RELUCTANT URNS: ARGUMENT WITH DEATH
One reason an artist attempts portraiture in material form is to engage in imaginary conversations with the psyche and physicality of humanity. A portrait might be idealized, or it could be easily transmogrified into something demonic, eliciting base emotions such as fear or hatred.
Portraiture has served to translate the safe chaos created by undulating forces that impacted my narrative from year to year . . . until it didn’t. My embrace of personal bedlam stopped feeling safe after destabilizing changes and political shifts swamped my ability to respond. Details vary, but each of us could share a list of mental assaults and insults that transform one’s fortitude into fragility.
A new series, Reluctant Urns, is less than a year old and follows a period of profound loss. My Urns perform two roles, representing vessels literally and symbolically. Each vessel is intended to suggest a burial urn, an empty receptacle covered by a figure that evokes life and death simultaneously. This hybrid portrait attempts to convey human consciousness and its senseless argument with death and the void it brings. No solace is given or received by the bony skull posted on its sagging body, an anonymous sentinel honoring an absent loved one.
The portrait series, Imaginary Friends, is about longing. The studio offers precious time for a private exploration and search for the physical manifestation of one’s inexpressible, incoherent, illogical congress of thoughts and emotions. Facial characteristics that suggest age, gender, emotion, and history appear and disappear as choices define the journey toward an image and decisions eliminate options. Friends and foes, real and imagined, are safely tamed in a frozen gesture of heated, hardened earth. Only the studio supports this solitary illusion of stability if not mastery of human relationships.
Imaginary portraits in the Guardian Series summon extraordinary forces that can intervene on behalf of the vulnerable earthly domain. Since these same beneficent powers are displayed daily in human behavior, some of the portraits are playful depictions of real people who routinely embody compassionate action.
The clay heads in the Sinner Saint series are often portraits, and the rigid, constructed chairs are impregnable surrogates for the subject’s more vulnerable body. The architectonic steel structures provide visual and conceptual contrast to the biomorphic forms modeled in clay. The metaphoric potential of portrait heads was stimulated by my interest in Renaissance portraiture, specifically work by the della Robbias. A major source of inspiration in my work is the 14th century monastery outside Florence, Certosa del Galuzzo. This monastery’s Great Cloister is ringed with 66 portraits (majolica tondi) of saints and prophets by Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia. The Cloister’s grand architectural space is rendered intimate by the serene depiction of the human image transcending torment.
The human body is a central theme in art across culture and time. The 20th century is known more for the development of abstraction. Realistic treatment of the human form stubbornly persisted in the margins of the last century. The antipathy of the dominant artistic stance toward rendering the body provides a fertile ground to investigate as our culture redefines humanness in an increasingly technological environment of the 21st century.
As idea and image, the human head epitomizes self-consciousness. In my totemic forms, the malleable clay surface of the head records traumatic force more psychological than physical. Mental fortitude essential for survival is reflected in the frozen, stoic visage. Supporting the head, a functional chair references the body while displacing it. Are these treasured relics or insensate souvenirs? Both are fates for saints and sinners.
BURDENS & BLESSINGS: Hands
The human hand, culture-bound yet common, is a fragmented reference to corporeal experiences and abstract meaning. In addition to the unique utilitarian capacity of the human hand, its physical flexibility and versatility permits a range of expression as gestures become material manifestations of psychological states. A poet may rub words together to ignite a thought; a musician gathers sounds in formation, using one sense to stimulate the rest. Expressing the fluidity of impalpable consciousness through static visual form is often the sculptor’s conundrum.
In my work, the body was no longer whole; in its place stood a pedestal that supported the body's residual form for contemplation. Stone, clay, wax and metal served as physical interpretations of ethereal perceptions long after the hands that shaped them go still.
Critical in this series was my commitment to modeling from life. Granted the renderings of hands were greatly oversized and exaggerated, these were the first objects that I made where I closely examined the subject. My conceptual source had become a more demanding visual source. It may seem odd for a visual artist to admit to visual indifference, but abstraction had allowed me to accept the infinite range of possibilities for a contour's path. Abstraction is forgiving in this way and incredibly liberating; however, modeling from life informed my sculpture with more specific and personal sensibilities.