The first floor of Lauren Grossman’s Central District home is gutted and full of lab glass, molds, materials, and grotesque curiosities (sewn-up body parts, a headless rendering of Christ affixed to pipes, a gum-pink whale pocked with false teeth) produced over the course of her three-decade career as an installation and sculpture artist captivated by biblical imagery. Between the house and her studio in the backyard, she points to a headless bust on the ground.
“There’s Job’s wife,” she said, “with her head blown off.”
Grossman is one of the artists whose work will be featured in Elles: Platform, a women’s group show at the Platform Gallery in Pioneer Square through Dec. 15. The show is one of several community partner exhibits and events organized as a local response to Seattle Art Museum’s Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The daughter of a Jewish father and Presbyterian mother, Grossman, 52, grew up in Tucson, Ariz., an area she describes as heavily Roman Catholic. But coming of age in the 1960s, after much religious content had been purged from the curriculum, Grossman realized she was missing crucial cultural knowledge.
“I knew I didn’t have enough information,” she said. “Because I didn’t get it, I started researching it. The more research I did, the more interesting it became.”
Grossman holds a bachelor’s of fine arts in ceramics from the University of Washington. In addition to making jewelry out of lab glass as well as candles, Grossman spends much of her time casting molds, smelting iron, and welding, resulting in installations that, according to her artist’s statement, engage “the peculiarities of the Judeo/Christian legacy.”
Her current exhibit at Platform — the gallery that represents her work — uses the book of Job as a jumping-off point. In particular, she focuses on the conversation between Job and God about Leviathan, the mysterious ancient sea beast that periodically surfaces throughout the Tanach.
In keeping with Elles, Grossman sought a feminine approach.
“The interesting thing to me is that he’s gendered in the text,” said Grossman. “I’m positing the other gender of Leviathan.”
The three sculptures she’s showing are small, lumpy, slipcast porcelain whales with breasts precariously perched on scaffolding.
“Maybe Leviathan had a wife. Maybe Leviathan needs a mate,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being a wife, because I am one, and have been one for some time. Wife-ness changes as you get older. It becomes more of a long-term partnership.”
Originally, Grossman planned to show Job’s wife, but the iron for the mold didn’t heat properly. Hence the headless woman in her yard.
“I rarely have studio disasters like that, but it was just a really bad day,” she said grimly.
The breasted Leviathans are “fun little pieces to me about gendering the impossible to imagine,” Grossman said.
The scaffolding gives a sense of weightlessness and symbolizes the shaky constructs we live on.
“Some of my work is more serious than others,” she added. “I would say this is on the lighter end.”