Richard Hawkins, It’s gonna be… Oh, clay?


Richard Hawkins, Frog Priestess of the Sun, 2015, Glazed ceramic in artist’s frame, 25.75 x 22.75 x 4.75 inches (deep) (65.4 x 57.8 x 12.1 cm), RH0815

Examination of Test # RH0815

As I entered I found her in the supine position. Upon first inspection it appeared her hands were tucked underneath her lower back, yet it was soon evident her upper limbs had been completely removed. Her skin was dark, thick and rugged with a charcoal green complexion. Her expression was placid, peering off as if fixated on a non-existent point in the room. Her hair was styled in three dramatic classic barrel curls, two stretched out from the sides and one glorious cresting wave on top of her head. Orange hair also extended from below her blue breasts. A phallic-like organ protruded from her abdomen and rested between her buttocks, which were inverted to her front. A peculiar powder grey skull with cavernous eyes was attached to the bottom of her tibias. She was a truly fascinating specimen of Dr. Hawkins.

It is said that the French poet Isidore Isou, after observing the post electroshock drawings of Artaud, would follow Dr. Ferdière into the night begging him to perform the controversial, and arguably debilitating, treatment on him. Dr. Ferdière, also a poet and friend to many surrealists, aimed to “remove the various delusions and physical tics” Artaud suffered from; he believed that the late playwrights’ habits of crafting magic spells, creating astrology charts, and drawing unsettling images were symptoms of mental illness. Today, many professionals would say that Artaud suffered from schizophrenia, and that Ferdière, suffered from jealousy.

Richard Hawkins’ exhibition “New Work,” at Richard Telles Fine Art and Jenny’s, excavates the post electroshock drawings of Antonin Artaud, and continues the surrealist longing for the complex incongruity of the subconscious. Hawkins, while analyzing the drawings of Artaud, materializes subjects of his own, polychromed homunculi formed out of clay and displayed in wooden frames.

What could be so fascinating about Artaud and his wonderings, that a jealous poet and doctor would seek to wash away his ability to produce with electric currents? Richard Hawkins himself asks, Why would Dr Ferdière not just hand over chunks of clay and allow Artaud to have a field day? Instead, he only gave him flimsy paper, crayons, and pencils for little experiments in art therapy.


Antonin Artaud, Les Illusions de l’ame, 1946

André Breton in his manifesto stated, “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down a crowded street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly as fast as you can pull the trigger.” It seems America has finally entered surrealist times, so perhaps it makes sense that Hawkins would want to navigate the mind of a man who caused an envious stir before and after his consciousness was ostensibly removed.

Clay, in its malleability and physicality, has the ability to become a third party, a being that exists in a world with its maker— a world where it can be held, walked around, smashed, and annihilated. When anthropomorphized it can stand amongst us, becoming an embodiment of perfection, or a ghoulish aberration. Working with clay is both an aggressive and restorative gesture. One can use it to practice being a doctor or a mortician— cutting, patching, removing, and reattaching. Clay is for experimenting and examining without consequence, you can rip off the penis, place it into the mouth, leave it there, or dispose of it after. You can impregnate a man or pull the plug by simply rolling him into a ball. How much can you take away from someone and still call them ‘human’ and what small amount of action can manipulate a material in order to give it life? Clay is for the examiner, a pencil is for the patient. Clay takes strength, where a pencil needs little muscle, yet it can record strength like a needle on an EKG. A pencil can access the rumbling and inexplicably lush atmosphere of the subconscious, the shifting tectonic plates below the surface of the mind.


Richard Hawkins, Baubo Goddess, 2015, Glazed ceramic and pencil in artist’s frame, 25.75 x 22.75 x 3.75 inches (deep) (65.4 x 57.8 x 9.5 cm), RH1215

With the guidance of Breton, French artist Andre Masson (1896-1987) adapted the automatic style in his drawings as an attempt to allow the marks from the tool in his hand to solely be guided by the unconscious. Breton considered automatic writing to be the true photography of thought, an end that was sought after in various methods by many of the surrealists from the beginning of the movement. Masson’s drawings had staggering results, fragmented and dismembered bodies intertwined with their environment both whimsical and nauseating. They linked the trauma he endured during World War I and the post traumatic stress he suffered after. Surrealist practices, such as automatic writing or drawing, were done with intense psychological intent with even greater emphasis placed on evaluation.

André Masson. Automatic Drawing (1924). Ink on paper, 91⁄4 × 81⁄8" (23.5 × 20.6 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

André Masson. Automatic Drawing (1924). Ink on paper, 91⁄4 × 81⁄8″ (23.5 × 20.6 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Hans Bellmer was a known friend to Dr. Gaston Ferdière. His photos of mannequins or ‘poupées’ in the 1930’s were set up with hyper-intentionality, strategically placed and manipulated, both sadomasochistic and playful. The figures are often tied up and rendered immobile, yet not in total stagnation, with limbs that flare up and extend out as if trying to forcefully tear themselves from the body. Bellmer states, “The body is like a sentence that invites us to rearrange it.”

With a similar compulsive need to Bellmer’s, Hawkins ruptures and pulverizes his subjects, defamiliarizing the body from what is human, negating uprightness and logical order. His figures with their ceremonial arrangements are the size of an object that one makes in front of themselves at a desk, personal and intimate; it is a place where he can finger their asses and vaginas, open up wombs, rip off flesh and decorate their environment. Each a new experiment quarantined in their individual framed cells, waiting for their imposed symptoms to be gawked at.

Hans Bellmer-poupee

Hans Bellmer-poupee

Competition or simply wanting what someone else has is not irregular for artists, especially when talking about the surrealists, especially when talking about men and their egos. Hawkins’ low relief sculptures, however, don’t seem formulated through jealousy. Which is good, those that seek insanity in their work are more than likely bored in their reason. Artists can get away with being sadists when dabbling in abjection, doctors do too, one slip of the knife and a body becomes a corpse.

Hawkins’ figures share both the physical transgressions of Bellmer’s poupées and the obsessiveness of Masson’s erratic drawings. With these transgressions the body and subject are blurred, shrunk down, and splayed out, crossing the threshold of objecthood and seeking another identifiable form. Part animal, part male and female doll, fetishized creations, from and for a human, birthed from the observation of a consciousness removed in jealousy.

Richard Hawkins, Priestess of the Sun, fat orchid, 2015, Glazed ceramic in artist's frame, 25.75 x 22.75 x 6.5 inches (deep) (65.4 x 57.8 x 16.5 cm), RH0615

Richard Hawkins, Priestess of the Sun, fat orchid, 2015, Glazed ceramic in artist’s frame, 25.75 x 22.75 x 6.5 inches (deep) (65.4 x 57.8 x 16.5 cm), RH0615

Surrealism emerged from DaDa in the early 1920’s and its practitioners considered it to be a revolutionary movement at the time, though like many “revolutionaries” they grew tired. Isidore Isou, later in his life proclaimed, the evolution of art has nothing to do with the revolution of society. Although I would like to disagree with this sentiment, I find it to be unfortunately true a lot of the time. Out of all the boys club art movements many of us learned about in school, I always enjoyed the surrealists’ dramatic belief that art could change things, they were romantic little fuckers. I can think of many art pieces that have affected me personally, but I’ve yet to see a piece of art stop a bullet, and there are a lot of bullets flying around right now. Rarely a week passes where I don’t find myself calling a friend somewhere around the world, or on the other side of the city with the words, are you okay? I just heard what happened. Reality seems abstract right now, but it’s not surreal. Watching one of President Obama’s recent post-shooting addresses, he somberly talked about how routine it was becoming for him to be sending condolences, and how although it was the last thing he wanted, he was becoming numb to it. His face couldn’t hide the fact that he knew much of the American people were way ahead of him. If you don’t remember, you were probably looking down at your phone.

In no way am I calling Richard Hawkins new work, revolutionary. In fact, I would be more keen to say the opposite. Perhaps it’s simply that the year is almost over and the world is looking rather grim, or maybe I’m just trying to give more credence to the results of what happens when a man is given some clay and has a field day. Anyway, I’m just glad it’s over.


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