"What do the eyes of the dead see
that we who dwell in the darkness of life remain blind to?"
Several years ago I embarked on a series of 40+ miniature tomb sculptures. Each one was crafted from original photos of New Orleans cemeteries I had taken over the years. While no one tomb was an exact replica, they were an amalgam of many of my favorite crypts throughout the city. The series was quite successful and only a few of the original series remain in my possession now.
I loved the tomb series and I've wanted to do more, but it was time to do something new also. My phase of creating realistic crypts was past (at least for the time being). But I love the shapes and the mysteries that surround New Orleans cemeteries I just hadn't found the inspiration for a new series until recently.
One of the early tombs in the series was one that I never put up for sale. It was called The Bone Dancer Tree. It was an experimental piece set on a 1 foot tile with a wall crypt facing in towards an ancient tree rising up through the center of a tomb.
The problem with the Bone Dancer Tree was that all of the crucial elements of the sculpture faced in at each other. It made the piece difficult to get a grasp of the details. As a result the piece was set aside and never actually placed up for sale.
I was doing some studio cleaning though and had seriously considered deconstructing the piece to make room for better pieces. when on just a lark I decided to see if I could salvage the piece before taking it apart.
I took a set of tile nibblers and chipped away at the tile in between the elements on the right side and the elements on the left. I thought if I chipped away enough and hit it with a hammer it might break pretty clean down the middle, turning one sculpture into two, re-exposing the details that were hidden.
Unfortunately the idea failed. When I hit it with the hammer it broke into three pieces. Now this is where inspiration takes place. Shattering the sculpture allowed me to see it in a new light. I took just the tree and the accompanying center tomb which included a small statue of Mary and I remounted the shattered piece onto a 9" x 11" tile. I then used natural clay around it so that the original tile was hidden and it looked like natural ground again.
I removed all the original moss foliage I had added and I extended the Bone Dancer tree up higher and did some minor repairs on the branch work. Now I could have stopped there. For all practical purposes I could have filled in the original colors on the base and let it remain as one of the original Tomb sculptures in the series. But as I said, inspiration was on me and I saw the tomb in a whole new way.
Rather than keep the original colors which were dull and reflected the reality of an old cemetery and I black based the whole sculpture by doing an undercoating of black spray paint across the whole sculpture.
Then I chose a color pallet of metallics in golds, purples, pearlescent white, pewter and sequin black and I repainted the whole thing into iridescent shades blended together. And with that I knew I had a new concept for a new tomb series. Rather than the stark realities of the previous series, this one would reflect another almost faerie like surrealism. The tombs will still be real. In fact I think they take on a peculiar new level of reality. The colors are surreal, but there is a hint of darkness in the structures of this first prototype that appeals to me.
While some may consider these fantasy, I still classify them as surrealism. They are using common every day elements of New Orleans cemetery, but viewed through the lens of the spirits that inhabit them, not the humans that look on them with sadness. And that is the key of surrealism. Blending reality and fantasy in equal measure to find that place in between.
In my mind, this is how the ghosts and spirits might look upon these ancient crypts and that is the key to the series. Spirits see in pools of iridescent color. So with that in mind, here is the prototype sculpture "Proud Mary" in the new "The Eyes of the Dead" series. It will be an interesting body work I think.