I first became aware of Carole Seborovski’s work in the mid-1980s, when she was a geometric artist working on paper with a restrained palette. I have been following her work ever since, watching as she changed and expanded her approach, moving away from flat or layered surfaces toward what she calls mixed media paintings.
Seborovski moved into her own territory around 1990, in works such as “Six Silver Mounds in Black with Pink” (1991), reproduced on the cover of her exhibition catalogue, Carole Seborovski (1992), published by the well-respected European gallery, Karsten Greve, with an essay by Ken Johnson. In that work, she turned away from geometry toward sexual forms, most likely inspired by Eva Hesse, whose aggressively sexual “Ringaround Rose” (1965) seems particularly relevant. The other inspiration seems to be Hindu deities, such as the multi-armed blue goddess Kali, and tantric texts about chakras and kundalini energy. I suspect that Jung and his notion of archetypal forms is also something Seborovski has brought into play.
Over the past 25 years, Seborovski has continued to materially reimagine aspects of these distinct territories, even as she extends her approach to include ceramics, among other possibilities. A selection of recent mixed media paintings and ceramic vessels can be seen in her current exhibition, Carole Seborovski: Physical Intuition at Nohra Haime Gallery (March 8–April 9, 2016). What the exhibition makes apparent is how far Seborovski has traveled into a domain that is all her own.
In this exhibition, the artist continues her use of diverse materials, which, according to the gallery press release, includes “paint, sand, twine, beads, glass powder, clay, mirrors, aluminum, gold and silver leaf.” Many of the works in the exhibition are modestly scaled, box-like forms extending from the wall: common to all the work is the rough, bumpy surface. Additionally, Seborovski punctuates the surface of the pieces mounted on the wall with nodules and string, inviting the viewer’s caress.
“Kali’s Garland” (2015) is a vertical box that thrusts forward about five inches from the wall. The surface is made from different shades of gray, pink, red, and black paint. Seborovski has carefully poured the paint onto the surface to create a largely black oval hemmed in by gray. Bands of varying widths, edged in distinct colors — they are red, blue-gray, umber and pink — separate the black oval band from the gray field while evoking flames and pools of lava whose striations separate one area from another. Twelve inverted, nipple-like forms are arranged around the interior of the black oval band, their surfaces painted in concentric circles of yellow and black. A large, yellow nipple surrounded by black and yellow concentric rings is placed just below the top of the inner oval formed by the twelve smaller, inverted ones.
While the work’s title refers the garland of skulls worn by Kali, Seborovski’s forms are not a literal restatement. If anything, she has tilted her portrait of primordial energy — the personification of the endless cycle of destruction and rebirth — into an abstract realm. This is one of the artist’s abiding strengths. She is able to transform a well-known deity into an abstract presence as well as open up the way we might read her work.
In her ceramic vessels, most of which are columnar with protruding handles, Seborovski might use gold leaf and most certainly will press her fingers into the clay to develop an uneven surface marked by an abstract pattern. The surfaces and handles invite intimacy on the part of the viewer. There is a decorative current running through her ceramics, which merges extravagance with the stately columnar-like forms. In the ceramic “Lao Tzu’s Journey” (2011), Seborovski disrupts the surface with circular openings rimmed by gold or platinum luster, and redeploys the latter to top the three vertical forms rising from the vessel’s double stacked, rounded body.
Seborovski’s work arises out of her carefully choreographed melding of the abstract and the erotic or — one might say — the cool and the hot. The openings and protuberances invite a sexual reading, even as the works maintain their abstract identity. The result is a cluster of fetish-like objects that resist any literal reading, even as they invite closer scrutiny.
Carole Seborovski: Physical Intuition continues at Nohra Haime Gallery (730 Fifth Avenue, Midtown, Manhattan) through April 9.