What Is This Piece About?

July 17, 2011

I get asked this question a lot.  Sometimes I’m reluctant to answer it, because part of the fun for me is hearing what others think my work is about.  I often hear things I never thought of.

However, there is an answer to this question.  Usually, there are two answers.  One is the “Official Fine Art” answer.  Ideally, this is an articulate, meaningful-sounding answer that combines what I thought I was doing when I started the piece with an after-the-fact analysis of what I was actually doing and what the underlying meanings might be.  The other answer is the “pragmatic” one.  This is a little of the idea I started with and a lot “I wanted to see what happened if I drew this thing in that place with this other thing” together with by-products of solving composition and design problems.

An Example: 

St. Uriel, multiple plate etching, 9″ x 6″, 2009

 Official Fine Art Answer

This is part of Archangels, a series of four multiple plate etchings I completed in 2009.  Each piece depicted a traditional archangel, but played around a little with the iconography.  They were part of my ongoing attempts at “Non-Religious Religious Art”–art that starts with a a religious topic, but attempts to explore the underlying psychological or archetypal dimensions, rather than taking either a dogmatic approach or an anti-religion one.  St. Uriel has attracted the most interest.  The other three are St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael.

Uriel is also the most obscure of the four.  I think I originally knew about these four archangels as a quartet from reading Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels when I was a teenager.  In that context, Uriel was associated with earth, with the direction of South, and with Death.  When I created this image, I had a hard time finding much about Uriel.  Looking now, it seems that more information has made it online.  At the time, all I was really after was earth and an association with death in the sense of decomposition–old things needing to die and wither away so new things would be able to grow.

The Pragmatic Answer

I like drawing outhouses.  An outhouse made sense for the Uriel image, because of the decomposition/re-birth theme.

For some time, I had wanted to make a print with an elephant in it.  This was a problematic intention, as there are lots of associations with elephants I wasn’t interested in.  I wanted I radically different sort of elephant.

When I drew the cave under the outhouse, I realized I had the place to put my radically different sort of elephant.  Hallelujah!

After I drew the elephant, I realized he needed something on his back.  The nest with eggs made sense as new life.  Three is just a good number of objects to have.

That’s it.  Anything else is added by you, the viewer.  The eggs are not my three children.  Any political associations you may choose to read into the elephant are entirely about you, not any intent on my part.

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3 Responses to “What Is This Piece About?”

  1. Mary Dudley says:

    I remember an artist friend saying a long time ago that if he could have written about his concept/piece, he wouldn’t have painted it!

  2. raymaseman says:

    My printmaking professor used to say that if you already knew how it was going to look when it was done, there wasn’t much point in making it.

  3. The very fact that you can’t really explain it is what makes it so intriguing. I could spend hours spinning yarns about this one and loving every minute of it!