The Sculptor Who Reconceives Classical Myths

The Sculptor Who Reconceives Classical Myths

TO UNDERSTAND the ethereal sculptures made by the American artist Yoko Kubrick, you have to know your Greek mythology: The quarrels and trysts of those gods and goddesses inform her work just as they’ve inspired sculptors since the Athenian master Phidias, who, in the fifth century B.C., carved anthropomorphic statues of Zeus, Athena and their cohort in fine detail, from their flared nostrils down to their sandaled feet. Kubrick, who works primarily in Tuscany, uses the same milky Italian marbles and handwork techniques as her mostly male predecessors, but to experience her abstract pieces is less to stare into the face of the divine than to encounter three-dimensional renderings of divinity’s ineffable essence.

Consider, for instance, “The Capture of Persephone” (2019), her interpretation of the myth in which Hades snatches the daughter of Zeus and spirits her away to the underworld. Conceived as one of her debut public sculptures at this year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase (her prior commissions were mostly for private clients), Kubrick’s version of the story doesn’t emulate the Italian classicist Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous 1622 sculpture — now displayed at Rome’s Galleria Borghese, it depicts the moment with harrowing realism — but rather summons the kidnapping’s subliminal terror. In pale Calacatta marble smoother than skin, Kubrick layers femininely curved leaves atop one another, as if blown three feet in the air by a violent wind or gathered by an unseen hand. The piece doesn’t have a front or back, so you’re never certain how to view it; the only focal point is a suggestive hole that Kubrick bored through the middle. It could be sexual. It could represent Hades’ subterranean lair. Or it could be the void in a mother’s heart over her abducted daughter. Such sculptures “give a larger space for interpretation,” Kubrick says. “If you see a perfect image of something that’s classical realism, it doesn’t leave as much room for the imagination.”

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