Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crazy-good art by Judith Berk King

This week I went up to Palm Beach State College and saw a few pieces by Judith Berk King. Some of the pieces are 2-D wall hangings and some were 3-D sculpture. I liked the 2-D pieces too, but in hindsight I was really taken by the sculpture more than anything. I've been thinking about why that is, and I think it's that the 2-D pieces featured (mainly) these organic shapes in very inorganic frameworks, some of which were impossible, and while they were interesting, my mind is always drawn narrative and character, and the sculptures were more likely to include little people and animals and to imply a story, and I just absolutely love that. My favorite of the 2-D pieces was definitely "Fate":

Which is strange, because this piece (unlike most of the others) doesn't even have very many colors in it, and I am usually a sucker for brightly colored festival-like images. But then I realized that what got me about this one was the squiggly lines, which I interpreted as being drawn (as opposed to being a 2-D depiction of 3-D wires in a box) and so, seeing them as drawn, I saw the hand that drew them, and I liked the impossibility of a hand drawing lines in air: I liked the narrative and the character -- again, I really think this is what it comes back to for me.

Which is why I believe King's sculptures just blew me away. I took video of them instead of still pictures, because with sculpture I always feel that movement is necessary. This piece, called Last Iceberg/Ship of Fools, was probably my favorite: 

There's so much to love here. I mean, first of all, it's just beautiful. The texture of the clay made to look like wood and the smooth iceberg are gorgeous. And I really like that the little people are made of the same "wood" as the boat: they have "rude mechanicals" aspect that is perfect for the idea of this piece. But what I love most of all is that they're pointing at each other: the blame. It's perfect. It's narrative and character and it brings me into the story of this world.

This piece, called Adam and Eve/This Way!, is awesome for similar reasons.

You have the story of Adam and Eve arriving on this great wooden space ship, standing side-by-side, fig leaves in place, and they're both pointing in different directions: "This way!" The premise and impending conflict implied are fantastic, and it sends my mind spinning and imagining the story: and laughing. Like all good stories, the Ship of Fools and Adam and Eve both are "true" in that our experience of people really is that way: at the profoundest beginnings and endings of things, people are still people, still full of faults and stubbornness and stupidity. I look at these pieces and I say, YES.

I really appreciated the humor. Sometimes you see truths about humanity presented in a sad way, or a scolding way, and of course it's appropriate. But the humor, I think, when appropriate, builds a connection between the artist and the audience, and better empowers the audience to feel that something can be done: all hope is not lost. I thought this bit on Temptation was one of the funnier pieces at the showing:

Talk about connecting with the audience!! :)

Some of the pieces were ecological in subject and featured animals. This one, Oil Slick, I'm showing a still of because the video didn't come out well, but it's amazing from every angle:

There's no humor here and there shouldn't be. There is beauty, and there is tragedy.

With this one, too, there's a more serious tone, but again, the beauty of the piece is astonishing, the detail... in the video try to get a sense of the texture and look at how it all comes together as a piece to ask the question about "balance": 

So, for me, I realized the most affecting pieces always have a narrative. That is undoubtedly in large part because I'm a writer and my mind revolves around story. But it occurs to me that all people love story -- for most of us, it's how we communicate, how we understand the world. I thought of MC Escher's drawings, those fantastic experiments in perspective, and how he always included some little people (even when they were mechanical-looking) so you could get yourself into the picture and really GET how odd the perspective is, really FEEL how impossible. Without the people, you can't get into them as well. Or, at least, I can't. :) I think at least for me, art is an exercise in empathy, and I want to connect with something that I can understand as having a life and a story, even if it is made of clay made to look like wood, wonderful impossible things.

If you have the chance to go up and see this exhibit, I hope you will. Also, if you're a buyer, some of the pieces are for sale, so you could take one or two of these home with you. Her work will be there until September. It's well worth the drive!

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