I have begun calling this new body of work "Country Funk" after a song by one of my favorite surf/country/rockabilly/punk bands from North Carolina: Southern Culture on the Skids. I love the way this band mashes styles together and retains a strong regional character, and that is essentially what I am doing with my country funk pots. I am taking bits of art-history, pop and street art, and folky screeds in the style of a secular Howard Finster and putting them all together on pots with strong carolina ties with regard to both shape and alkaline glaze.
Here I have taken the snake which has adorned my pots for many years and emphasized the biblical baggage that snakes carry in our culture by placing a bitten apple on the back side of the pot under my name, which seems to imply that I have eaten from the tree of knowledge and "opened my eyes" in a new way.
This pot was comissioned by a greenville man named Nathan Dodson. He requested that I put the SC flag emblem on one side of a jug and work an image from Hubert Shruptrine and James Dickey's book Jericho: The South Beheld on the other side. I liked the forlorn image of this pregnant coon dog on a chain. I am neither a southern apologist nor a South Carolina hater; I added one of my favorite quotes from Tom Petty's song "Southern Accents" on the side with the flag. Really, South Carolina and the South as a region have powerful associations for me that are sometimes at odds with one another. But maybe that is true of any place a person grows up. Although this pot predates the others and is not labeled Country Funk, all of the elements are in place here, and for me the result is a somewhat poetic and profound statement about my home state.
This pot marks the beginning of a vigorous dialogue I began in a blog (accessible from this website) called "Critique of a Critic: Rising to Garth Clark's Bait." (Garth Clark is one of the preeminent Ceramic historian/critcs of our time) In the first essay on my blog I berated Garth Clark for what I saw as an inflammatory line of reasoning in his address called "How Envy Killed the Craft Movement: an Autopsy in Two Parts." I compared him to Goliath the phillistine Giant who taunted the Israelites, and informed him that David (Michelangelo's David represented on the pot above) was walking out to join him in combat. Then I told him to take a strong drink of water from Duchamp's "Fountain" (the "found art" urinal depicted on the reverse side of the same pot) which he had said was one of the most important pieces of ceramic art of the twentieth century. This combative approach certainly got the Critic's attention and we have developed a friendly realtionship on the sidelines of our bombastic dialogue. The "funk" in "Country Funk" recalls the Funk Art movement in California during the sixties presided over by the ceramic sculptor/potter Robert Arneson. One of the trademarks of this "movement" was witty and irreverent humor, which I think is clearly on display in this pot. More detailed photos of the writing (before it was fired) can be found on Post #3 of the blog.
I really enjoyed the use of Michelangelo's and Duchamp's famous artworks to make a new and personal meaning as I drew a comparison between them, and I had been experiencing an intense burst of manic energy that accompanied my debate with Garth Clark. I had always thought about the relationship of mental illness and spiritual experience and wanted to tackle this relationship using another biblical story prominent in art history in the context of a large pottery vessel. I chose Ghiberti's rennaissance masterpiece "The Sacrifice of Isaac". This story had always disturbed me, and as a subject it seemed to allow me an opportunity to comment on both the spiritual revelation vs. mental illness idea as well as chastise the religious zealots who have kept the three monotheistic traditions, which claim the same God and trace lineage though the patriarch, Abraham, for always approaching one another adversarially rather than as siblings. What is up with that? Ishamael is the father of the Arab people and was the son of Abraham and his servant Hagaar, the half- brother of Isaac whose son Jacob "wrestled with god" to become Israel, for whom the jewish people take their name. Ishmael and Hagaar were banished or exiled by Abraham when his wife Sarah finally became pregnant with Isaac in old age. Sacrifice, exile and sibling rivalry are powerful themes in the bible which have played out many times in the history of the Jewish people. And I see the Palestinian conflict as a painful though ironic extension of this history. If you are interested in reading the text on this pot you can find it in Post #12 of my Critique blog.
The next pot in this series found me returning to Michelangelo's David as a personal symbol of resistance and defiance. I wanted an image that would provide a striking contrast to Michelangelo's David, and it occured to me that my childhood skater friend Shepard Fairey's "Obey Giant" was the perfect foil. When Shepard morphed this image of Andre the Giant into a more symbolic and iconic image he emphasized the jowls and brow lines and added the single word "OBEY" above his head to present him as a maleveolent overlord who was in a position of authority which demanded obediance. So I set Shepard's Giant (Goliath) and Michelangelo's David (who had literally been a shepherd) on opposite sides of the same pot. I had been writing in the blog that Michelangelo, who I consider to be one of the most complete artists in the western canon, could also be viewed (or claimed) as a humble and "self-loathing" craftsman (this refers back to Garth Clark's address). So with this pot I drew a comparison of two of my favorite craftsmen, Michelangelo and Shepard. Of course I see Shepard as an artist, though an anti-establishment one who can also be interpreted as a craftsman; he is a printmaker after all, not a painter. There is another layer of irony here because as any kid who has ever cruised town on a skateboard knows that Shepard's "Obey" is code for "resist with every ounce of strength you've got."
The image at right above is for all of those who have been to Florence and seen the postcards featuring a ridiculous close-up of David's weiner or received one in the mail for that matter. Classical "Country Funk" in its most immature form.
My next pot features portraits of myself as Foghorn Leghorn and an image of Garth Clark that I drew (rather badly) from the cover photo on his book Shards. Here are some close-ups:
I think this pot is the epitome of "Country Funk" as it shows me ridiculing Garth as an academic intellectual and myself as a bombastic and none-too-bright rooster who calls Garth's bluff. You can view more images of this pot and its texts in Post # 14 of the blog.
I was also thinking about politics, and particularly how President Obama has been prevented from achieving anything by a republican fillibuster threat on almost every idea the democrats have tried to bring to the table. Our two party system seems to be completely broken when one of those parties can simply hold all legislation at a virtual standstill for the sake of pleasing a reactionary constuency (tea party) who won't even accept that our duly elected president is an American Citizen. After several years of trying to cooperate with the republicans and invite them into the legislative process, I think Obama needs to recognize that a new harder line is needed. I want him to use his amazing speaking abilities to show these folks up for the ninnies they are and bully them right off of the stage. Morons have the same free speech rights as the rest of us, but we don't need to humor them indefinitely. I returned to another of Shepard Fairey's popular images: the Obama Hope Poster, and wrote "I HOPE Obama remembers how to fight" under it and paraphrased a Fiona Apple quote on the back, which sums up my feelings about Obama's attempts to include people who hate him in the legislative process. There are more images of the text on this pot on the blog's Post #15.
This pot goes to the heart of the Art/Craft debate, as I present art as the flower or fruit on the tree of craft. As we all know Flower & Fruit= SEX, and sex sells for lots of money, while trees make good firewood when they are cut down to build a new parking lot. Many of you will recognize that idea from the old Joni Mitchell song, but the point references the idea that Garth Clark has put forward that potters are living anachronisms who can't justify they're own existence in an industrial economy. In one sense of course he is correct, but that doesn't mean I won't continue to follow my bliss and fight for a living craft tradition that pays respect to its own marvelous heritage.
This was the last and most complicated and tightly rendered piece of Country Funk I made this cycle. The blocks of text on the pot can be seen on the blog Post #16. I was moved by the Occupy Wall Street protests, which in theory is I think a wonderful happening, where civilians have sought to peacefully crowd the financial district to apply pressure and a focal point for all of us who have been hurt by the disastrous financial meltdown of 2008 and the continuing repercussions for all of us who have struggled in this economy. The sad truth is that it seems to have been the result of the unscrupulous decisions in a hardly regulated industry by executive officers who never even technically broke the law. These folks prospered mightily my pushing the stock market higher while eroding real estate values by bundling mortgages in an endless shell game that was eventually shown to be completely empty. Tax payers have had to bail out the banks and we won't feel the brunt of this tragedy until we "retire" with the possibility of no money for our social security. And the same individuals who caused this enormous problem got out of harm's way with golden parachutes and no jail time, AND people still moan when the idea that this industry needs more transparency and oversight is raised.
Here are "Pinstripe Andre," the honest corporate slave and the "Ghost Giant" on the right, who cannot be held behind bars. Lady Liberty strives to free us from our slavery but the "Free" market seems not to be free after all, as we pay and pay to dig ourselves out of a giant mess made by the greedy few who will continue to fight tooth and nail against paying higher taxes, though they are the only ones left with money to pay them with.
What are you gonna do now America? If only we had a socialist for a President!
Lots of Laughs,
While working on the Wall street obey Giant pot, I began to understand that Andre the Giant or the Obey icon could carry an almost limitless content, and I began exploring the contradictory messages of authority figure vs. trapped slave. The last three are very political and refer to my perception that the republicans have coopted the authority of the church to induce the working poor to vote against their economic interests.
I know this opinion won't be shared by everyone, and I am certainly aware that there are some sincere republican Christians who will be offended by this idea. Abusing the authority of the church or chuches is not a recent development but goes back to the establishment of the authority of the church by Constantine in the early fourth century. When the Catholic church abused its authority in ways that could no longer be ignored by its subjects the Protestant reformation began, and the idea that the common man could interpret scripture without an intermediary was born. But abuses of church authority persist. There was a national story here in western NC during the 2004 elections when a preacher said that any member of his church who planned to vote for a democrat needn't bother coming back to that church. He ended up getting fired and the church healed its internal divisions without him.
The idea of "the bully pulpit" is a commonly understood concept in society and frequently refererences secular office holders using the symbolic power of their office to promulgate an agenda, but of course this idea emerged from preachers doing the same from their pulpits. A political agenda is not sacred and should not be pushed in a religious context.