First Gallery Show

Some art type worker person found one of my sculptures on Myspace and invited me to be in a their gallery for a show they have every year. It’s a multiple-artist show called Gates of Hell III. I guess they think that goes with a Halloween theme. She specifically wanted my Costume Kid that’s dressed as the Grim Reaper. I don’t really want to sell that piece, but I’ve never been in a gallery, and could really use the money, so I went with it, putting a ridiculous price tag on it. I also included a piece that I thought would go with the theme of the show well. (Aesthetically at least) It’s the sculpture I was going to give to Rowan from Virgin Black, but wasn’t able to finish in time. I still plan on giving it to him, but I figure if it sells in a gallery for thousands of dollars I can always make another one. Here are some shots of it and an official explanation.

This sculpture is based on a song called A Poet's Tears of Porcelain from the band Virgin Black. I specifically made it for the vocalist/pianist, Rowan. (Hence the piano key border) The title of the song is scribed on the bottom keys and the lyrics around the rest of the frame. The focal point is the titular poet who is symbolically represented as a chalice. I interpret the word ‘porcelain’ to evoke the fragility and vulnerability of the emotions that a poet expresses. I portray the poet of the song, which is essentially a psalm of worship, as a conduit of these emotions that originate in the “fathomless depth” of God. (Represented by the opaque black eye at the top.)
The emotions flow from God into the mind of the poet who interprets them through a human filter, and collects them in cupped hands, offering them to us. Here are the lyrics that are written on the keys ~ A Poet’s Tears of Porcelain.

As tears again bedew my cheek

to your knees I cling.

Oh merciful one

Show me your glory.

Was I not bruised?

Have you not healed?

They dance to silence

but your song I hear.

Holy lord, fathomless God

tears flow

but the water is sweet.

Holy lord, fathomless God

I fall as one dead

with quivering lips.

Blessed be, priest and friend.

All Heavens bow In admiration.

Fathomless depth.

Measureless height.

Great is Thy holiness.

Something that struck me about the creation of this sculpture, (Besides the days of mind-numbing repetitive work and constant failing and reworking.) was the way the keys turned out. I bought balsa wood sticks and carved them to size for each of the keys, not really sure how many I would end up with or how I was going to lay out the lyrics. I thought I might have a word on each key, but they were too small to be legible that way. So I experimented with a letter on each key. Still not easy to read, but I like a little effort on the part of the viewer to decipher art.

Anyway, the amazing thing was that there were just the perfect number of keys for the amount of letters in the song. Another amazing thing is that it only worked out that way because Rowan sang the last sentence as: “Great is THY holiness.” Rather than as it is listed in the booklet: “Great is YOUR holiness. I also omitted a word that is parenthetically in the lyric
sheet but is not sung. Another amazing coincidence is the way the text encompasses the sculpture. Particularly around the top at the eye of God. The refrain, “Holy lord, fathomless God.” Is repeated twice in the song, and they end up making a symmetrical frame for the eye. I didn’t plan any of thi
s stuff but it just fell into place. Coincidence?

And while I’m on the topic of this song’s lyrics let me just say that the line, “They dance to silence but your song I hear.” May be one of my favorite lines ever. What a perfectly beautiful way of encapsulating the way a believer’s mind and perceptions are baptized in Christ. One’s outlook is transformed and the silent meaninglessness is replaced with the song of God’s glorious activities. We see the same things as unbelievers but perceive them totally differently. That song gives us joy as we journey through our daily lives.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. Besides a blatantly Christian worship song sitting in a gallery in a show called Gates of Hell III, I have another piece called Legalism. Well, six actually. They are prints. I had an image I made printed on watercolor paper, burned, crumpled, folded, and nailed them to old wood, hopefully evoking Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. (Not that I think I’m sparking a reformation.) This piece has most of Matthew 23 written in Greek text on the background and specific evocative portions in English that were the inspiration for the visual representation that I created from Jesus’ harsh words to the religious leaders. The image shows the pious snake ripping the Bible to shreds, leaving only lists of “Thou shalt not”s. The shredded bits have words like ‘love’, ‘mercy’, and ‘justice’ on them.The tendency to flatten the living Word, Christ, and His story in our lives to a mere set of rules has plagued Christianity since its inception and Jesus’ words are just as applicable to us today as they were then. It strikes at a tendency that is in everyone’s hearts, so even beyond the ecumenical, structural sphere, we all struggle with our legalistic leanings. Our desire to turn our faith into rules, and rules into acid tests that exclude other’s from heaven, or our acceptance and love. We are all part snake, and all need to scourge the vendors from the temple of our hearts.

The gallery is in a little neighborhood of South Seattle I didn’t even know existed, called Georgetown. Nestled between I-5 the old beer factory and Boeing Field, it sports buildings and houses at least half a century old. The tearing sound of jets landing is a constant sonic backdrop. Cars around here are old and heavily bumper-stickered with anti-Bush sloganeering and peacenik aphorisms. It reminds me of Freemont, but slummier. The Gallery itself consists of a little vestibule and one room. There is a martini bar in one corner and garage sale black couches for lounging. I have to say, having zero expectations really pays off sometimes.

We had our gallery opening Saturday. My folks were in town, so they got to see the place. It was decked out with life-sized Halloween kitsch. I asked the owner how many people he expected. He said, “Between 1 and 300”. Seems he shares my zero-expectation attitude. I’m guessing that when you exclude friends of the artists we ended up with a couple dozen visitors. I had a few people ask me questions. One guy was particularly interested in my prints, asking me a couple times if they were truly the only seven that I was going to make. I assured him they were, and explained the process of creating them. He told me I had them way underpriced. (They are $150, with 40% going to the gallery) I told him that to compensate I had a couple outrageously overpriced sculptures. As far as I know he didn’t buy anything, so who knows what any of that conversation meant.

I stood around. Had some cookies. Talked to some artists. Drew in my sketch book. Stood around some more. I don’t know if I will keep going down the gallery rout or not. One thing I need to do is develop a style that I can make quicker than this stuff. The owner was not happy about the prices I set my sculptures at. I talked to him quite a bit about it because I don’t want to be a jerk and waste his time and wall real estate. I explained how long I worked on the pieces and asked if it was ok to be unreasonable with their prices if I was very reasonable with my other stuff. He was ok with it in the end. So I don’t know if I should spend the time developing the ideas I have for gallery type stuff or if I should focus on the figurines I’m trying to mass produce. I have this one idea of doing sculptures of famous atheists in religious garb… like a St. Darwin who’s holding a monkey skull in one hand and a closed black box in the other. Maybe a Madalyn Murray the Martyr stabbed in the back, Bishop Dawkins bowing a worshipping a mirror… The list could go on. If I was going to do more gallery stuff, that would be it.


RevOxley said…
Wow man, that thing is awesome...i really like the ideas about the athiests too...i would love the richard dawkins one the most lol.

btw...since when was Darwin an athiest?
Heh... Well whatever his spiritual beliefs, he is undoubtedly a saint for their cause.
you know said…
Please tell me you sent this to Simon.
Brian P said…
Holy cow Josh! You still amaze me on a regular basis with your imagination and sculpting talent. I hope that you enjoy the entrance into gallery work and put as much excitement into every piece you make. Although I think my favorites were some of the Zelda one's on your desk at work =)

Hopefully see you in December!

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