Sunday, March 6, 2011

Evolution of an Idea

Several months ago, soon after my first few hare sculptures were completed, I was having lunch with Susan Harris, SUU Ceramics Professor and colleague. The sculptures were still new to me and the meaning wasn’t (and still isn't) yet solidified in my thoughts.  She asked off offhandedly, “So what are those hares about anyway”?   I replied, “Sex”, with the intent to scandalize her while vaguely referencing the hare’s historical symbol of fertility. Completely unfazed and not missing a beat she said, “Sex is a good antidote to death”.

That same week my dad died from Squamous Cell Carcinoma and before Susan’s question we were talking about our shared experience of losing a parent. His death was slow and painful and he left this world scratching and clinging to life. Watching him diminish in confidence and fierceness left me confused and disoriented. We were never close, but he was still my dad and I expected him to always be strong and hated to see him suffer in pain and fear. It was the fear that shook me the most.

When Susan mentioned the “antidote” it gave me pause. Up until now, I had never thought about these sculptures in the context of my dad's cancer and death. I realized at that moment that I was only partially correct; these can't be just about sex and fertility, but more about conviviality and living a full life doing what we enjoy and embracing the ones we love. They represent everything antithetical to death and dying. My hare sculptures stand as a symbol of reveling in the pleasure of living, keeping the gravitational pull of death and suffering at a distance as they continually orbit around us.

I considered making the hare for a few years before my first attempt. I hesitated, primarily, because I wasn’t sure why I should, or how the hare as subject would contribute to a larger artistic conversation. There are other artists using the hare beautifully in their work and I felt slightly intimidated, but in the end my interest overruled my apprehension.

Over the next few days, after Susan made her comment, I reviewed the chronology of the idea’s development. I started making the hare soon after I got the first phone call one evening while grilling steaks on the back porch. I knew then that the fear and doubt that were behind their hopeful words belied the truth. I gave encouragement knowing deep down that it was just a matter of time before the cancer killed him. I began this current body of work and continued during his decline and death.

Since that conversation with Susan, I've been exploring the idea of life and death in the imagery of hares, crabs, and more recently, monkey and human skulls searching for ways to incorporate the concept in my work. The hare is still something that keeps me returning to the studio. My flippant answer and Susan’s response had some truth to it and more so as the work develops. She unknowingly nudged me closer to a clearer understanding of my work.

So yes, give me some of that antidote and then some.


Anonymous said...

I have a thought re: the claws. Did
you feel helpless concerning your
dad's death? If you had the tools
(your hands)you'd have been able to do more for him. But in his dying you felt that by placing a foreign object on your hare you were saying his death was beyond your control due to your "unnatural

Andrea Beveridge said...

I saw two of your hares in a show just outside Cambria, CA. Nice work, easily the most compelling work there. The gallery receptionist let me take a few photographs of your work. When I returned home I showed the photographs to more artists that I know including other sculptures. It was very well recieved! Thought I would let you know as its always nice to know that your work translates across the pond!

Kind Regards,


Andrea Beveridge said...

Oops, spelling mistake... *sculptors

Russell Wrankle said...

Thank you Andrea, glad you could see the show. I wish were there but was glad to exhibit. One of these days I'll get across the pond for a visit.

Jill Foote-Hutton said...

Here's what I think is amazing about this tale: it narrates the evolution of a realization. The truth can hide deep inside of us and maybe that's a better way. Seems like this narrative would be a great teaching tool too. Young artists who haven't considered the interior mystical pathways truth travels inside of us and out to our work might find some guidance and comfort in the reading.