Rozanne Hawksley

Rozanne Hawksley: Offerings
Mission Gallery, Swansea, Wales
January 16 – March 6, 2010

To offer interpretations of Rozanne Hawksley’s art feels like something of an intrusion. Her cathartic practice charts an internal landscape, not of rural Pembrokeshire where the artist now lives, but of grief’s dark intimacy. For viewers unfamiliar with the facts of the artist’s personal life, a recent monograph on the artist published by Ruthin Craft Centre and Lund Humphries confirms that Hawksley’s seventy-nine years have been marked by some of life’s harshest experiences: the suicide of her first husband, followed by the death of her son and second husband.

But the artist describes the meaning of her work in less personal terms: her use of bones reflects an “interest in the human condition”; gloves are a “symbol of the individual”. These recurring tropes are combined with fragments of text and found objects such as crucifixes and faux jewels. When seen in the Mission Gallery, itself a deconsecrated church, an aura of ceremony (marriage, funeral and the codes of religion) is palpable. The left hand side of the gallery is packed, graveyard-like, with black pedestals and work nestles protectively in boxes and behind glass. A dark joy is apparent, more akin to the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead than death as an end and absence.

The sugary sweetness to these dark boxes of lace and gems are, to my eye, the less moving than the rest of the exhibition, which reveals Hawksley’s harvest of small bones and dreadfully withered gloves: “Look on Small Beautiful Things” is comprised of bleached bones stitched onto canvas and reminded me of Doris Salcedo’s “Septum” exhibition held at the Inturralde Gallery in Los Angeles in 2002. The cloth hearts and spent cartridge cases of “He Always Wanted to be a Solider I and II” suggest a cathartic reworking of military medals; “I will fly south... For Mathew, 1995-97” is described as a memento mori for the artist’s son and includes a bird skeleton on a wooden background trapped under web of red sewing thread.

Critical attention to Hawksley’s practice, which she began at the age of forty, has grown in recent years, and this solo retrospective spans three decades of creative output. For example, an earlier version of “Pale Armistice”, a wreath of white leather gloves and bleached bones, was part of “Subversive Stitch” exhibitions curated by Pennina Barnett in the mid-1980s and is now part of the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum in London. Dr Ruth Richardson in her introduction to Hawksley’s monograph, describes this work as a “feminist meditation on memorialisation, not only of those killed in war, but of its damaged and bereaved survivors.” It is the latter – bereaved survivors – which this exhibition speaks of most eloquently.

FiberArts Magazine (summer 2010: 58-59)