Jessica Drenk Coaxes Natural Forms out of Unnatural Materials

Growing up under the big skies of Montana instilled an attachment to the wilderness in Drenk. So it’s fitting that she embarked on her path to art-making by working with ceramics—a material that’s literally of the earth. “You can shape clay into anything, but you really have to work with the clay and know its limits in order to do so,” she has said. “Later, I realized that the same was true of any material; you can reshape and change anything from books to PVC pipe, but you need to work with and respond to that material.” And she does.
Books are among the “raw” materials to which Drenk has returned for her latest works. She often begins by disassembling the tomes, and then reassembling them as complex structures that resemble geological formations, systems of neurons, or spiraling strands of DNA. In Carving 11 (2012), for example, she whittled and sanded down an old book, then coated it with wax, transforming it into what looks like a beautifully striated rock formation or a hunk of petrified wood—but not completely. The text running across the sculpture’s surface and hints of its former structure remind viewers of what this piece once was. In Drenk’s words: “The finished work of art has both the qualities and meanings of the original object and what I have done to re-shape it.”
Karen Kedmey