In my previous post, I told the sad story of last year's ArtPrize entry, "Galal." It was, in fact, that experience that influenced most my entry this year. "Play" was always the theme. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to create something that looked cool...and was easy to transport! But most of all I wanted to enjoy the work.
Instead of working with a heavy medium, I went simply with a large piece of foam (8'x4'x2'). I carved it, and painted it. Fairly simple, right? It wasn't important to me this year to make a statement with the medium itself, but to produce something that stood out and brought pleasure. Although working with foam is messy and does necessitate a care for and awareness of waste. It became a meditation practice whereby I was repeating the mantra, "play."
My experiences as an athlete came to mind. As a college football player I never had a winning season, and there was a point finally during my senior season when it had to be about having fun again. It was about connecting with my body and considering the joy of exerting myself physically in spite of the score. I'm further convinced that the word "spiritual" is less and less useful. We have divided the "spiritual" from the "material" in harmful ways and have forgotten the connections that are essential to true health. This is why "play" is vital. The bodily experience is fully integrated into whatever it means when we say "spiritual." We "learn" by doing stuff with our hands and our feet and our bodies.
"Work" is meant to be enjoyed. However, our culture equates "work" with "drudgery," which implies the utter lack of joy.
Work is good. Using our hands is good. What inspired me for this piece is, in some ways, what always inspires me: a deep reverence for the natural world, water in particular, and physical work. There are infinite specific patterns in liquid, and yet there are some repeated forms or impressions. As I was considering this year's entry, I kept coming back to the "doodle" that would regularly emerge on the margins of my school notebooks. These doodles are often profound images. There is a spontaneity that refreshes and a depth that comes with deep bold lines and swells and shapes. So as much as I considered water and flow, I was thinking simultaneously about my best doodles.
Further, this sculpture is a "cross-section" of that doodled-wave. My family and friends will go the beaches here in Grand Haven and play in the water. There are limits to my vision when I'm playing in the vast waters of Lake Michigan; so to try to paint or sculpt the entire thing is impossible. At the beach there is what is called a "red flag day." A red flag means the water is dangerous because of waves and undercurrent, etc. Ironically, the most fun is had on a "red flag day".*** I keep waiting for the next giant swell to come crashing in, carrying my kids' and my own body toward the shore. There is sheer delight and complete terror all at once, and so I become more acutely aware of who I am and where my fears lie.
That's the nature of play.
I knew that the venue this year was the Sixth Street Park. I also knew that there would be grass. I was overjoyed to see how boldly the sculpture stood out on that green space. It seemed to me a stunning contrast. Add to that the placement near the Grand River, the sculpture literally popped visually and this has brought me joy.
*Special thanks to Richard App for inviting me and being a normal dude, Jason & RandiLynn Talsma for the use of their vehicle and trailer, and my neighbor Mike Eller for the use of his truck when I picked up the foam from Harbor Foam (Grandville).
***I am, of course, in no way condoning unsafe activity on the beach...but there is truth to the nature of play in the waves.