Urgent Museum Notice

Finding Meaning in Form: Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Process

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Ursula von Rydingsvard marking cedar, 2007; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Zonder Titel

Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling presents the artist’s monumental cedar wood sculptures alongside newer works for the very first time. The poetic and expressive sculptures, which also use leather, linen, and other organic materials, reveal the process by which von Rydingsvard gives outward visual form to her innermost ideas and emotions.

UVR with assistants
Ursula von Rydingsvard, center, surrounded by studio assistants in front of Bowl With Folds (1998–99) in Detroit in 2017; Photo courtesy of Kevin Silary/Galerie Lelong & Co.

Ursula von Rydingsvard’s sculptural practice is a way to give tangible form to her feelings and ideas. The artist primarily works with cedar wood and describes her relationship to it as emotionally complex. “Cedar is the one material that comes closest to saying what I need to say in a visual form,” she has said, and her skill with it has earned her the moniker “Sorceress of Cedar.” She imports the wood in four-by-four beams from a mill in Vancouver to her studio in Brooklyn. There, she and a team of assistants begin a labor-intensive process to bring her ideas to life. Her artistic process must not only be understood in technical terms, but also as an emotional progression—through the physical act of sculpting, the artist searches for meaning.

UVR drawing on floor
Ursula von Rydingsvard begins a sculpture by drawing an outline on her studio floor, 2017; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Morgan Daly

Von Rydingsvard begins each sculpture by drawing a chalk outline of a base on the floor. She works intuitively and makes adjustments as she goes. “The worst thing is for me to try to figure out exactly and specifically what the sculpture needs to look like,” the artist has said. She then draws lines on stacked cedar blocks—an intuitive expression of her subconscious—that begin to indicate a work’s detail. From there, von Rydingsvard and her assistants use circular saws to shape the works based on these marks, and powerful adhesives are used to glue each work’s layers together. The team wears protective masks and suits because of the equipment, sawdust, and fumes. Sections of each piece are meticulously numbered and screwed together. Then graphite is applied, which takes easily to the porous wood, giving it a ravaged and dramatic effect. For von Rydingsvard, her work is not so much about precision—though her constructions are undoubtedly precise—as much as it is about making her audience feel something.

UVR applying graphite
Ursula von Rydingsvard applys graphite through perforated plastic on For Staś (2011–17); © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Morgan Daly

In her artist statement, von Rydingsvard writes: “Why do I make art? Mostly, to survive. To survive living and all of its implied layers. Because it’s a place to put my pain, my sadness. Because there’s constant hope inside of me that this process will heal me, my family, and the world.” The intensive and cathartic process of cutting, sawing, gluing, and marking is the artist’s method of survival. Similarly, von Rydingsvard’s favorite sculptor, Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), also turned to art to “find a mode of survival.” Through her art, Bourgeois dealt with painful memories from her childhood during World War I, while also exploring the role of female identity. Von Rydingsvard similarly works through her past in her art. The artist and her family fled Nazi Germany and lived in refugee camps for several years. These experiences left marks on the artist’s life—marks that are visible in her sculptures. Every cut, every graphite stroke is part of von Rydingsvard’s quest to find meaning through the act of creating a form, a “contour of feeling.”
 

Related Posts

  • Women to Watch 2020: Georgia Russell

    Posted: Mar 01, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Georgia Russell's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A rectangular paper work in a plexiglass box that shows thousands of slashes through the work to create waves and shadows throughout the surface. The color shifts from purple at the top to blue to red at the bottom.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Natasha Bowdoin

    Posted: Feb 24, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about artist Natasha Bowdoin's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A detail of contemporary paper art with a colorful painted base underneath thousands of cut alphabet letters in concentric designs.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Elisabetta Di Maggio

    Posted: Feb 23, 2021 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about Italian artist Elisabetta Di Maggio's process and work, which was featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    Detail view of delicate, white tissue paper that has been cut with intricate floral patterns which create shadows on the wall behind it.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight