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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Voice of Art

The Voice of Art

I know this place where a dog holds court as the afternoon sun pass through the sky.

I know this place where you will be born again as you dive into a cold spring fed creek swimming hole.

I know this place where the rocks really do cry out.
This place I know is a special kind of art school where students learn the voice of art. The artist do not speak through their craft, but they give their creation a voice that may sound like their own, but only how a child sounds like the parent. Long after the physical voice of the father/mother artist is gone, you hear that voice through their creations alluring new owners of the master’s craft.


This place with old jugs stacked by a door, rusty farm tools held up by oaks trees, and bird nest sitting on old cabinets is where the rocks that cry out are created by hand with clay and fired by the flames of a wood kiln. Each year I spend time taking in a private weekend vacation hidden away in the hills of the Napa valley. In the rear of the property is a large wood fired kiln. The owner, Richard Carter casts spells upon the guest with stories of how the kiln is filled with new work, carefully loaded with wood, and then slowly fired to 2500 degrees. Flames shoot high into the night from the large chimney as wood is vaporized into ash when dropped through holes into the side of the kiln. This is not a one-night fire, but a ten-day odyssey of giving clay a voice from of the flames of trees.

“The Ranch,” as Richard's friends call it, is something of a spiritual center of ceramic art of Northern California. Clay pears dulled by a sand blaster sit on a table. Custom hand thrown stoneware bowls lay out in the sun after being born from kiln.

Inside the modest ranch home, upon the walls are Richard’s massive wall sculptures to “Desire”, “Love” “Fear” and even “Hate.” 
 “They protest it you know. The Phelps know it is about them, and try to protest it when it is displayed,” Richard tells me of the panels on Hate. The Westboro Baptist Church notorious reputation now is even larger than when Richard completed the wall sculpture.

Did this shock you? I must confess that I was tempted not even to post the image of this wall sculpture, but Hate is alive well every day in our culture. The piece has a voice so loud that when people walk into a show, they can’t avoid it. Art is not always about making beautiful images to impress your friends and relatives, but about calling the heart towards self examination. Of all of Richards works, this one does not just call, but demands you examine your soul.

In between the meals, and lemonade, I have sat out on the porch stealing away an art book or two from the most overloaded bookshelf made of steel I have ever seen. Richard found his artistic voice under his mentor Ken Ferguson, an instructor at Kansas City Art Institute. I know all about the first sculpture of Richard’s back in the early days. He took a block of clay and placed nails into one side. It was radical for the class and Ken placed it at the front on the desk for everyone to comment on to Richards’s horror.

“Glaze the mother fucker red,” he bellowed. Richard did just that and has never stopped. Regardless of the color Richard uses today, his work is red with the deepest passions of life. “You need to find your voice. Too many don’t know their voice. The voice in their work is not from them most of the time.”

One day, I will own one of Richards “un-named grids,” of the ghost of nails set in a monolith of clay.

The work speaks to me. These clay tablets have a voice. Others may see only odd holes where once nails lived, but I always see these monoliths as metaphors for the AIDS epidemic, or perhaps one of our school shootings, or of some histories great heroic wars that leave the survivors asking why. It is an abstraction of carefully planned and organized loss.

I picked up a small book on Jerome Caja from that steel bookcase. On the opposite wall a canvas mural draped to the floor of “Bozo Picks a Boyfriend.” Richard knew of him. This drag queen, club owner, and radical gay artist practically came to life straight from the pages of “Tales of the City,” as Richard 
weaved in and out of the oral tradition of artist legends.

“When he died, the Smithsonian packed up his entire apartment. They took it all.” Jerome’s voice was as radical as his life. The outrageous spirit of his small little worlds made of nail polish lacquer captured my imagination. Jerome’s is not the first to haunt me.

“Did you know her, Beatrice Wood?” I asked him dinner sitting outside with the fig tree to my back.

“I picked her up once at the airport,” Richard said, flowing with motion.

“What was she like?” I asked.
 “Full of love,” he said with eyes wide and bright, “No one could glaze like her. You will see what I mean.”

I certainly need these days to find a voice of love in this world. The time had come for me to make a visit to possibly the smallest museum I have ever visited. I am known for my eclectic art fetishes. Ojai is in California, my own home state. It is just six hours drive south from Sacramento. Seemed wrong that I had not yet made the pilgrimage. I had soaked up for years the light of this northern spiritual center of art made of the earth, but I had not yet seen the work of Beatrice Wood. 

It was past time to see the vessels that glowed and listen to the voice, which still spoke through them to this day. The woman who shocked herself was calling, so I had to leave the front porch court of the noon sun dog king, to hear the voice of the "Mama of DaDa."