Categories: Poetic License

BECKY GUTTIN: Portrait of an Alchemist

Guttin

POETIC LICENSE

Artist Studio Visits by Chi Essary

Becky Guttin greets me with her characteristic warm and welcoming smile. The garage door to her private studio is rolled up and I see an assortment of different objects crafted in an array of mediums. Soldering on one table, glass kiln on another, welding equipment over here, mini letterpress and flat files over there. The walls showcase mixed media with glass, metal, fiber and found objects, combined in fascinating combinations. She tells me she might be a little difficult to categorize as an artist because she works with glass, she welds, she uses found objects and natural fiber, and she is a calligrapher (who has been invited three times to the World Calligraphy Biennale held in Korea). What interests her is the “language of materials,” as she phrases it. To me she seems like an alchemist who enjoys pairing objects with contrasting qualities and discovering what happens. “By themselves they might just be trash but when you put them together it gives them a new meaning.” And like a true alchemist, she finds this new meaning fascinating.

She points to her piece “Cinco Escobetas,” a thick block made of pressed cookie sheet scraps with a square hole cut in the center. Pressed into the hole are five estropajos, a Mexican dish scrubber made of plant roots that she remembers her mother using when she was a child. She smiles, “They are nestled inside of what they used to clean.” Upstairs she shows me gourds with solid glass bulbs from a failed industrial optical project protruding from holes cut through their shells. Next to those lie burlap sacks filled with metal shavings. They are tied up in the same manner as the indigenous women near where she grew up in Mexico tied the sacks they used for carrying their wares. She’s fascinated by the contrast between soft, organic plant fibers and hard materials such as metal and glass.

Guttin picks up a gas mask, explaining that her most recent work involves a combination of fiberglass, fabric, and epoxy which can produce caustic fumes. Several huge pieces created using this technique hang from floor to ceiling and look something akin to dissolved tires. They graced the walls of Low Gallery last September. Her neighbors complain from time to time about the smell or come by to check that she is ok. In fact, the whole neighborhood understands that she is always up to something creative, and everyone knows they can bring their cast-offs to her studio to be repurposed as art. She beams as she shows me a box of shattered windshield glass and another of aluminum shavings, much-appreciated gifts from her neighbors.

Looking around her studio, I notice a recurring theme: little houses, appearing here and there in glass, calligraphy, copper. Home is an important question for Guttin. Her Jewish grandmother and her five siblings were each born in a different European country, a family constantly on the move because of their heritage, before finally being able to settle in Mexico. Guttin asks me, almost as if she is asking herself, what exactly “home” is: “Is it where you plant a garden? Where you have your things?” Because she uses objects and materials from her childhood, she is constantly reiterating this question, reminding herself of her roots, her history, her home. She sees her work as a kind of self-portrait. As I look around the studio at the Kaleidoscope of materials and her prolific output of work, I see the inexhaustible energy she must have inherited from a family history of tenaciously recreating home again and again. It occurs to me that this is a sort of her self-portrait as well.

To learn more about Becky Guttin, please visit her website: http://www.beckyguttin.com

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