An old, bony hand opens a small cabinet. Inside is a tiny book. Inside that, lists are glued to the pages. It’s a history of art with Aldwyth’s name scrawled in a margin, a belated addition to the antique overview. Aldwyth is also the possessor of the hand, the maker of the cabinet, the one who glued in those lists and added her name. She’s made herself a part of history by reconstructing and reconfiguring it to fit her own needs and interests.
Aldwyth’s hand may show signs of age, but her eyes do not. The tireless 73-year-old wakes up extremely early every morning and gets to work. “She really gets down to business,” says Mark Sloan, director and senior Curator at the Halsey Institute. “And she reads voraciously as well. I’m envious of someone having the time to read so much.”
If time is on Aldwyth’s side, it’s the time to do what she wants instead of what she thinks other people want to see. “Slip Slidin’ Away,” a new collage exhibited in her inventive, eclectic solo show at the Halsey, is a good example of this. It has a gray border made up of numerical representations of each year of her life. Gusting Philip Guston heads send wind from each corner of the canvas. In the center, a large cloud is packed with people and objects that Aldwyth likes, such as artists, buildings, Dada, and more Guston images.
“The work changed from what I don’t like to what I do,” Aldwyth told me. Why spend months or even years collating pictures that made her feel bad? Instead, “Slip Slidin'” is a celebration of past and present joys, with her house floating over them in a bubble.
A joyous energy and quirky humor runs through lots of Aldwyth’s collages, placing incongruous images in unexpected places. Her sources are myriad, from early 19th century encyclopedias (“The World According to Zell”) to photographs of eyes (“Casablanca”). In the latter, these eyes drip down onto a checked circle. Each check contains an image — people, paintings, landscapes, diagrams. The border of each check is made up of tinier eyes. From afar it’s like a sponge, soaking up centuries of art history.
Some of the composite clippings are so small that a magnifying glass is required to see them properly. “Casablanca (colorized version)” has a border packed with miniscule copies of book jackets, details from classical art, photographs, and illustrations. These surround a veined white orb that floats in space, with more images hooked to a brain. Aldwyth’s influences and interests crackle from her mind as if they’re too much for her to contain. She’s compelled to let them out onto a canvas in visual form.
Before she got heavily into collage, Aldwyth specialized in assemblage, using found objects to create new three dimensional art. Some of these strange, dilapidated artworks are obviously different pieces of furniture stuck together. Others are like mechanical devices for thoughts or emotions.
“We Regret to Inform You” visualizes the pain of rejection, with nails and rusty shards of metal piercing an old trunk full of “personal debris.” For “This is Not a Gun” the artist has taken an item that looks like a garden hose attachment. She’s put it in a wooden case and set that on a plinth full of billiard-chalk holders. By appropriating common objects and reinterpreting them in works like “The Birds Bath,” Aldwyth refers to the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp; anything can be regarded as art if it’s placed in the right context.
Aldwyth has spent years putting these works of art together, and she’s packed a lifetime’s experience into Work v./Work n. It’s a chance to see the world through her eyes, where every piece of old junk has a prescribed resonance and purpose. It symbolizes the catalog of life that everyone creates mentally as they accumulate stuff through the years. Aldwyth hasn’t just transcribed that catalog; she’s gone one further by explaining and commenting on it as well, giving meaning to her odds and ends and giving old, bony subjects a new life and purpose.