You will recognize Still Water immediately. Not because the exhibit’s subject matter is everywhere—though female nudes are everywhere—or because the artist is well known—this is only Summer Orr’s second solo show—but because the combination of women in water feels imprinted.
In her 11-piece engraved clay and drawn ink series, Orr’s women float, lounge, sit and submerge themselves in water. They are shakily sketched and loosely proportional with backgrounds that reference Nevada landscapes—a line of mountain here, a circle of sun there, a few tick marks indicating sagebrush.
All tell semi-autobiographical stories that Orr insists are “never really me,” but rather “an evolved me or memory of myself.”
It’s also a shared memory for women—sitting in water. It’s what you do when you have menstrual cramps, and it’s the way you’re most comfortable when you give birth. Everyone floats in the womb. There’s just something about being in water that seems to buffer pain and give a person time to adjust to reality.
This is also true for Orr, who—at 19—is submerged in her own metaphorical pool, trying her best to become “fully formed.”
“I’ve just moved out on my own in the last 6 months,” Orr said. “It’s definitely challenging to acclimate to being a kind, emotional, full human being when there’s so many things that weigh down on you like school and work.”
As a graphic communications major at Truckee Meadows Community College and part-time T-shirt designer at CustomInk, Orr turns to non-digital art—ceramics and drawing—to ease the acclimation process and give her a creative fix.
“I’ve taken [ceramics] every semester for two years,” said Orr. “I’ve taken it so many times I can’t even take it as a class anymore. I just audit it.”
Orr’s hours in the studio seem to have paid off, because it’s the ceramic work in Still Water that stands out. Though the women in her blue ink drawings look nice, the women feel more distinctive in clay. They’re fleshier, more stuck in their circumstances.
Because the ceramic lakes look so much like water—they’re made of melted blue glass—and the clay looks so much like earth—because it is—there’s a short line between the physical properties of the materials themselves and the images they represent. It’s no accident that Orr places her women in the protective circles of two substances that hold heat, diffuse energy, and steady them against their unstable environments.
A closer look at each woman reveals where she is on the continuum between peace and pain.
In “A Tendency to Run Away,” the woman hunches toward the mountains, back to the viewer, her head cocked to the side. Though her face is not visible, there is a distinct feeling of loneliness as she stands in water against a backdrop of craggy power and empty desert.
In “You Told Me I Cried Too Much So I Cried Myself a Whole Lake,” a figure surfaces from the water—The Ring-style—looking like she’s about two or three Kübler-Ross stages away from crawling out of the ceramic like a spider-person.
And then there’s the familiar calm that comes from solitude as the woman in “Nothing But A Water Vessel” soaks in a cave, surrounded by shallow water and stalactites. Her elbows rest on the side of the pool, and her hands cradle her head. She seems deep in thought.
“This is probably the best one that came out of the bunch,” said Orr. “She’s sort of accepting herself there and being there in that moment, in the cave.”