Work of the Week: Untitled (S.372) by Ruth Asawa
by Parker Louise Bobbitt
Passion, patience and perseverance were the qualities that my high school art teacher once told me were necessary in the making of art. While these characteristics can be applicable to work in any field, Ruth Asawa’s life and wire sculptures clearly embody each of these elements.
Untitled (S.372) is a hanging wire sculpture composed of separate and interwoven parts nestled together to create a unified, biomorphic form. The translucency of this work gives it a ghostly appearance that is heightened by its movement when drafts and visitors walking past cause it to stir. In its elegance, Untitled (S.372) appears to float weightlessly. Looking closely at this sculpture reveals the intricate woven patterns used in its creation.
To create this work, Asawa used weaving techniques she learned in Toluca, Mexico. Using a continuous piece of galvanized wire, she created these complex abstract works for which she is known. While working with this material, it became necessary that she wear bandages to protect her hands from cuts. Even with this protection, she could not avoid the frequent injuries of working with sharp wire.
Asawa was born in 1926 in Norwalk, CA as one of seven children born to a Japanese-American parents working on a farm in California. She was influenced by the days she spent riding on the backs of horse-drawn carriages with her feet dragging in the sand behind the cart. Making hourglass shapes in the sand imprinted those forms into her memory. Along with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, for much of the year 1942 Asawa lived with her family in an internment camp during World War II. Despite the hardships endured from being forced to live in the stables at the Santa Anita Park racetrack, she insisted on viewing this experience as a positive one. During this time, three Walt Disney Studio animators taught Asawa to draw. “I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the internment, and I like who I am.”
In 1946, Asawa began her three years at Black Mountain College. There she studied with Josef Albers, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham, along with others. While attending BMC, Asawa began her experimentation with wire. Since her rise as an artist, Asawa’s work has been exhibited around the world and she is widely recognized as an innovator of sculpture.
Asawa is a perfect example of living and working with passion, patience and perseverance. When going through hardships in life and in the process of creating her artworks, she continued to persist with determination. Beyond creating her own works, she passionately taught others the skills she had learned. Untitled (S.372) is a powerful piece that clearly demonstrates the qualities that Asawa is remembered for as an artist.
Artwork above: Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.372), ca.1954, Iron wire, 30 x 24 x 24 inches. Gift of Lorna Blaine Halper. Black Mountain College Collection. 2007.27.09.33.