|Reviews: Eleanor Munro|
Like many women of these times, Nancy Webb put off committing herself to art until she'd had children. That is, she apprenticed herself in the minor leagues (book-jackets, commercial graphics, illustration) until, having fulfilled what some might call her existential role, she moved straightaway into the creative mainline. In the years since then, she has explored several formal and iconographic idioms and worked with many materials, from cast bronze to ink on paper. Massively gifted, consistently productive, she has avoided easy solutions to the challenges she's set herself, and her realist (sometimes symbolic-realist) idiom has proved capacious enough to encompass powerful themes rooted in experience: the containment of energy in the carapace of structure, and the generation, from deep inside that carapace, of new life-forms.
Her first sculpture in the round was a monumental female torso, hollow, cast in bronze. It still stands in her garden, womb of her later works. One feels the heavy, introspective emboundedness of her subsequent work in the round, images out of nature, history, and myth: beetle carapaces; fishes' and animals' skulls; warriors' helmets; pod-shapes indicative of the breeding female. As ruminations on archetypal themes, they draw magnificently on formal esssences, that is, sources in high art history: antique classical sculpture, Maillol and Brancusi.
There has been a companionn side to Webb's explorations so far, a sort of freer counterpoint to the conceptually laden sculptures. These are her large pen and ink drawings from nature (and relief panels based on them), that graze the visible world with hallucinating precision: shells, roses, leaves, fossils, bones, drifting through space like spiky ice-clouds. An especially apt subject for Webb has been that haunting synthesis of enclosure and line, the newborn human infant, with globed skull and limbs like bent-up twigs.
Along with many other artists liberated from monolithic style by Post-modern esthetics, Webb a few years ago was moved to look retrospectively at what she'd come through. To that end, she put together a number of big wood box-structures holding, among other things, old drawings of bones, pupae, wings, leaves, and such. These torn fragments, she lapped behind hard-edged industrial wheels, painted black and umber, whose turning would advance conveyor belts carrying cast-plaster foetal parts. The womb-box processes its meanings. One of them must be what John Gardner calls "the indifferent murderous machinery" of childbearing. To sum up, one box bears Yeat's title -- Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart -- which is, Webb says, what this whole series of works represents: "the rag and bone shop of my heart."
--Eleanor Munro, 1990