February 7, 2014

An Olmec Figure with a Rude Squeak

The small reclining statuette pictured above was made from locally mined clay and pit fired. She was based upon an Olmec figure that I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art some years ago. On a recent visit to the Met I was amazed to see her still on display! I gave her only a cursory glance, however, because I had made a detailed sketch of her on my last trip to the museum. From this sketch I made a plasticine sculpture of a similar reclining figure. My original intent for this figure was to use her as a relief sculpture so I sculpted the plasticine with one flat side. It was easy to make a plaster mold of the figure this way. I made a number of ceramic figures from this mold and used them in my mosaic works.

For my current exhibition, however, I tried something different. I made the figure hollow instead of solid and sculpted a back side so that she would be a small sculpture in the round. Not satisfied with her being a sculpture I added a mouthpiece on her head so that she would become a functioning whistle. Then I did something absolutely scatological. In order to raise the pitch of the whistle I decided to make an exit hole. Where else but in the figure’s posterior.

To play this instrument one must blow into the figure’s head and the sound comes out her butt. Why do I do such things? Perhaps it hails back to a youth spent testing my mother’s Victorian sensibilities by creating the occasional “rude” art work or by making decidedly edgy jokes for her. Oh, I was such a bad, bad child! I knew whenever I had gone too far in my off-colored remarks or nasty creative exploits. My mother’s face would darken and she would say in a hushed and ominous voice, “That’s sick, Janet.”

There was indeed something totally irreverent about taking a sculptural object that most likely originated as a goddess worthy of veneration and transforming her into a rude flute. But maybe I need to remind myself to not always take art too seriously. Hopefully it is just “fun.” If my mother were here would I be exonerated by hearing her say, “That’s funny, Janet?” I hear those words in my imagination, in exoneration for taking high brow art and converting it into low brow entertainment.

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