Letha Wilson

Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground)

a brown and green sculpture

Letha Wilson, "Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground)", 2017, UV prints on Cor-Ten steel, 110 x 76 inches, Courtesy of the artist, Photography by Anchor Imagery

Fusing flat images with three-dimensional forms, Letha Wilson’s photographic reliefs sculptures examine the intersection of architecture and nature. Taking her own landscape photographs of the American West—including the Badlands of South Dakota and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah—she animates these scenes of arid canyons, oceans, and lush vegetation by cropping, cutting, and folding them into complex shapes. Extending into space, she melds the manipulated images of sublime wilderness with building materials such as concrete, cement, and steel. Working with both surface and volume, Letha’s sculptures engage viewers both optically and physically.

With Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground), Wilson brings large-scale photography to the deCordova’s Sculpture Park. A site-specific commission, this 10-foot-tall structure features larger-than-life-size photographs of the desert and jungle that have been printed onto intersecting Cor-ten steel plates. Wilson took these fragmented landscape images during her recent travels to the Joshua Tree National Park and the Kauai Island of Hawaii. The contrasting terrains of parched and fertile landscapes create a dynamic interplay when set with deCordova’s cultivated New England scenery. The seasonal changes of the surrounding terrain impact the way the photographs are perceived: in summer, the green palm fronds blend with the colors of the lawn and surrounding trees, while the rocky dessert is more pronounced. During the winter, the vibrant tropical foliage presents a striking contrast to the snow covered ground.

To adhere her photographs on Cor-ten steel, Wilson used direct-to-substrate printing, a relatively new process that fuses the images onto the underlying metal. Wilson has said, “The process means that the photographic prints are sprayed directly onto any material…which allows for a long outdoor lifespan.” The photographic panels interlock with the rusting and textured steel plates, creating a dynamic interaction between figuration and abstraction. The metal structure engages the legacy of large-scale outdoor steel sculpture of the twentieth century, which includes works of seminal artists such as Louise Nevelson and Richard Serra.

Wilson earned a BFA in Painting from Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, and an MFA in Combined Media from Hunter College, New York, New York. Her work has been shown at many venues including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut. In 2009, Letha was a resident at the Santa Fe Art Institute, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and was nominated for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Award.

Wilson’s Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground) is part of deCordova’s PLATFORM initiative, a series of one-person commissioned projects by early- and mid-career artists from New England and the world that engage with deCordova’s unique landscape. The series lets artists expand their practice and visitors experience new approaches to contemporary sculpture.

Listen to Letha Wilson talk about the sculpture. 

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