Summer Wheat is an American artist who makes vibrant paintings, sculptures, and immersive installations. She references Native American art, Egyptian relief sculpture, Greco-Roman vase decoration, medieval tapestries, and Renaissance etchings in narrative scenes that depict women as heroic, working and nurturing one another.
Wheat received her B.A. from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2000 and an M.F.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005.
Wheat’s paintings are an intersection of painting, drawing, and sculpture. While she originally painted on canvas, she now uses a technique developed by herself that combines craft with fine art. She paints from behind the canvas in a process of reverse engineering using paint like a sculptural medium similar to clay. She starts with a line and then presses acrylic paint through sheets of fine mesh. The paint then congeals into a textured surface that resembles woven tapestries or encrusted impasto paintings.
Wheat always paints women as her main subject matter, portraying them as hunters or fisherwomen working together – supporting and helping one another. She paints them as stylized figures using a palette of acid-bright colors; yet the overall mood of her work is solemn. Her figures of women, animals, fruit, etc. are boldly outlined, but many have difficult-to-decipher forms. They are a dynamic assortment of shapes, connected by geometric patterns.
In a 2018 show of six large paintings and five ink-and colored pencil drawings, Wheat channeled the mythological source of the fish as a symbol of abundance and fertility. In these works, she depicts fisherwomen and marine life existing together in a matriarchal aquaculture.
One of the six paintings in this show is “Catch and Release” where she portrays women, fish, animals, and foliage as if they are underwater. One woman has just given birth, and another woman reaches out to embrace the newborn baby. Two other female figures approach to offer care. The frieze-like structure gives the scene grandeur.
Another painting “Fisher” shows a full-figured woman, whose form recalls Neolithic fertility sculptures kneeling and holding a large yellow fish, suggesting that both the woman and the fish symbolize the life force.
Wheat recently completed her monumental site-specific installation “The Foragers” at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. This installation consists of vibrant, colorful panels of hand cut colored vinyl which gives the illusion of stained glass. It fills the atrium’s 96 windows and shows images from an historical context of men doing laborious acts. Wheat substitutes women for the men to empower women. This work spans the museum’s four stories and 3,720 square feet in the atrium.
Wheat received the 2016 New York NADA Artadia Award and the 2019 Northern Trust Purchase Prize at EXPO Chicago. She has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Milan, Brussels, Tel Aviv and other places.
Wheat had a solo exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City in 2020. Her work is in the permeant collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, San Francisco’s de Young Museum, Perez Art Museum Miami, the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, and The Mint Museum.