In the 1960s as a young adult I urgently needed to discover an alternative to the ambient, smothering, mechanical, patriarchal world that then had no name. Making art became a way to live that kept me from despair by its promise to unfold a purpose. The struggle was ongoing---to grow a supporting spiritual base unmediated by religion, find my own language and voice in art, and survive materially. In constraint, failure, frustration, and anger I was fired up to know our common human and artistic roots, and my own evolving inner geography.
The way we see things is conditioned by what we believe and know, our attitudes and values. Western history's elevation of Reason from the Enlightenment on is welded to a problem. Its inherent Cartesian dualism led to an over emphasis on the mind and ideas that diminished the body, the natural world and their relationship. Piece by piece the West developed a culture structured around the domination of women, minorities, and indigenous people who live by other ways of seeing, doing, and thinking. The spiritual dimension of human life was marginalized and concentrated on formal, patriarchal religions.
The frequent malaise and alienation of Europeans in the early twentieth century led white men to seek rejuvenation by immersion in distant primitive cultures. Such eminences as Gauguin, R.L. Stevenson, Andre Gide, D.H. Lawrence, Carl Jung, Michel Leiris, Antonin Artaud, and many others traveled to Africa, the South Pacific, and to the Indians in the American Southwest seeking relief from psychic distress such as unfulfilled desires and lack of vitality. In the primitive they both found and then resisted alternative notions of being. Their recoil from the discovered oceanic feelings of oneness, instinct, and spontaneity also contained an overwhelming fear of losing their European male identity. For the entire length of European history men linked and made interchangeable the primitive world, the female, ecstasy, and the oceanic. The primitive became a sign of desires the West wished to repress. The idea of the primitive contained the potential for violence as well as a spiritual perception of nature and the ability to foster community. An early scenario exposing the dangers inherent in the idea of the primitive was vividly depicted in Euripides, The Bacchae.
The African and Oceanic collection of the Metropolitan Museum are some of my favorite places. What engages me by much indigenous art is freshness and originality of shapes and conception, its archetypal themes that awaken the mind to deeper truths that contain a potential to heal. The inspiration from primitive cultures in Modern Art began with Gauguin and gathered momentum in Picasso. Today, the “other” is on the way to tell its own stories in art by a multiplicity of perspectives lost in patriarchy's over-emphasis on intellectualism, calculation, and technique with stories that may appear dissonant to those values and disrupt the current versions of art history as linear and progressive. There is a chance to build an art world in which many worlds can fit.
One indigenous form that I borrow is the totem, derived from the Ojibwa word meaning “he is a relative of mine” with the implication of values such as familial intimacy, respect, sharing and caring. Another form I borrow from prehistory is the mask with its potential to use the expressive power of the face and the fluid nature between the inner and outer selves.
Much aboriginal sculpture and masks had a spiritual necessity and intensity of feeling that speak across time and space. They were often formed from a sacred or inner-significant aspect, emerging from knowing and seeing with a totality of mind, body, spirit, and emotion which are startling to the almost violent discontinuities in our own culture. Transformation is another theme that is found from ancient Greek times whereby energy such as a tree spirit can take a human form, and the gods can inhabit any shape including the human. In their art and stories humans combined with an animal to produce such mythic creatures as the minotaur, satyr, and mermaid containing a power to awaken the imagination.
A third primary dimension in my art is the human experience in its multiplicity and depth. Psychoanalysis and then modernist Surrealism initiated practices of seeing the body from within, revealing that we are richly complex creatures, composed of multitudes instead of a single entity. My own experience of meditation and dream work are a means to the adventure of self-discovery and self-knowledge. The question in my sculptural figures is, who are the characters hidden behind the persona that we present to the world? My sculpted beings contain mythic meanings that provoke and deepen experience with such names as The Bad Mother, Horned Spirit, Shadow, Archaic Man, Horse Totem.
My art seeks to symbolically join the modern fragmented psyche. For example, I employ both masculine and feminine qualities in making art---the disallowed tenderness and vulnerability and a critical view of its form. My art's figures forge a moving, active edge by engaging the audience's emotion that allows a connection between the persona and shadowy demons within. This conception of art does not split public and private, masculine and feminine into separate spheres. It proposes an egalitarian option, intersubjective public space.
Despite the rigid patriarchy, many Modernist women artists have forged original aesthetic paths from its imposing legacy such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, Alice Neel, Cindy Sherman, and Huma Bhabha. Since 1945 Feminism has had a significant effect on art making of all genders by means of bringing forth the personal, autobiographical, and a more intimate scale that challenges the preeminence of masculine values in contemporary art and has the potential to make the public space of art more accessible.
I need to live in my studio with the art that is underway. During the course of ordinary life, I discern its formal rightness or flaws, but I also need a long process of seeing it from within itself, what it intends to be. It wants to speak, and listening to its voice takes time, patience, and intimacy. I also work for it to be a sensual delight that evokes the viewer's imagination by its texture, surface, detail, scale, and size. By choosing to see with the heart as well as the mind, lost human dimensions can be recovered in art and life.