As a child, I spent a lot of time in the library of my family’s Catholic church, reading stories about the lives of the saints. Though ostensibly written for children, the books nonetheless attended to each saints’ tribulations in gruesome, grizzly detail: Saint Lucy, typically depicted carrying her own eyes on a plate; Saint Agatha, who did the same with her own breasts; Saint Rita of Cascia, whose head was marked with stigmata in the shape of the Crown of Thorns. The books terrified and fascinated me. From them, I learned much—not necessarily about the moral fortitude necessary to reach sainthood, but about one prevailing subject: suffering.
Perhaps this is why the subject of suffering remains an ever-present preoccupation in my work as a writer. It is not necessarily an easy subject to address in language. It’s impossible to exactly and verbally convey the experience of suffering, which is necessarily personal, as intimate as our own bodies. When writing about suffering, one therefore always risks running into cliché, in the tropes—religious or otherwise—we tell ourselves to make sense of our pain. Not that one can, ultimately, make sense of pain—another reason why writing about it is difficult enough to be a form of suffering in and of itself.
As I grew older, I sought out and studied depictions of suffering in other art forms, particularly visual art and music. While stuck in traffic on my evening commute (that particularly acute modern experience of agony), I found myself riveted by an NPR story about Michelangelo, whose Pietà is itself an awe-inspiring portrayal of grief, loss, and sanctification. The story centered around a hidden room in the Medici Chapels, where scholars think Michelangelo hid in the months after he betrayed the Medicis, his patrons. After cleaning the walls, a museum director found a series of sketches on the walls, now believed to have been drawn by Michelangelo while in hiding.
One sketch depicted Laocoön and His Sons, or the Laocoön Group, a sculpture excavated in 1506. Like many artists of his day, Michelangelo studied Laocoön and His Sons with an obsessive fascination. The sculpture depicts the last moments of Laocoön, a priest of Poseidon, and his sons, poisoned by sea snakes. Versions of the story vary. In some, Poseidon sends the snakes to kill Laocoön, who warned the Trojans that the horse the Greeks gave them wasn’t a gift but a weapon (in Virgil’s Aeneid, Laocoön is the source of the lines that became the English proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”). In this version of events, Laocoön is killed for telling the truth; it seems fitting that Michelangelo would sketch this sculpture on the walls of his hiding place after speaking out against the powerful and poisonous Medici family.
This story fascinated me as much as the stories about saints; I knew, instantly, that I had to write about it. When I (finally) got home, I looked up Laocoön and His Sons so I could study it myself. What struck me most about this masterpiece is that it portrayed suffering in a way I’d never seen in hagiography, with its insistence that suffering led to salvation, that there was a meaning—redemption—at the end of the most treacherous road. In the Laocoön Group, there is no redemption. The figures writhe; even in photographs, the marble appears to be in motion. Though they die together, they find no comfort in family. In fact, they seem separated from each other, each existing in and aware of only their pain. It’s a searing portrayal of what human suffering, at its center, truly is: a force that separates us from the world, even from those in the world we love the most; a force that consumes us entirely; an experience during which, no matter how saintly the sufferer may be, the light of redemption cannot be seen.
When I sat down to write “Laocoön and His Sons,” the story that preceded it similarly darkened into disappearance. I found myself focused on the father in the moment of a death brought by the god he’d served for so long, on the wild terror of the human moment behind the stories of divine faith and redemption that we sculpt and share.
Date: Saturday, February 23 – Sunday, February 24 Time: 10am-5pm Location: Ceramics Research Center, 699 S. Mill Ave.Tempe, AZ 85281 Cost: Free
This valley-wide event showcases the work of professional ceramic artists in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The tour offers the public a rare opportunity to view working and living spaces of participating artists and view demonstrations of wheel-throwing, hand-building and glazing techniques. Participating artists have a wide range of both functional and sculptural artwork on exhibit and for sale.
Stop at the Ceramics Research Center or any studio location to pick up a poster and passport. Visit each studio site to gather stamps on your passport. Receive 6+ stamps and bring it into the Ceramics Research Center for 20 percent off your purchase in the store.
Today, we are pleased to feature author Elaine Parks as our Authors Talk series contributor. Elaine discusses both her inspirational sources and how she creates her sculptures. She draws on the quiet desert surrounding her Nevada home and, as she wanders, uses the connection she feels to nature and the past to inform her artistic choices. By this method, sculpture becomes the language by which she translates her experience.
She asks that the viewer “reads her work as an artifact” as she contemplates both the history illustrated through nature and her personal experiences. In considering the past tenants of the region, she remarks that “the vastness of this country both day and night must be the same” and that connection to history is resonant in her art. Using “earth objects” to represent these feelings, she chooses “each thing for a reason that is aesthetic, textural and resonant in some specific way,” though the meaning of her work lies beyond the material. She thoughtfully considers the enormity of night sky and the various constellations we see in it as a representation of humanity that may help us consider how “for all our human activity, we’re just tiny specks,” part of something “impossibly large.”
Royse Contemporary is so excited to present “The Sound of Color” by mixed-media artist Rafael Navarro, opening on Thursday, October 19. The exhibit will showcase art inspired by music (and musical instruments themselves) in a variety of mediums including painting, mixed-media, and sculpture.
Navarro shares, “I prefer to communicate visually, in a poetic manner, making similarities in the creation of life, music, and art.” Nicole Royse also reveals, “what I love most about Navarro’s work is his keen eye for details, the strong imagery he depicts and the stories each piece tells.”
The opening reception will be from 5pm to 10pm on October 19, but the exhibit will be on display until November 4. It is at the Royse Contemporary Gallery, which you can find at 7077 E. Main Street, Suite 6, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.
The opening will be a part of the Scottsdale ArtWalk in Old Town Scottsdale. Nicole Royse, the owner and curator, will give a brief talk about the artist and work featured in the exhibition; guests will also have the chance to meet the artist. For more information about the exhibition, check out the official press release or visit Royse Contemporary’s website.
If you’re in Phoenix in July, you might be looking for any opportunity to get away. This weekend Flagstaff is hosting an Art Tour July 22 & 23 from 10 am – 5 pm. The tour includes 11 locations featuring 24 artists. Go to http://www.art35n.org for more details.
From June 10th to September 2nd, the ASU art museum will host Guadalajara-based artist Gabriel Rico’s show, “Dead, Dead, Live, Dead.” On Thursday June 1st, from 4PM to 6PM ASU will host a special preview of the work.
This is Gabrielle Rico’s first museum exhibition in the United States. Rico creates installations using a wide array of objects including taxidermy animals, neon, and found objects.
RSVP at the facebook event page here. And you can check out more of Gabriel Rico’s artwork here.
Recasting Nature: Selected Sculptures by Beth Galston, 1998 – 2016
For my last Superstition Review blog in 2012, I wrote about how as a sculptor I balance the two worlds of my public commissions and private studio practice. At that time, I was focusing primarily on public art, and was about to install two new sculptures in Nashville and San Antonio. Once these projects were successfully completed, I felt the need to recharge my artistic batteries and reconnect with my studio practice.
I have spent this past year preparing for a retrospective of my work, “Recasting Nature: Selected Sculptures by Beth Galston, 1998 – 2016,” which opened on June 10 at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, PA and runs through September 18, 2016. It has been an incredible journey, looking back over my past works and forward as well. I’d like to share some thoughts on the exhibit and give you a quick walk-through, in words and images.
The exhibition includes key works from the “Recasting Nature” series, tracing my development over the last twenty years. Inspired by natural forms and processes, the series evolves from sculptures made of natural materials, to translucent cast resin pieces within which natural materials are embedded, to a new immersive light installation made of cast resin and LEDs controlled by a computer.
In my sculptures, I explore relationships between the natural and man-made worlds. The idea of transformation is central to my work — transforming materials, transforming a space, and transforming viewers’ perceptions.
In designing the exhibit, I wanted to keep the space spare, so there would be breathing room for people to experience the pieces. My desire was for viewers to slow down and spend time with each sculpture, and make connections between the various works. There are two large-scale installations in the space, where viewers can linger and become part of the sculptural environment.
The following is a narrated tour of the exhibition with images. Let’s get started!
Photo 1: This is an installation view of “Recasting Nature” seen from the entry. Tangle, a snaky rope made of acorn caps is in the foreground. Ginkgo Wall and Sycamore Circle, two sculptures made of cast resin blocks with leaves embedded, are in the mid space.
Photo 2: Tangle is a coiled rope made of more than 30,000 acorn caps strung together on monofilament. A vertical strand of caps rises up to the ceiling, as if summoned by a snake charmer.
Photo 3: Ginkgo Wall is in the foreground and Ice Forest, a large-scale installation, is in the background. Both are made of cast translucent resin, a see-through plastic that looks like ice. I began experimenting with resin as a means of preserving the natural materials I was collecting. Ginkgo Wall is made of sixty resin bricks (the size of real bricks) in which I have embedded the fan-shaped leaves from Ginkgo trees. Set within blocks of resin, the leaves become frozen moments in time.
Photo 4: You are standing behind Ice Forest, an immersive environment of more than 150 cast resin rose stems. Suspended from the ceiling, the crystalline stems interact with light to create a magical space through which viewers can walk. Across the gallery, on the right, you can see hints of glowing blue lights at the entry to Luminous Garden (Wave).
Photo 5: Luminous Garden (Wave) is a computer-controlled light installation made of hundreds of tiny blue LEDs embedded within cast resin seedpods and set atop piano wires. This man-made environment evokes a landscape or garden. The effect of this particular color of blue LED lights is calming and meditative. The programming of lights creates a slow cycle of changes like a wave or breath, so when you are in the space it slows you down and makes you aware of your own breath.
Photo 6: This is a detail view of the glowing blue seedpods in Luminous Garden (Wave), which appear to hover in the air like fireflies.
I have learned so much seeing my works from the last two decades together in one space, and have been thrilled with viewers’ responses. I have witnessed how the various sculptures explore relationships between the natural and man-made worlds, and how these themes have circled around over the years in new forms and materials. Whether using leaves or light, I seek to create a sense of wonder so that viewers can see the world with fresh eyes.
It has been a pleasure taking you on a tour of the exhibit. Coincidentally, the day that this blog will be published is the last day of the Susquehanna exhibition. Then, several of the works — the entire Ice Forest installation, Tangle, Water Chestnut Sphere, and two series of prints — will travel to the Cynthia-Reeves Gallery in North Adams, MA, located right next to MassMOCA. The exhibit runs from September 29 – November 13, 2016. If you are visiting western Massachusetts for art viewing or leaf peeping this fall, please stop by the gallery! Feel free to contact me, I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can find additional information about “Recasting Nature”, including a review, interview and artist statement on my website.
The Phoenix Art Museum has an upcoming exhibition, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. The exhibition will run from October 7, 2016 to January 8, 2017. This exhibition will feature sixty paintings and sculptures by Wiley. Wiley has emerged as one of the leading American artists within the last decade. Known for his portraits, Wiley draws influence from traditional, aristocratic portraits to make his modern portraits. In doing so, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic raises questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation.
For more information, visit the Phoenix Art Museum’s website. More information about the exhibit can be found at Kehinde Wiley’s website.