It was recently suggested that I look at the ceramic and mixed media works of Tom Bartel. I was immediately drawn to his figurative pieces. The forms he creates are somewhat grotesque with highly textured skin and brutish, exaggerated features. However, these figures express a docile nature with their impotent and incomplete bodies. The color palette Bartel uses is also very soft. The disfigured come together with cheerful patterns. Themes like mortality and fertility are addressed honestly for all of the beauty and horror. Life's scars and blemishes are not vainly hidden, but displayed in Bartel's treatment of his character's "skin." Bartel's dualistic depictions of humanity are a new favorite to my visual library.
While exploring the Nelson Atkin's "recent daguerreotype acquisition" exhibition I came across something fascinating.
In a darkly lit room of the Nelson Atkins Bloch Building, two hundred wallet sized daguerreotypes are encased with little back lighting. In the very last case, above Eagle Facing Left, and to the right of Portrait of Sylvester S. Crosby is this gem, Genushe - so called because that was inscribed on the back of the copper plate the image is printed on. Depicted, is a small, deceased rabbit dressed in dolls clothes, laying in a coffin, holding onto flowers.
This image is one of the more interesting examples of the Victorian tradition of post-moretem photography and collecting of memento mori. In the 19th century, death was more openly celebrated and discussed than in current times. Photos of the deceased, especially young children, were the only images or memento they had of these individuals. This image is particularly fascinating because it immortalizes a beloved animal in a very sweet manner. Though, for today's standards it might seem a bit morbid due to the animal being a corpse. However, I feel I can relate to the preservation of this rabbit's visage. My dad, being a hunter and fisherman, brought home many trophy animals that my siblings and I would display in photos. We also grew up with many pets, some of which my dad would breed, so we also had images of the family with quite a few litters as well.
In my own studio practice I have been looking into ways in which we memorialize our dead. This simple, striking image, that is so sweet yet could be tough to look at for some, inspires me to confront and embrace the celebration of those who have passed on before me. The value of the individual is immense and should be honored and discussed after they cease to breathe. We still learn from their former presence in our lives and can continue to enrich our thoughts
I've just discovered the brilliant social and political sculptor, Edward Kienholz.
Edward Kienholz was born in Washington state in 1927. As a young man he moved to Los Angeles and became a part of the up and coming avant-garde movement of the West coast. He had no formal training as an artist, but utilized his skills in construction to create sculptural pieces and installations. He moved to Idaho and continued to work, addressing controversial subjects such as abortion ( The Illegal Operation, 1962), substandard mental health programs (State Hospital 1966), and American war profiteering (Portable War Memorial, 1968). He was no stranger to censorship, as his Backseat Dodge, '38, was claimed obscene and shown with its racy contents behind closed doors.
Ed uses detritus to build up his works. His pieces include eerie lighting and haunting music to create a full atmosphere for his tableaux of unabashed honesty. The installation I most reacted to, though I have never viewed his works in person, was Five Car Stud. It depicts a scene of a black man being assaulted by a group of grotesque looking white men, while his white female companion watches, terrified, from the truck her man was pulled out of. This scene of violence is one of the most graphic representations of a hate crime I have ever viewed. It is more horrifying than many of the crime and death photos I have run across in research. The nightmarish composition shocks the viewer into the realization that this sort of irrational savagery still occurs and we cannot turn a blind eye on it. Edward Kienholz's bravery in exposing the bestial side of life is inspiring.
This week I take a look at what inspires me in my own apartment.
In my short lifetime I have a acquired a lot of wonderful items throughout my various travels - including four bookshelves spilling over phenomenal bits of bound knowledge. Out of all of my trinkets and keepsakes, the photos of my friends and family probably incite creative motivation more often than the average beloved domestic item.
A friend of mine once stressed how important it was to have images of good times displayed in your environment and within the past few years I have found the truth in that. The people whose images fill my wall have been of major influence and taught me many lessons. I draw strength from memory of our interactions and from the relationships past and present. When in doubt my support system reminds me of my goals and steers be back on course, even just by seeing their faces beaming up at me from the frame.