Morris Graves Museum, “State of Waiting”, sculptures. June 11, through July 29, 2016, Eureka, California.
A few years ago and before I started the project I have with prisoners throughout the United States, An Open Window Project, I was walking on the Cornell University campus. In the atrium of one of the buildings, I came upon about 200 mounted birds in glass cases. The birds were visually intriguing. The chatter of freedom was not an element. Rather, it was the birds’ silence, their form, and how the light hit the form that commanded my fascination and if the birds had been living birds, they would not have had such power over me. I started drawing the birds not knowing what, if anything would come from these drawings. Eventually, the drawings evolved into art of birds not in natural settings but birds displaced, somewhere else, birds in an undefined world
Like birds that get used to walking
And grow heavier and heavier, as in falling;
The earth sucks out of their long claws
The brave memory of all
The great things that happen high up. (Rilke)
The birds in the poem like the birds in the atrium are bound to earth and disconnected from the sky. It is not surprising that soon after drawing these birds in glass cages, I began going to prisons throughout the United States. The sculpture I created for the Morris Graves exhibition are birds that are bound to people by a kind of symbiosis – through architecture, through domesticity, through caging; developing a symbiosis in which flight becomes a burden and changes the nature of bird.
Some individual pieces:
From Confinement/The Waiting, Arnot Art Museum, Elmira NY, March 2012 through June 2012.
The exhibition at the Arnot Art Museum was an evolution of imagery from the experience of both exhibiting my work in prison and the experience of moving in and out of confined spaces. There is an intensity in going into prisons; this is space that is charged with the definition of “worthiness.” It is this “worth in being” that is brought to focus in confined spaces.
The exhibition was my idea of a prison chapel. I chose the “chapel” because questions of “worth” can only be asked on sacred ground. When not on “sacred ground”, questions of worth are reduced to fear, convenience, status, etc.
THE WINDOWS. I was struck by the “absence of space” in these window boxes (separating the galleries in the museum) because there was no wall and walls for art offer safety and tradition. But because there was no wall, the pieces could develop a different kind of freedom; to be double-sided and to suspend from the top. My initial idea was to have light come from behind the image. The light, however, comes from three different sources; from inside the piece, from the room and from the surface of the piece (the gold leaf). Of course, windows provide a metaphor for looking out from a confined space. But, like prison, there is really very little looking out, it is more of a looking in; a border within a border within a border.
The WALL icon paintings. I don’t have any easy conception of a chapel. A chapel could be that lovely place called the Giotto Chapel or the prison chapel that looks like something from Wal-Mart. It is not the point of this show to document any chapel but to let the eyes and mind wander with baroque-like images that pull the viewer closer; paintings of creatures. Creatures as such do not justify their being, they are. This has been my experience meeting with individuals in prison. I experience no burden for helping anyone become any other than whom they are. Furthermore, I do not think art is a medium that creates good people or bad people; art is. This “letting” go of agendas, of function, of categories to me is sacred. It removes that which creates barriers.
THE WAITING (the large paintings of the gondolas in the second gallery) I first was struck with the imagery of the gondola when I witnessed the emerging front of the boat from the darkness of a tunnel in Venice. This boat seemed to be emerging on its own volition without the manpower of a boatman. I was later struck with the image of a gondola in the Robert Browning’s house in Venice. This boat was out of water. I have always been intrigue with things out of their “element:” the boat out of water, the bird that can’t fly; an inmate without a home; the thing or creature or person is in a state of waiting. In these large monoprints, I returned the boat to its element, except I attempted to maintain another kind of dichotomy: that of form (the boat) against the non-form of the sea; the density of the color black against the diaphanous of the color of the sky and water; the balancing act of waiting between there and not there.