Cahiers d'Art Institute Blog

January 6, 2021 12:00 PM

Balloon Self-Portrait, 1993. Inflated latex. 72 x 48 x 33 in. (182.9 x 121.9 x 83.8 cm). Photo courtesy the artist

By Christopher Vacchio, Associate Editor

This is the latest in a series of blog posts in which Artifex Press staff members delve deeper into the artworks they are researching, sharing insights and discoveries gleaned during the intensive process of assembling a catalogue raisonné. Learn more by following us on Facebook and Instagram

Tim Hawkinson uses a staggering array of materials and processes to transform everyday objects into idiosyncratic artworks. The utterly eclectic nature of Hawkinson’s practice makes generalization impossible, but throughout his career, the artist’s systematic use of his own body and his dark sense of humor are trends that have stayed consistent across all of his works.

Echocardiograph Landscape, 1988. Watercolor on paper. 9 x 43 in. (22.9 x 109.2 cm). Photo courtesy the artist

In one early work, Echocardiograph Landscape (1988), the artist used the results of a medical procedure, and the graph of his heartbeat it contained, to determine the heights of the trees in a landscape watercolor painting. The juxtaposition between the implied stress of the medical procedure and the calm of the watercolor landscape creates a sense of unease.

Bird, 1997. The artist's fingernail clippings and superglue. 2 x 2 1/4 x 2 in. (5.1 x 5.7 x 5.1 cm). Photo courtesy the artist

Hawkinson’s focus on the materiality of his body can be literal as well—he frequently uses his body as a tool or a material in creating his works. For instance, in Bird (1997), his own fingernail clippings served as the material for the work, serving as the bones of the tiny bird, which were bound together with superglue. He even let his fingernails grow out in order to create the bird’s skull and beak in single pieces.

Stalk, 2018. Urethane. 26 x 14 x 12 in. (66 x 35.6 x 30.5 cm). Photo by Johnna Arnold, courtesy Pace Gallery

Later, in works like Stalk (2018), Hawkinson used impressions of his elbows, hands, feet, and even his belly button as casts, combining the shapes of those body parts into multifaceted works in sometimes humorous, sometimes menacing ways.

Blindspots, 1991. Photographs in artist's frame. 22 x 16 x 3/4 in. (55.9 x 40.6 x 1.9 cm). Photo courtesy the artist

Blindspots (1991) reveals the combination of Hawkinson’s conceptual attitude to materiality and his use of his body. The artist used a pen to draw the edge of his field of vision onto his own skin, creating an outline of the parts of his body he could not see without an aid like a mirror. He then photographed those areas and made a composite map of his body’s “blind spots.” The work represents both a self-portrait and the antithesis of one, since it only depicts areas of the body the artist can never himself see.

Averaged Vitruvian Man, 2016. Archival inkjet prints on soda bottles and steel. 80 x 82 x 12 in. (203.2 x 208.3 x 30.5 cm). Photo courtesy the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

Preconceiving the physical making of an artwork according to a specific system is also a recurring theme in Hawkinson’s oeuvre, with the artist interested in the tension between system and the nature of his medium. In Averaged Vitruvian Man (2016), the artist took photos of each of his body parts, down to his fingers and toes, and then printed them as identically-sized images, each of which was wrapped around a plastic soda bottle. The result underscores that photography is more than a documentary medium, and highlights the psychological tension embodied in one’s self-concept, when how a person sees themselves often comes into conflict with reality.

In thinking about Hawkinson's work, I am reminded of the Ludwig Wittgenstein quote, "The human body is the best picture of the human soul" (Philosophical Investigations II, iv, 1953). Our bodies are how we communicate with one another, through making or doing, something that Hawkinson highlights in his work by foregrounding the physicality and mutability of our human forms, coupled with a healthy dose of absurdity.

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