“Volatile Emotional Response Array”
Sterling Silver, Pine, Wax
11.5”H x 6”W x 1”D (Main Pendant) – On 27” Chain
This piece began its long journey to completion in 2008 or 2009, during one of the first mid-semester critiques for my first sculpture studio course in graduate school. Those who were in that critique may recall my reaction to the experience. Suffice it to say, I experienced a range of emotions during the discussion of ideas and artistic concepts that followed, and not all of them were pleasant or conciliatory. One thing led to another, and I found myself whittling a strip of scrap wood I had found on the floor of the sculpture studio classroom with my pocket knife into a variety of knives, shanks, and other sharpened instruments. Towards the end of the critique I found a length steel binding wire laying on a table, a leftover from another student's pursuit of the artistic dream. After a few careful twists of my knife, the carved forms had holes bored through their handles, the wire was fashioned into a loop, the objects were strung and secured with a few twists of the wire ends, and an honestly crafted art object was born.
This key-ring or bundle of shanks has hung prominently in every studio, office, and work space I have used ever since, and most often was displayed alongside another one of my most favored objects, a heavy card-stock radioactive waste tag, a memento of my time many years ago working as a lab assistant in a bio-medical laboratory. With its bold black lettering and an understated yet still striking red radioactive symbol contrasting strongly with the bright yellow background of the tag, it always seemed the perfect complement to the ring of shanks, and the two were intrinsically linked in my mind for years.
Now, in 2016, I found myself looking back at all the objects I have collected, the parts and units I have disassembled, modified, and altered, and the pieces I had begun to work on but never fully finished. One of the main challenges I have experienced in the past with completing a work of art, be it jewelry or sculpture, is the gravity and power I give to each object in my mind and my fear of being so in love with a form or unit that I cannot resolve the best solution to use it in a piece.This is particularly true for very unique pieces that I found or created by chance or luck. The pressure to choose the Right way to use an element, with the knowledge that I may never be able to find, acquire, or make another one like it ever again, prevents me from using it at all.When one is so wrapped up in the possibility of a piece and the myriad ways to resolve the visual, technical, or aesthetic problem at hand, it can be paralyzing.
It is a gratifying experience to revisit a piece or object from ones past that had heretofore proven stubborn, difficult, and elusive, only to now find the answer clear and the resolution manifest. I could never make the ring of shanks a finished piece because I could never figure out how to display the radioactive waste tag with the ring without the composition being muddled or taking away from the visual and emotive strength of either object. The moment of clarity occurred when I realized that it was not the physical tag itself that was permanently linked to the ring of shanks, but rather the idea or concept that the tag implied, that of some unseen entity or power, no longer visible to the viewer yet still powerful and potentially damaging long after the initial danger had subsided, a lurking dread in the darkened corners of ones mind. With the judicious application of a blowtorch, some paste wax, and a fabricated sterling silver ring with a stationary heavy-link chain attached to loops, the piece was completed. And so it goes.
"A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then that the painter realizes that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life. Were it not for this, the perfect painting might be painted, on the completion of which the painter could retire. It is this great insufficiency which drives him on. Thus the process of creation becomes necessary to the painter perhaps more than is the picture. The process in fact is quite habit-forming."
- Lucian Freud, "Some Thoughts on Painting", 1954