Monday, August 22, 2011

The Artist: Creativity and Mortality

The artist:
speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty and pain...and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity -- the dead to the living and the living to the unborn." ~ Joseph Conrad
The idea that the living are a conduit between the unborn and the dead is explored in Robert Pogue Harrison's The Dominion of the Dead. The author conveys how we strive to make meaning as we move through life and that the awareness of death defines our human nature.  "Whether we are conscious of it or not we do the will of the ancestors: our commandmens come to us from their realm; their precedents are our law; we submit to their dictates, even when we rebel against them." To be human is to relate to that which is buried, that which has come before, since culture is built on what has come before.
"To mortalize oneself means to learn how to live as a dying creature, or better, to learn how to make of one's mortality the foundation of one's relations to those who live on, no less than to those who have passed away. To cope with one's mortality means to recognize its kinship with others and to turn this kinship in death into a shared language."
A slightly different notion is that an artist mortalizes themselves by creating. They make literal the idea. They struggle with the limitations of medium in order to make the physical world speak in the language of the spirit.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Paul Thek’s Studio 1967

Peter Hujar - Shelf With Hand - 1967 / 2010.

In 1967, Peter Hujar photographed his friend Paul Thek’s East 3rd Street studio in 1967. The Brooklyn artist Thek was a sculptor, painter, and one of the first artists to create environments or installations. As he frequently used perishable materials, Thek accepted the ephemeral nature of his art works—and was aware, as writer Gary Indiana has noted, of “a sense of our own transience and that of everything around us.”

The images Peter Hujar took of the studio explore Thek's ephemera, process, and persona. Originally taken for potential use in association with Thek’s 1967 solo exhibition at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York, many images in this series document the making of his infamous sculpture The Tomb/Death of a Hippie, a life-sized effigy of the artist laid to rest in a pink ziggurat. A full-size cast of his body lies entombed dressed in a suit jacket and jeans, painted a pale pink, and adorned with jewelry made of human hair and gold. This sculpture is now considered to be the masterwork of his 1960s sculpture. The Tomb was destroyed after languishing in storage, with Thek reportedly having refused delivery of the piece in 1981. Thek had grown tired of the work, “I really don’t want to have to do that piece AGAIN! Oh God no! Not THAT one. Imagine having to bury yourself over and over.” Both Thek and Hujar died of AIDS related illnesses in the late 1980s.

Peter Hujar -  Thek’s studio - 1967.
Peter Hujar's images are on view at Maureen Paley in London from September 7 – October 2, 2011. Photographs from this studio session were uncovered during the research for Paul Thek: Diver, a retrospective which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in October 2010, toured to the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and is now on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles until September 4, 2011.

Peter Hujar - Thek Working with Bicycle Wheel Above 1 - 1967.
All images are© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC;
courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York