To create the molds, Lewis would cut out strips of plaster gauze, dip them in water to activate them and then place them on her body.
From now until Nov. 4, South Street’s Magic Gardens, which refers to itself both as an art museum and an “art environment” will showcase the work of Newark, N.J.-based sculpture artist Tasha Lewis. Lewis’ exhibition, titled Ebb Tide: Sculptures by Tasha Lewis, showcases hand-sewn sculptures of busts, standing figures and vessels that are made with plaster and wood armatures. The busts featured in Lewis’ exhibition are near replicas of her own body. She made them by making plaster molds of her own body. To create the molds, Lewis would cut out strips of plaster gauze, dip them in water to activate them and then place them on her body. After about five or 10 minutes, the gauze solidifies. She’d repeat the process until she had enough strips to sew together for a bust.
“They’re not 100 percent accurate,” she said. “Obviously that would be a whole other kind of sculpture to try and do that. There are people who do hyper-realistic sculptures, but that’s not what’s important to me because the skin is really the end goal. That is the most exciting and rewarding.”
Lewis told SPR “the skin is a metaphor for the flesh because the work is not stuffed. It’s not soft sculpture. It’s actually made out of plaster so it’s very hard and then the fabric is stretched around it so it has a very different feel. It’s like a body. It’s like the plaster is the muscle and the inner armature of wood is the skeleton and then the fabric on top is the flesh or the skin.
According to a press release for the exhibition, Lewis’ sculptures and busts are meant to “create an atmosphere of vulnerability, anxiety, and introspection,” it reads. “Ebb Tide reveals the beauty and decay of what is left behind when the metaphorical water has receded.”
One of the busts is a recreation of Lewis’ legs, which are embroidered with her own leg hair. The embroidering, Lewis estimated, took at least 70 hours to complete.
“I wanted to put in that time and labor into something that … feels very personal, but also very universal for a lot of women. And to just put that on display as something that’s beautiful.”
Lewis chose Ebb Tide as the title partly because she considers herself a “total beachcomber.”
“It just felt like a really nice metaphor for that process of discovery when you’re on the seashore,” she said. “I’m a total beachcomber so I love that moment where things are revealed in the tide. I wanted that to be tied in. It’s a broad title so it really can take a lot of meanings.”
The walls in the gallery were painted in a blue to white ombre, which is meant to invoke the ocean. The artwork was colored in a similar pattern, with lots of blue — to represent water — and pink, to represent fleshtones.
“We painted this ombre throughout the whole gallery and obviously the ombre is a big part of my sculptures,” she said, “but to have the full environment kind of consume you and remind you of that horizon. Is it something in the distance? Or was there water in here? And has it left? Is it coming back?”
For more information about Lewis’s exhibition, including ticketing information, visit phillymagicgardens.org.