September 22, 2007

The Last Wren

Art does not always need to be sought after. Sometimes it presents itself. Over the last few decades of creating art, I have had an unsolicited companion in my studio. I tried to ignore the Carolina wrens that kept flying into my studio, making a racket and getting lost in my supply cabinets. Intrepid birds, they got into everything, cackling werever they went. Then I took notice of them - especially their eyes. Their painted eyes made me nostalgic for China. The black pearly eye set inside a broad band of white with black stripes on either side of the white bore an uncanny resemblance to the highly stylized painted eyes of a Peking opera character. The wren reminded me of the Dan actor - a female character traditionally played by a man. I started thinking whimsically of the Carolina wrens as reincarnated Dan actors, relegated to bird status by some unfortunate karma.
I made drawings of the wrens on museum board then carefully cut them out to use as templates. Some I painted and used in mosaic collage work. The rest I used to fashion relief sculptures out of plasticine clay. I made plaster sprig molds from the carefully sculpted plasticine and used these to make multiple ceramic birds. Initially, I painted them in natural colors, then I painted them in vibrant ones - like the garish silk robes of the Peking opera actors. I then returned to natural colors again, only with the additions of pearlescent glazes and 24k gold overglaze in the details. I mounted the finished ceramic birds onto the remnant squares of heavy duty particle board that was left over from house preparations for a hurricane Floyd that never struck here (I had the boards cut up into numerous 12" x 12" squares). The compositional structure of the glass and ceramic mosaic backrounds for my Carolina wren series owes a debt to my training in classical Chinese painting - although some resemble Japanese screen painting and yet others have a European cinquecento look. The luminosity of the backround glass is often heightened by adhering gold and silver leaf to the obverse side so that the light passes through the stained glass and reflects the metal leaf.
I completed the very last Carolina wren mosaic, pictured above, a few weeks ago. I had to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before finding just the right way to finish this piece. I found my inspiration in a spare ink painting of briars and reeds by Shi Tao. They were so delicately overlaid in carefully calculated gradations of ink. How odd, I suppose, to interpret the strokes of ink and brush in glass. Yet how appropriate, too, as glass is merely a super-cooled liquid, flowing slowly through the epochs.
For those who have the good fortune to be in South Carolina, this mosaic and other Carolina wren mosaics can be seen now at the Pinckney Simons Gallery in Columbia, where they will be on view until December. Click on the link to visit their on-line gallery.

1 comment:

Lao Qiao said...

The birds I heard in China, or at least in Baoding and Beijing, all spoke Mandarin. Birds in New York, on the other hand, are polyglot.