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Sculptor Jessica Lichtenstein Explores The Limits of Feeling in “Delicious Torment”

Sculptor Jessica Lichtenstein Explores The Limits of Feeling in “Delicious Torment”

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Jessica Lichtenstein
Installation views of “Jessica Lichtenstein: Delicious Torment” ar Winston Wächter Fine Art with works from 2023. Photo courtesy of Will Ellis. 

Just as actions speak louder than words, works of art convey emotion more tangibly than any train of thought – and in multidisciplinary artist Jessica Lichtenstein’s experience, cracked plaster heart sculptures overflowing with engraved lockets prolifically tap into relatable, quintessentially human experiences.

Her latest show Delicious Torment—which runs from January 27 to March 11 at Winston Wächter Fine Art in Seattle—flirts at the limits of human sentiment, featuring her renowned heart sculptures as symbols for the thoughts we innately perceive but can’t always seem to articulate.

The show is both Winston Wächter Fine Art’s first solo exhibition and Lichtenstein’s last display of her heart sculptures before she moves onto other concepts. The body of work features sturdy renditions of hearts abound with quotes, phrases, pieces of poetry, musings – all of the literary, voiced makings of what it means to be a human, encased in a shape that is recognized for being inherently feminine.

Jessica Lichtenstein
“Jessica Lichtenstein: Delicious Torment,” 2023. Photo courtesy of Will Ellis.

Lichtenstein has regularly and intentionally worked femininity into her pieces – and while her early work included quotes and phrases as central themes, she moved away from words at a certain point, which made her feel like something was missing.

“I almost felt like I stopped giving the women in my work a voice when I stopped using words, but in my head, the words were still there. I could hear this crazy cacophony of sentences coming from my landscapes, but I realized I was the only one hearing it, because I was the only one thinking like that,” Lichtenstein said in a phone interview.

“I decided to give them a voice again, and to me there’s a correlation between that decision and the layers of lockets and quotes and words dug into concrete heart shapes. I love when people get close enough to my hearts to stick their faces into them and read all of these different things. You can jump from one quote to another, and everyone will come away with a different story.”

And just as Lichtenstein feels ready to jump from the heart sculptures to other projects, she feels equally compelled to give them an honorable, standalone moment to be perceived, appreciated, and understood.

“This series of concrete hearts started with one thought: the idea of a locket. Something so symbolic. Something we give someone we love, or give to ourselves as reminders. They tend to say things like ‘Forever,’ ‘Hope,’ or ‘Love.’ But what if they expressed more?” Lichtenstein said.

“What if they expressed what’s actually going on in our minds: what’s being thought, feared, heard or sensed? What we pick up from news, social media, loved ones, the current of the times?”

Lichtenstein began this heart-shaped exploration of the human mind by engraving thousands of quotes on lockets – snippets from romantic poetry, pornography, Instagram, newspapers, comic books, and her own diary. From there, she was inspired to sculpt what she drew from this gathering – and a heart seemed like the natural shape for her concept to take.

“What happens is a heart bursting with universal dreams, insecurities, fears, desires, and thoughts (both negative and positive), political climate, race, indecencies, romanticism – a.k.a., a human heart, and all of the ingredients that make us who we are,” Lichtenstein said.

“Jessica Lichtenstein: Delicious Torment,” 2023. Photo courtesy of Will Ellis.

My last show was the first time I unveiled my hearts – maybe six or seven, and it was also the first time I showed them. I really loved them, and I thought they needed a moment on their own: white walls and a gallery putting them in different clusters. It’s been a lot of fun. They have their own world right now, as a way to honor them before I move on.”

While the art itself was influenced by Lichtenstein’s exploration of the human mind and all of the elements that populate it throughout the average day, the show’s title was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, of whom Lichtenstein has been a fan since age 12.

“I love oxymorons, and I think Emerson’s line ‘delicious torment’ summarizes the human condition. Love can only exist with hate. Beauty can only exist with ugly. Light can only exist with dark. No one has an utterly consistent thought pattern – we’re filled with happy thoughts as much as we are with doubt. We are a walking oxymoron,” Lichtenstein said.

“As an existentialist, I sort of think ‘delicious torment’ is a description of life in general. People have these amazing lives and existences on this planet, yet we’re fragile and only here for a short period of time. That in itself is delicious and tormenting.”

The show is meant to explore what it means to be human: how we deal with our existence on this earth through conversation, relationships, getting along with one another, and navigating our own thoughts.

Although it felt like a natural progression, Lichtenstein was originally hesitant to convey this through heart sculptures. The artist wanted to avoid any semblance of cliche – but it was the very idea of cliche that eventually encouraged her to pursue it boldly.

“There was something about the way people warned me against it…I avoid cliches, but I’m also a rebel, and I said to myself, ‘I can figure out a way to make something so iconically cliched and feminine more masculine and obscure,” Lichtenstein said.

“Jessica Lichtenstein: Delicious Torment,” 2023. Photo courtesy of Will Ellis.

The artist curiously got to work, creating a multitude of 3D renderings before coming up with her final shape: minimalistic lines using colors like onyx and gray to juxtapose the masculine and feminine.

“Everything about the process was meticulously thought out, from the shape and color to the lockets going in the hearts. But although it was planned, I also had to allow for happy accidents, which is inevitable when you’re working with clay and cement and earth materials,” Lichtenstein said.

“I relate it to baking without a recipe: like I’m throwing a bunch of ingredients in and letting it sit in the oven. I have a vague idea of how it will taste, but did I use too much salt or sugar? I won’t know until it comes out, and there’s a little magic in that discovery.”

Jessica Lichtenstein: Delicious Torment at Winston Wächter Fine Art in Seattle is open through March 11, 2023 at 203 Dexter Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109.

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