Vivienne Shark LeWitt
Massa Peccati: The Seven Deadly Sins
27th July – 14th August 2010
Anna Schwartz Gallery
A female figure is suspended in mid-air: at the moment of apotheosis, floating, eyes closed and arms outstretched, in a gossamer gown of pure white and a cloak of regal blue. Illuminated by outlines of white chalk, she appears pious, even saintly. The surface of bare linen upon which she levitates epitomises virtuous simplicity and evokes the dusty surface of crumbling fresco plaster, high up on old church walls. The forces suspending her however, speak of more earthly qualities.
Emerging one by one from the very heart of this exemplary Marian figure, six serpents locate those internal conflicts driven by what we conventionally name the “seven deadly sins”. Recalling the themes of Shark LeWitt’s previous tableaux, Massa Peccati: The Seven Deadly Sinsgently addresses the complexities of our personal moral codes. Rather than depicting actions toward others, Shark LeWitt chooses to picture these demons as states of mind. They are conflicts negotiated by the intellect and the body before being exercised upon the outside world.
Giving the conventional seven sins a more forgiving reading, Shark LeWitt’s visualisations are broader and more nuanced than we would normally assume: gluttony is not purely over-indulgence but also waste, and is here connected to the plumbing of the body. Envy — the intense study of that which is unavailable to us — only flies back in our face with all the mockery of that green-eyed monster. Wrath is invoked by our impatience or sense of superiority in the face of the efforts of others. A vainglorious devil at one ear, stroking the hair, grooms and persuades the ego into complacency. As central to the composition of the eight panels as it is to the list of ethical crimes, the sin of pride is depicted as that female figure with the necessary arrogance to shut her eyes and lift her chin in defiance of the traits of her own soul.
Embodying the doctrine of ‘massa peccati’, the mess of sins, Shark LeWitt refers to the apparently natural and constant state of the human soul. With a deft and assured brush, she interprets and offers, without demanding adherence to, a centuries-old ethical code. It is surprising and humbling that such delicate toes — barely escaping the lick of flames that reach from the mouth of hell — might be those of someone capable of all these trespasses. Or, she might simply be human.