I recently took my art to a jury for a local show. I carefully dremeled out the visible remnants of papier mache which had joined the pieces of wood together. I applied dabs of acrylic paint to minimize the assembled nature of the art.
Imagine my surprise when I got a call later in the day. “We do not want your art in our show. It looks like you went out into the desert and picked up pieces of wood which looked interesting and placed them on the table. Where is you as the artist in this work, your hand in its creation? More importantly, your pieces lack bases. They need something to set them off, make them into art.”
I thought back to the conversation we had about bases during the process. One of the jury members asked why I did not have a wooden or plastic on the bottom of each pieces. I had explained my feelings about what I call “skewer art,” where the person, working with the core of some sort of gorgeous grainy art, encases the piece in a thick layer of acrylic, finds a metal post to stab into the vitality of the piece and sticks the other end of the skewer into a smooth piece of plastic. “That feels contrived,” I remarked.
I returned to my studio and looked over each piece there. Some have bases of termite wood, the unmistakable diamond-shaped pattern looking a bit gray and old. Others have an irregular shaped chunk of weathered barn wood, or an interesting piece of granite.
Had I become too successful at hiding the joints in my assemblages? Did these pieces appear to be entirely nature-made? Wasn’t that my goal?
I see interesting wood in the desert, bring it back to my studio, clean it up and then look for another piece to add to my first piece to create a new image? These pieces sometimes look like birds in a tree, or a monster of some sort. The person looking at my work invests himself into the piece to determine what is seen. But my hand was there, creating the image I had for each piece. I resist thick layers of plastic and formal shaped bases. For my art these contrivances diminish the organic nature of what I do. I like the face that when you touch my art, you are touching the desert where they come from.
A bit dejected, I went down to speak to a gallery-mate, Robert. He told me about Marcel Duchamp. “In 1917 he took a urinal and hung it in a gallery. He then proclaimed,’This is art.’ How much did he do to transform the urinal? But, by hanging it on the wall of a gallery he got people to look at this common fixture in a different way.”
Later in the conversation, Robert turned it in a different direction. “You and I, Ann, are both part of the movement of Outsider Art. We do not necessarily use formal art training in our creation of our art. Some might call our art primitive. But we are asking the consumer of this art to look at each piece of in a new way. Remember Grandma Moses? She was an outsider, too.”
I glanced up at my “Wall of Hangings.” I love looking at this, how the lines within the pieces communicate with one another, how their shapes, and the irregular shapes between each hanging, the negative space, contribute to the overall artistic experience. Some of these pieces are assembled. Others are a single piece of wood. This time, as I enjoy this wall, I reflect on how my decision as to how I hung each piece of wood, means putting my hand onto the piece. This wood is not simply pieces of wood I rescued from the desert and put in my studio. These finished sculptures are my art.
I return to my work table. I pick up an assemblage of a bird-shaped mesquite and a spiral of palo verde. They need something to finish them off, a base. I go into my wood pile and pick up an irregularly shaped thin piece of bark. It is a luminous yellow, with squiggles that echo the curves in the palo verde. I grab my pot of glue, combine the pieces into another completed sculpture.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"