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Fish skins are the medium for sculptor Carol Hepper’s exhibition Reverse Osmosis which will be showing in Lafayette’s Williams Center Gallery from Oct. 22 through Nov. 19.

On Friday, Nov. 3, Hepper will give a free lecture at noon in Williams Center Room 108 and will be special guest at a reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Williams Center. The reception will precede an 8 p.m. performance by dancer and choreographer Molissa Fenley, which will include a collaboration between Hepper and Fenley entitled Island.

Born in 1953 and raised on a ranch at a South Dakota Indian reservation, Hepper came to the attention of the art world in the early 1980s with large-scale, often tent-like sculptures. The sculpture was made out of materials available to her while growing up, such as animal hides, bones, and willow branches.

“Her participation in the art world of the 1980s, including showing her work with an international group of sculptors known for an attention to craft bordering on wizardry (John Duff, Martin Puryear, and Richard Deacon) rounded out her training,” notes Stuart Horodner, director and curator of the Bucknell University Art Gallery. “The works she has produced during the past 20 years makes the value of these distinct experiences abundantly clear.”

Hepper continued her work with skin in the next decade, also introducing an element related to the “skeleton,” using copper tubing and other industrial parts. She burst on the New York art scene with makeshift tents and tepees fashioned from bent branches and translucent animal hides, which were included in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s “New Perspectives in American Art” exhibition in 1983. Bringing together sculpture and architecture, the works represent an intersection between categories that Hepper continues in recent sculptures that borrow from painting strategies. This dualistic quality can be seen in Hepper’s animal hide and found object constructions of the early 1990s, her large-scale public works using plumbing joints and copper tubing; and the fish skin works of Reverse Osmosis.

“Her choice to fabricate an allover field of repeated skins, and then apply paint to them, reconstituting (and often intensifying) their natural color, is a slightly surreal taxidermy project –perhaps Hepper’s version of the old ‘painting is dead’ routine, but also a tribute to the hero of American painting, Jackson Pollock, whose skeins of paint document the movements of his body,” says Horodner.

“I collect the skins from both fishing trips and fish processing facilities and tan them myself,” Hepper explains. “I am interested in the history of the animal that lived within the skin, which is told in incidents like scars, size, and color and shape changes in the spawning cycle. Initially, painting began by repigmenting colors lost when the fish were taken from the ocean. I used selections from a chart showing color variations of salmon and trout during spawning cycles. Since then, observations of tropical fish colors and phosphorescence, as well as dance and the patterns achieved while stone fence building, have led to new directions.”

Adds art critic Kristy Edmunds: “Carol Hepper’s sculpture stems from a long standing and highly sophisticated exploration of material possibilities used in service to her ideas. I have frequently marveled at her acumen in determining, then emphasizing, their inherent idiosyncrasies for the purpose of expressive detail. Her sculptures, considered structures unto themselves, contain history and a connection to the real worldHepper’s careful craftsmanship with a material as seemingly fragile as skin, combined with its retained shimmer, has a seductive allure.”

Hepper makes her home in the Catskill Mountains and New York City, and recently completed a residency at Dartmouth College, where many of the works in the Lafayette show were completed. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at Frederieke Taylor/TZ’Art, New York City (2000); the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, Oregon (1999); and the Soma Gallery, LaJolla, California (1998). In 1996, she was part of a two-person exhibition with John Duff at the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan. Her work has been featured in 19 other solo exhibitions and over 60 group exhibitions since 1983. It is in the public collections of AT&T, New York; the Aterrana Foundation, Vaduz, Liechtenstein; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix; and numerous other institutions. She has received 18 grants and awards, including ones from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Art gallery hours are noon-5 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; and a half-hour before public performances in the Williams Center. For more information, call 610-330-5361 or email

Lafayette College’s exhibition series is presented under provisions of the Detwiller Endowment, and is funded in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, as state agency supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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