Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” artist Summer Wheat’s most recent vibrantly colored paintings depict a community of heroic females doing the “heavy lifting and running things.” This collection of loaned works is from a special exhibition on view at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2020. 

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Introducing the technical progression of Wheat’s work over the last three years, this exhibition further emphasizes the relationship between drawing, painting, and sculpture.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

One of the first works on view when entering the exhibition is “Night Garden” (2018), a large-scale work exemplifying how Wheat enlivens patterns with color and texture to create a lush decorative border that also hints at a landscape format.

Summer noted in an interview with BOMB Magazine that, “In Ancient Egypt, gardens were built inside walled compounds and used as places of refuge from the harsh desert climate.”

She sees her tapestry-like works as creating similar space, that “could serve as a place of refuge from the turbulence of the outside world.” Wheat gives focus—like seventeenth century Flemish landscape painting—to how our environment can emulate our state of being.

Biting Nails (2018) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

“Biting Nails” (2018), on view to the right of “Night Garden,” shows a pair of disembodied hands with salmon colored fish dangling from each finger. Side by side, blue and green lines vibrate from the hands, giving them a psychedelic energy or mimicking water swirling around the fingers. One can almost imagine submerging these hands in water, coming out with little fish nibbling on the ends.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Continuing around the gallery, in “Swamp Hunters” (2017) Wheat diverts from her characteristic use of bold colors, allowing the media to reveal her adeptness at form, pattern, and narrative.

Swamp Hunters (2017) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In this painting two female hunters in black silhouette carry a large netted sack of animals set against patterns that move across the surface. Inside the golden netting are turtles, rabbits, and other creatures that they’ve caught rendered in white.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Just before moving into the next gallery, Wheat continues her exploration of female archetypes as the original hunters, practitioners, and artisans in “Catch and Release” (2018).

The shapes, figures, and fish symbology meld with one another and give her form of abstracted figures an illustrative and otherworldly quality with unquestionable resolve to rewrite historical imagery with the women at the forefront.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In this next section of the Charlotte Crobsy Kemper gallery, works reference themes of labor and respite, or ways to unwind from work.

Beekeepers, (2019) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

“Beekeepers” (2019) is a large-scale painting of five figures in a frieze-like formation which shows a group of women tending to bees, but they also appear to be mid-dance; an idea that there is a sense of choreography to our everyday movements.

Summer Wheat (2020-02-06)Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Wheat notes this work is, “a reflection of what [she] felt was happening in our culture around the time [of the election]. It felt like we were entering a dangerous time, like what one might feel walking into a swarm of bees: the sense of chaos, the hundreds of them flying around, the not knowing which one might sting.”

The figures also embody a sense of exuberant movement and appear to dance across the surface of the painting.

Dead Tired (2019) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

To the right of “Beekeepers” is “Dead Tired” (2019), which shows the pink and teal underside of a figure’s shoes. Wheat notes that for her, a true sign of being “dead tired” is when you are too exhausted even to remove your shoes after coming home from a long day.

This work also highlights Wheat’s use of pattern and line—evidence of her exceptional drawing skills—to form the shape of the figure.

The precision of repeated marks on the surface reveal a sense of texture that aligns with woven tapestry, and signature to Wheat’s practice.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

“Watermelon Seeds” (2019) is on view next, and like many of Wheat’s paintings, is a thoughtful mashup of art historical, pop cultural, social references.

In this work, the figure’s facial expression of wide eyes and an even wider smile sprinkled with a smattering of seeds, like spots, recall Keith Haring’s “Cruella De Vil” (1984).

This reclining figure is also being nourished by the other women in the composition, pouring seeds into her mouth while others surround her in supportive ways, reinforcing the theme of nurturing communities of women, which appears consistently throughout Wheat’s work.

This painting was also generated from the artist’s recollection of a story, where she heard that if a person puts a seed in their mouth and then plants that seed, it would retain the person’s DNA as it grew.

The breadth of perspectives Wheat’s works engage allows viewers to bring their own ideas into these complexly layered paintings.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Across the gallery are two more works from 2019, “Two Watches” and “Midnight Snack.” Symbolically, hands and feet appear in many works in this exhibition.

Two Watches (2019) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Sometimes disembodied like the drawing “Two Watches” (2019), the hands can again signify the labor we do with our hands. The painted blue nails also suggest ways people care for themselves, by getting manicures, and how these rituals are common yet meant to distinguish ourselves from one another.

Midnight Snack (2019) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In “Midnight Snack” (2019), we see three or four different figures (or possibly the same figure) fixing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the quintessential “midnight snack.”

In his essay for the catalog published in conjunction with this exhibition, Owen Duffy noted that this work “complements the exhibition’s theme of blood, sweat, and tears by depicting a hard-earned moment of rest.”

Here too, Wheat gives focus to the hands and feet of the figure emphasizing the action of labor but also the need to relish moments of respite, renewal, and regeneration.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The presiding theme in the final gallery is water. Each of the paintings reference stories associated with water including swimming, bathing, washing, crying, and even walking on water.

“Dirty Turtles” (2019) shows a very tall woman, the height of six layers of stacked turtles, washing their dirty colorful and patterned turtle shells.

In this work Wheat not only honors the long history of women’s work but for her the imagery reveals something of a personal perspective. In making this work the artist uses the metaphor of the turtle (an animal with a hard shell and a soft body) to describe negotiating with oneself as a woman, when to be “soft” and/or “hard” and what that means personally and universally.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Like the narratives that adorn friezes on Greek vases these various forms of feet with equally varied shoes walk along a mound of stacked waves in “Walking on Water I” and “Walking on Water II” (2019).

We don’t know where they are going but what we can observes in these paintings is that these are all uniquely individual people and they are headed in the same direction, together.

This momentum resonates powerfully with Wheat’s consistent foregrounding of the importance of communities and particularly collectives of women in a nurturing environment.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Directly across from these works is the pair, “Shallow Water I” and “Shallow Water II” (2019), depicting groups of women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and in various garments spending time together in a shallow wading area.

In addition to Wheat emphasizing here the essentials of women supporting one another these works offer an opportunity to observe the artists adept drawing skills (each painting’s composition is modeled after one of the artists drawings).

Wheat uses a wide range of lines, pattern, color, and forms to create an exceptional sense of depth to the space and a creates a fluid movement of the eye around the paintings, effortlessly connecting them though they hang as two distinct works.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The final work in this space is “Reflection” (2019) just to the left of “Shallow Water I” (2019).

Reflection (2019) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

“Reflection” (2019) shows a pair of large wide eyes with long teal-blue eyelashes that appear to be floating on two crests of purple water and are surrounded by orange fish falling around them like tear drops.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The disembodied eyes of “Reflection” (right), the feet in “Walking on Water I” and “Walking on Water II” (left), along with the hands in “Biting Nails” (2018), suggest a sense of ritual power. They are focused vignettes that draw attention into areas of her more complex compositions; a reminder that each part of the body plays a significant role.

Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (installation view) (2020-02-06/2020-05-24) by Summer WheatKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

This exhibition is a milestone for Wheat; it presents her most recent body of work and largest exhibition to date, as she continues to be inventive with her process and that of reauthoring moments in visual history.

Credits: Story

“Blood, Sweat, and Tears” is organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and curated by Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs.

A full-color catalogue is available in conjunction with this exhibition.

All works © Summer Wheat, Courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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