Beth Cavener Stichter's On Tender Hooks addresses controversial, potentially embarrassing subject matter head on and in direct opposition to the reputation of her chosen medium. The artist questions tradition, history, and symbolism, she does not embrace it. By employing a classical genre, executed in clay, Cavener Stichter intentionally provokes art-world prejudices; the artist tempers the provocative while adding to the deliberate contradictions in her work. Cavener Stichter explores child abuse, pornography, self loathing, and insecurity through elegantly crafted goat, hare, and hound proxy. The artist cajoles the viewer into looking at the darker side of the human condition by cloaking it in animal skin.
The properties of clay enable the artist an eloquence of form and surface unavailable through other mediums; her process of construction is painstakingly delicate and time consuming. Cavener Stichter first creates each sculpture from a solid block of clay; her broad, sweeping, gestural passages can only be accomplished with mass behind her movements. The artist then cuts the work into small sections, severing limbs and torso at each point of motion. Each slice is hollowed out and gently reworked so that the straining of the muscle and the articulation of skin and fur are brought to life. Inch by inch this process is repeated, each section being attached to the prior; an exacting labor which takes the artist months to complete.
Cavener Stichter explores frank discussions with her viewer through her anthropological sculpture and a dispassionate objectification of her subjects. What is revealed in the artist’s work it is not an indicator of openness but of vulnerability. She is cognoscente of the danger that the realism of her creatures and her deliberate choice of Martha Stewart color palette can encourage: the worst kind of sentimentality. Those people likely to write off these works easily are the very ones the artist strives to touch. The child of a micro biologist, Beth spent her teenage summers isolated in her father’s lab, painstakingly dissecting fruit flies. Taught to examine facts dispassionately and impartially, the artist imposes no moral judgment or personal seduction on her work; she couches her conclusions in universal terms. The artist hopes that by inducing the viewer to acknowledge his own uncomfortable darker side, she can inspire a greater understanding of those disparities that divide contemporary societies.
Cavener Stichter’s work is the subject of an upcoming article in Sculpture Magazine. She is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution of American Art,