By Emily J. Weitz
Artist Alice Aycock takes big themes and ties them together in ways that aspire to make sense of our world. She didn’t sit down at the beginning of her career and break down the world into categories, but distinct categories did emerge. Cities, wars, mechanical movements, games, universe schemes, languages and dances are all lenses through which she looks, and that in turn lends insight into the cultures or time periods she’s examining in her work.
“Being creative can be very multi-dimensional,” said Aycock over a cup of coffee at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill where her current show splayed out in several galleries around her. “At a certain point, I saw the possibility of many paths. As a child, I loved dance and acting. I didn’t pursue it, but I loved it. So in my art you’ll see diagrams of language, or dances through history, or war diagrams, which can be very beautiful.”
These large scale works are on display in the spine of the Parrish Art Museum, and Aycock was interested in what they might say about the cultures they represent.
“I studied dance, war, architecture,” she said. “I wondered if I could extrude the diagrams, make them three-dimensional, and see what they looked like.”
Other works by Aycock, which fill two large galleries on either side of the museum’s spine, include large-scale drawings and some sculpture. One whole wall is devoted to Aycock’s games. They are works of art, but they are also real games, which she has played, that explore the concepts she’s interested in.
“I needed a structure to contain these big concepts,” she said, leaning forward in her chair. “Each culture had a different idea about the universe, for example.”
One of the games, “The Golden Goose Egg” (1987) contains many different universes, and the point of the game is to find your right universe. All players find that their universe has been shut and locked, and they need to jump over space to get inside. It explores the huge concepts of the human condition, the struggle for a place in the world.
“It’s fictional play,” Aycock said. “It’s not truth. But everything is a partial truth, not fundamentally true for all time. It’s about dealing with serious things in a light way.”
There’s no denying that Aycock’s work appears architecturally inspired. Some drawings look as if they could be an architect’s plans. Mathematical equations, gears and scales are just a few of the mathematical references you’ll see in her artwork.
“As a young grad student in the 1970s,” she said, “minimal art was the prevailing form. I was studying with architecturally-inspired teachers like Robert Morris and Tony Smith. I was creating sculpture that could be architecture, in the sense that it had space instead of just being an object.”
She wasn’t drawn to pursue architecture directly, because at the time it seemed “doctrinaire and prescriptive.” But Aycock’s interest in architecture never waned and now she enjoys watching the continuing dialogue between architecture and sculpture.
“There’s an exchange between the two,” she said, “and an exploration of new technologies. Architecture is very exciting right now.”
Of all the angles and numbers and cerebral references in Aycock’s work, there was one sculpture in the show which looks entirely organic. “The Wavy Enneper,” a 2011 sculpture made of fiberglass, aluminum and acrylic, is a striking four-foot tall purple flower, seemingly billowing in a soft breeze. When asked about this curvy, delicate piece, Aycock laughed.
“It is a precise mathematical form,” she said.
In looking at Aycock’s work, it appears original and so real that it begs the question: did she see this somewhere and feel the urge to capture it, or did she feel the need to create it out of thin air?
“There’s usually something pre-existing,” she explained. “Maybe a site, like Mecca, or a game board I’ve seen. It’s something I begin to imagine on. I try on purpose to layer and layer.”
Whether the source of the inspiration is visible in her finished product, Aycock is not always sure. But she needs that starting point — something that is real — so she can then grow it.
“The world is layered,” she said, taking a final sip of her coffee. “It’s never simple and completely knowable. You may think you understand the narrative, but sometimes it gets out of control.”
“Alice Aycock Drawings: Some Stories Are Worth Repeating” remains on view at the Parrish Art Museum (279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill) through July 13. Aycock will deliver an illustrated lecture on her work on Friday, May 17 at 6 pm. Robert Hobbs, author of “Alice Aycock: Sculpture and Projects” will discuss her work on Friday, June 28, 6 pm. Tickets to all programs can be purchased online at parrishart.org. $10 (members free). For more information call 283-2118.