Though Saar is of African American, European, and Native American ancestry, her work is especially inspired by African American culture, history, and narratives. Having grown up in a California canyon, where nature was very raw and elemental to everyday life, the artist considers natural materials essential to her work. Later in life, while working in New York City, Saar explored more urban forms. She sees her recent work as having matured into a balance between the two. This balance is evident in Tippy Toes, which is at once very structural, with its sturdy cast bronze base, and distinctly natural in its twiglike form and rough-hewn wooden figure.
Many of Saar’s sculptures speak to the fragility of natural and social environments, and to the strength and femininity of women. This petite figure in Saar’s signature style is suspended by a seemingly delicate, ladderlike crinoline, though its delicacy belies the strength of the bronze from which it is cast and the thorns that suggest a difficult climb. Saar articulates a darker side as well, as the structure of Tippy Toes can also be construed as confining and, with its thorns, potentially painful, much like the tortuous form of the Iron Maiden chamber on which it is based.
The figure surveys the landscape before her, projecting a sense of ascension and ownership. Tippy Toes deposes decades of silence and erasure, especially meaningful in the American South. At five feet tall, the figure engages the viewer as an equal rather than an object of contemplation. With arms outstretched, the figure beckons viewers from backgrounds as diverse as Saar’s own.
tags: environment, identity, power, perception
Gift of the Friends of African and African American Art, 2008 (2008.2)