Being Unmuted During a Plague
Did you spend any time in a Zoom or other e-meeting during the last year? If you did, you understand the phrase “unmute yourself.” Unmuted is the title of my upcoming featured artist show in September. The show title is a reference to the recent COVID lockdown. I spent time this week thinking about all the meanings of muted and unmuted while writing my statement for the show. You can mute a voice, mute a color, or mute a message. I try to look all the different interpretations in my pieces for this show. Some are bright and colorful, and some appear to be speaking or singing. Hopefully, one or two have something more to say.
Speaking Seriously and Playfully
My latest piece has something to say about this past year. We lived this last year through what might be referred to as a plague in history books. Looking at historical references we encounter the image of the plague doctor. Accounts place these figures anywhere between physicians and record keepers. Whatever their role, they have a distinct appearance, one that conveys the seriousness of their job. Most often we see a figure wearing a long beaked mask. I decided to go with something a bit different than the expected bird beak. My Plague Doctor is a rhinoceros in a spiked mask.
This anthropomorphic figure is needle felted wool over a wire and quilt batting armature. I hand stitched his mask and hat from faux leather. His stick staff supports a glass bead lantern and finial of his trade. Additionally, his staff provides a third balance point that allows this art doll sculpture to stand on his own. I also created tiny sandbags within his feet that supply additional stability. Plague Doc has an oxpecker assistant riding on his shoulder.
My intent is the plague doctor juxtaposed with the absurdity of a rhinoceros conveys the seriousness of the past year in a playful manner.
Into the Process
Colleagues and collectors have asked questions about how my sculptures are constructed, especially the needle felting process. I took some work-in-progress images and video clips, and cobbled them together in this short video.
The felting is done with flat surfaced needles that have notches along their edges. As the needle(s) pass through, the wool gets pushed and pulled by those notches. The wool fibers have overlapping scales along their length. The scales catch as wool fibers are drawn across one another. This is what felts the fibers together.
See you in September
Plague Doctor joins the friends I’ve already introduced (and a few you’ve yet to meet) at the Hillsborough Gallery of Arts in September. The show also features the art of Ellie Reinhold and Marcy Lansman, and installs in the gallery on September 20th, and goes live on the HGA store site on the 24th. The official show opening is during the Last Friday Art Walk also on the 24th. Mark you calendars, and keep an eye out for additional pieces before then.