13 April 2008

Self Portrait in Tree of Life


Salvaged wooden chandelier, sculpey, silver wire, plaster, epoxy, acrylic. April 2008


Thar she blows.
5:30AM Friday morning, the day it was due.

This was my response piece to the week I spent in Mexico City during Spring Break. I made the sculpture for the post-international travel exhibition, participation a requirement to gain studio credit for the trip. It's a self portrait in a modernized version of the traditional trees of life made in certain areas of Mexico (the tradition really only perpetuates through four remaining families). They were originally used as elaborate candelabras given to newlywed couples on the wedding day, but have since claimed their own stake in the folk art world, and transformed eventually into Dies de las Muertas shrines, commemorating lost loved ones.

Mine holds a self portrait in the center, done in the folk art style, complete with signature side pony tail and nose ring (a bit of bent wire through the nostril orifices). I hold a bouquet of flowers to honor the dead. The tree itself is an evolution of an abstract flowing curved forms that I've been working with for the past several years, painted stark white and decorated with tear drops that flow down to the trunk, where they pool under me. These represent actual tears, and they are watering the tree (and me) to illustrate the point in my life I was at when I made the trip to Mexico. It was a difficult, introspective period in which recognizing problems, crying my eyeballs out, and moving on & growing were paramount. There are seven dangling tear drops as well, for things I have not totally gotten over, and perhaps will not, for the best. These are the fruits of the tree. The two sets of wrestling masks are a take on the universal theatrical symbol of happy/sad masks, representing the balance of melancholy and joy in my life, set on either side of me.

The four skeletons represent four of the deaths that have affected me the most: My great-grandmother, who I witnessed deteriorate in mind for years from Alzheimers, a disease that runs rampant in my family among women, and thus a very real reality for my future; My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Williamson, who personally addressed administration to have me considered for honors programs and enriched art classes as young kid paving the way to achieve a lot more academically in high school, who had a diabetic seizure while driving and hit a tree, severing his spine; Laura Marie Ragonese-Snik, the aunt that I never got to meet, who was on the 101st floor of the second WTC building hit on September 11th, 2001, and whose death ravaged my family for years; My first theatre teacher, Mr. Collins, who died only last month from a stroke.

Unfortunately, when this sculpture went on display, the shelf on which it was placed was not properly secured to wall, and when my father made a special trip to midtown to see it, and rested a finger on the shelf, it fell and smashed into 20 or so pieces. Miraculously, the heavy plaster base made it in tact, and almost all of the armature as well. An hour of epoxy had it looking like nothing had ever happened, as most of the breaks had occurred at the joints. Unfortunately again, before I could reattach the self-portrait sculpture to the base, Shea jostled the shelf in the studio on which it was resting, and it was smashed irreparably. So, I am in the process of completely resculpting, baking, gluing, and painting it currently. The professor who wrongly hung the shelf is graciously paying me for the repairs as well, so all is okay. I planned to add to it anyway, and now I have a good reason to do so.

Among the additions, I plan to include a small, skeletal cat at my feet, to represent Bill, my childhood cat of 19 years who also deteriorated slowly over the past few years. Mute, blind in one eye, arthiritic and crippled from multiple strokes, and nearly deaf, he was eventually put down this past year.

This is probably the most persona lintrospective piece I have ever made, and definitely the one piece I have put so much time, effort, and love into. Nothing was half-assed. I barely slept for a week straight to make this exactly as I wanted it. I have never been so upset as when I saw it smash, but in a way, it's cruelly fitting for it to have broken. To make a piece about rebirth trough death; growth through destruction.. it makes sense for it to be destroyed for me to rebuild, all over again. And for it to be destroyed by the two men in my life that mean the most to be is... inexplicable, really. I'm not sure if it means anything, and if it does, I can only see negative warning in it.

Regardless.

2 comments:

S. M. Colburn said...

Ahem* i helped make the thing too!

Cadet Tommy said...

I am ecstatic to actually see the second version of this!

Also, change my link:

http://cadettommy.blogspot.com