Seattle artist Debra Baxter’s show at Platform Gallery, All I Ever Wanted, investigates a uniquely feminine desire for pillow talk. Baxter’s work has, at times, straddled the realms of jewelry and sculpture. Take, for example, her set of brass knuckles (Devil Horn Crystal Brass Knuckles). Topped by a jagged mass of crystal it could be the world’s most badass engagement ring, or a snazzy fighting weapon. But most of Baxter’s latest body of work leaves adornment behind to delve into what lies beneath the surface of human relationships. Or, in the case of the show’s centerpiece, what the subjects of those relationships rest their heads on.
Fascinated with Albrecht Durer’s pen and ink Six Studies of Pillows from 1493, Baxter carved five of Durer’s pillows out of alabaster. Slightly smaller than life-sized, the smooth white forms in Baxter’s installation Soft Landing (or Crashing and Burning) resemble, among other things contorting human flesh. Situated on a low bed-like platform her pillows are on view in a semi-private area of the gallery. Baxter hints at intimacy, the weight of relationships, and absence as well. The sixth pillow—visible in the drawing, but gone from Baxter’s installation—leaves an obvious empty space on Baxter’s makeshift bed. The “all” in the title of the show sums it up nicely: a small word that implies everything that is not. It’s the kind of sentence thrown out during a lovers’ spat. “All I ever wanted was your attention.” “All I ever wanted was to be loved.” Small as the word may be the “all” in her title is a mighty stand-in for greater dissatisfactions.
Other works in the show echo the difficulties of honest communication and the seduction of the blame game. “Thin Ice,” whose voluminous rocky form dangles over the edge of it’s supporting pillar, sports a thin reflective mirror. One look and you’ll see at least half the reason things have started to fall to pieces. Another, Big Mouth (Heart on My Sleeve) depicts a smoothly carved woman’s shirtsleeve carved out of alabaster whose wrist vomits forth a voluminous spray of crystal. Both beautiful and violent Baxter reveals the messiness evoked in emotional over-sharing. All I Ever Wanted combines preciously carved forms with rough-hewn rocks as stand-ins for the raw emotions that can spill forth regardless of our best intentions at self-editing. Viewers should be glad that Baxter’s not interested in mincing words.
By Suzanne Beal