It isn’t always clear, nor should it be, what is going on in an artist’s body of work. The fun, the mystery, the enduring hold of art may well be in the ambiguity we confront on being in the presence of work.
Nonetheless ideas do infiltrate the process of creating works of art, or are in fact front and center in an artist’s mind when developing the work. As such they find their way into the finished piece and can be teased out with luck.
Sitting with my works during a quiet moment after hours at the gallery during a solo show helped me form a clearer idea of what was going on in my work. Of course there is lots more there, and each individual will have a personal, emotional or other response to works that I can never know. But for me here are several themes in no particular order that I was thinking about or can now see was going on over the past years while this work was getting created.
The DNA-Machine meets the modern world: We humans are DNA-driven machines with ancient, timeless instinctive needs and behaviors. We are also confronted by a world of technologies, opportunities and expectations that are decidedly new. It’s probably always been true during times of social and technological change. Still, how do we make sense of it and craft a life that balances these sometimes conflicting pulls?
Return of the Hand: So much of sculpture these days is assemblage, installation, appropriation, life-casting, performance/experience. A quick look at the medium-defining Sculpture magazine reveals just a small fraction of today’s work that involves the sculptor’s hand modeling some material into form. Figures, too, have long been out-of-vogue as a subject for sculpture. My work defiantly walks into this chasm—I love the sheer physical process of modeling the (fairly realistic) figure in clay and am determined to find a way to continue doing it in a way that can be relevant to contemporary art sensibilities.
Old Materials, New Finishes: Although I am doing my work substantially in clay—which with stone and bronze is one of the oldest traditional sorts of sculptural media—I am constantly on the lookout for new materials, textures, finishes, surface treatments etc that can take the work out of a traditional or ‘craft’ sensibility and let them be something fresh. Mirror, spray-paint, crazy glazes, textiles, gold-leaf, 3-D printed elements, ink-drawing, silver, mixing media – all these are integral to my work and support the underlying idea of the pull to fuse ancient and contemporary in our lives.
Consciousness—How Postmodernism Comes Up Short: Sitting in a room full of my work one is aware of ‘Presence’ – these may be inanimate art objects but through eyes, lips and other aspects of these somewhat realistic figures one feels drawn into the presence of Consciousness. The pieces can act almost as meditation aids in that way – in the tradition of ancient Buddhas, or they can just be totemic reminders of some deeper level of being human. One way or another, though, you sense Consciousness as a presence in the room. This is just what I have to do – maybe I am Consciousness’s marketing flak or something because I feel in a secular, post-modern, scientism-based era the thing that no one seems able to explain and consequently seems always to be sweeping under the rug is the mystery of Consciousness, the power of this unknown force, our birthright of this something-beyond-material.
So in this way, while acknowledging a deep debt to Postmodernism (e.g. mixing materials and media, mashing up forms, playing with relational aesthetics, pop and just having fun) the work is also a critique of Postmodernism. In effect it uses Structuralist methods to call out and call for the dismantling of Postmodernism’s now-hegemonic grip on what can and can’t be recognized within the tent of Contemporary Art today. Unabashedly creating these realistically, hand-modeled figures emanating overtones of Consciousness then is my way of claiming “le defi “– a call-to-arms as surely as anything rallied around in 1968—a contention that Postmodernism has been a blast but that it has its limits and now it is time to recognize that and move on.