Cincinnati-based sculptor PATRICIA A. RENICK passed away May 7 at age 75. Admirers of Renick's work, especially those local artists who have long referred to her as "Mother Art," understand that it is a careful balance between humor and strife. As Renick said in an interview in Sculpture magazine in 2003, "I've had enough experience to recognize issues in my own life and in the larger world. My work moves in both directions, and sometimes the two come together in unexpected ways. My serious side is concerned with relationships: the past and the present, inner feelings and outer appearances, and the thin line between having control and being controlled. Perhaps because I came to art relatively late in life, and cherish the freedoms it offers, I'm most frightened by the power in the hands of people who seem to thrive on tearing the wings off dreams."
Renick's dreams had indeed been flouted as a young woman.
During her years in school, it was obvious to teachers and peers alike that she had amazing artistic skill. They convinced her to become an art teacher, because -- more or less -- that was the option for women. Later, in the 1950s, Renick was hospitalized and subjected to shock therapy.
"I had been taking a common drug for weight loss," she said in 2003. "My regular physician gave me an unlimited prescription for dextroamphetamine sulfate, later to be known as 'speed.' I went bonkers, with symptoms that resembled schizophrenia. The whole episode ended 13 months later. With proper diagnosis and treatment, I could have recovered in six weeks, and the shock treatments were totally unnecessary."
The artist in Renick transformed this horrifying experience into sculpture: the "2068 Series". The number refers to her hospital case number. The work itself is not as plain: a compilation of eight lifeboats and several prone figures.
"I wanted to obstruct any literal representation of the experience," the artist said of the series. "(But) there is a narrative. It comes from serial relationships among the eight forms. These allude to states of mind and sensations of not being in control of who you are. If you were fully conscious, you'd know what was happening. Your identity would be intact..."
The "2068 Series" does not evoke that sense of control -- just the opposite, in fact. The lifeboats refer to being in another state of consciousness -- as in Renick's own time in the hospital -- that does not allow oneself to own her surroundings.
"The works are not therapeutic in any conventional sense," she said. "I created them many years after the experience (between 1981-1985). At the same time, trauma has a way of altering your perception of yourself. And, when your art is informed by personal experience, it has some potential for communicating what it means to be human. All of us have experiences that we'd like to deny or hide. That's nearly universal."
In 2003, the International Sculpture Center (ISC) awarded Renick with the Outstanding Sculpture Educator award, which gathered 300 people to laud her work and her magnanimous personal teaching style. She was also instrumental in bringing the ISC conference -- with almost 500 international artists, curators and collectors -- to Cincinnati last year. Not to mention the amazing National Sculpture Conference: Works by Women in the 1980s, which drew 1,200 people.
There is so much more to Renick's intuitive, intelligent sculpture and far more to her generous, entrancing personality than I have been able to address here. But now, with the loss of an artist who connected so deeply and with so many, leaving many disciples without a forum, without a "Mother Art," I myself turn to her "2068 Series" as a reminder that no matter the strength or tenuousness of your bond with her Renick was someone to count on for all of our humble human needs.
She was a small woman who wore hats everywhere as a kind of trademark. As such, it seems incredibly appropriate that Renick's partner, Laura Chapman, requests that everyone wear an outrageous hat to celebrate Renick's life on from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine.
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