric and other fibers until the work had transfomed into what she considered a finished piece. She worked on a single piece at a time, sometimes for weeks or months, and when she had finished, she pushed it away and started in on something new.
The armatures are sometimes partially visible, such as in these pieces, one built around blue plastic forms and another incorporating a rubber hose.
Some of the works seem to reveal elements in a deliberate manner, as in this monochromatic work with loops of purple rubber hose peeking out.
And sometimes what’s inside is a complete mystery.
This work was constructed from paper towels which Scott collected when she found that she had run out of materials.
The details — the colors, textures, wrapping, weaving, knotting — are varied and intricate.
The sculptural forms are graceful, striking, complex, rich in color, movement, and expression. They prompt many associations for the viewer.
And they prompt so many questions about the artist, her process, and the nature of creativity itself. Oh, sweet mystery of life! What is inside her beautiful, mysterious, package-like sculptures, and what was in Scott’s mind? Is her work an expression of an internal narrative? What informed her creative visions and decisions? Was her process purely intuitive? Was there intention and deliberation involved? What part does cognition play in creative process? Did Scott know she was creating an artwork? We will never know. And how many other people with mental disabilities, invisible to society, long written off as incapable of functioning, are also amazing artists? Wonderful, powerful food for thought.