Will Sheldon’s Small Super Stars

Untitled (Pink), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 28 x 22 inches

Pygmalion, the perverted sculptor depicted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, detested the “faults beyond measure which nature has given to women.” Taking a vow of celibacy, Pygmalion dedicated himself to sculpting the perfect female. Repulsed by their flesh and blood, he carved his woman out of ivory. In Ovid’s story, Pygmalion kisses and fondles the sculpture, creating a bed for her, later taking her as his wife. This narrative is reiterated a thousand times throughout art and real life. In Bryan Forbes’ 1975 Stepford Wives, “The men are getting exactly what they always dreamed of, perfect wives. But the dream is becoming a nightmare.” 

Stumbling through a bad dream, we encounter a pair of red glowing eyes. Chiseled, naked, bald, demonic – Will Sheldon’s extraterrestrial little girls await us, kneeling on a dingy factory floor.  On getting acquainted with Sheldon’s scenes, writer Allison Bulger describes, “It does not immediately register that they are dolls…A closer inspection reveals seams where each spindly thigh plugs into the pelvis. Those red eyes are not eyes at all. They are holes where glass balls will go.” Sheldon’s triumph in My Small Super Star is this moment of uncertainty. It’s creepy when we encounter a doll too life-like, or a woman too doll-like. “The doll-human relationship operates inside a forceful taboo,” Bulger writes. 

Sheldon’s perfectly rendered air-brushed subjects are inspired by Japanese Ball-Jointed dolls, BJDs, who take the perverted fantasy to new levels of dark reality, with their flexibility, and removable eyes, not to mention their social media accounts. BJDs are often influencers, wastrels, superstars. Sheldon’s interest in BJDs goes beyond Japanese doll fetishization, citing artist Hans Bellmer, known for his busty, ball-jointed mannequins in the 1930s. Bellmer identified with Ovid’s Pygmalion, only he strived for modularity over perfection, remaking and redesigning his woman endlessly. In contrast to Bellmer or Pygmalion, Sheldon’s ball-jointed girls are sympathetic characters, like aliens removed from their natural habitat and put on display. Only we don’t pity them, they are powerful little icons. We fear them, we fear ourselves. My Small Super Star is on view at Heidi Gallery, Berlin. – Claire Milbrath

Untitled (Red Eyes), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 55 inches

Untitled (Blue Corner), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 55 inches

Untitled (Close-up 2), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches

Untitled (Spider Legs), 2021, Color pencil on paper, 14 x 11 inches

Untitled (Bow), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 55 inches

Untitled (Red Drip), 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches