Seattle artist Lauren Grossman's show, "Sphincter," is at Platform Gallery through April 28, 2012. This is Grossman's first show at Platform.

Share story

Lauren Grossman, a senior figure on the Seattle art scene currently enjoying her first solo show with Platform Gallery, is something of a one-woman Wikipedia when it comes to subject matter for her sculpture. “The imagery of Judeo/Christian culture,” as stated in the materials accompanying this show, would probably be a broad enough topic for most people. But the content of Grossman’s current show, “Sphincter,” expands to include “how these old sources can translate into contemporary objects.”

This show focuses on material drawn from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Job, but that material immediately expands because it is dealt with through Grossman’s ongoing fascination with the imprecision of verbal language, and because her powers of association are singularly wide-ranging and eccentric.

Grossman says that among her starting points are the “divine monsters” that appear toward the end of Job. In her hands these become whales, or leviathans, as she calls them. As well as adding a nice local element to Grossman’s imagery, the whales appear in various guises in her work and lead us to another recurrent image in this show: the gaping mouth.

For Grossman, the gaping mouth is automatically the Hellmouth, or what we still refer to as “the jaws of hell.” In the medieval imagination (or perhaps in hers) this means that hell is “a sort of eternal digestion” (and it is this image that presumably explains the rather unsettling title she has given her show).

This interrelated imagery takes us only so far in our appreciation of Grossman’s work. What is most compelling in her art is her gift for less-explicable material transformations. A “Herniated Leviathan” is made of her signature cast letters and bicycle inner tubes that bulge through the gaps between them. Some distant poetic link can be felt between the inner tubes’ exposed air valves and the whale’s spout hole, but it is tantalizing rather than rational.

Another whale shows up in “Terrible Round About,” though this time it’s coral-pink, and outsize teeth poke obscenely through the creature’s flesh. This piece is closely related to “Private Hellmouth,” the interior of which is very like the whale’s pink and poked body. It is a somewhat harrowing thing: a personal little portal into hell that you can perch handily on the corner of your desk or nightstand. A reminder that damnation is ready to receive us anytime, day or night.

These small, evocative pieces are the best things in this show. They are far more persuasive, perhaps because their associations are less predictable, than Grossman’s several treatments of howling human heads. Here her imagery is so familiar that she strays into kitsch.

Robert Ayers: robertayers@mac.com