What's one animal you will always find at a baseball game?
... a bat.
The story continues ....
At some point over the years I had developed a hernia, which was exasperated with the demands of loading and unloading my delivery truck.
Full recovery time from a hernia operation was known to take four to six weeks. Because mine was a little more extensive, needing to add a piece of flexible mesh for extra support and because of the nature of my work, the doctor was insistent that I make sure that I took the full six weeks to recover.
Imagine - six full weeks of mandatory rest with - no guilt, no expectations, no work.
I decided to enjoy myself the best way I knew how and that was to do art of some kind. Back when we lived on Hazel Dell, Odia had introduced me to clay.
I had done three rather crude pieces – a little farm boy picking stones, another little farm boy stretched out on a stubble field shooting at ducks and another farm boy sitting on a stump being licked by his dog. These were my farm stories and I loved remembering them into clay.
Now I had the luxury of time to develop this theme and continue to recreate my childhood.
Reflecting on the stories that I’ve already blogged about, I sculpted me carrying fire wood, another carrying milk to the summer kitchen, being chased by a goose, standing on a huge bale of hay with Ricky feeling the wind and mice running out from underneath. Oh yes and for fun, I sculpted me in my own little rodeo riding on a pig - which I had actually tried to do - unsuccessfully.
I glazed them with primary colors and called them "the farm boys."
When they were all finished, I showed them to my daughter, now a graduate from the Fine Arts program of University of Manitoba who has the eye of a curator – and actually eventually became the curator of Gallery in the Park in Altona.
She was very quiet as she looked at my art…very quiet.
Then said quietly. “Good work, Dad."
Then she looked at me with her exceptionally wise – all knowing eyes – “Were there any of your farm memories that weren’t happy, Dad?” she asked simply.
I had never really talked to her about my farm memories so the deep all-knowing question came from her own wisdom. She knew that life is never really all rosy - there is always a dark side.
We went onto other subjects - and she just left it at that.
When she was gone, I remembered the ‘worst’ moment on the farm.
It was when my father and I would be driving out to work the fields and we would come across a barbed wire gate, always closed to keep the cows from getting into the wheat.
My father would nod – and I would jump down from the tractor to open the gate, which I really didn’t mind doing for him - except there is something especially unwieldy about a barbed wire fence gate. There are no hinges to help with the weight. It is really just barbed wire attached to one big heavy pole.
To open it meant leaning that heavy pole inward, flipping the wire off of the top of it – and then carrying it across the dirt road to the other side to let the tractor through – and then wait patiently for it to pass. The worst part was carrying the heavy pole back, which was bigger than me back to the primary pole, lean it and then flip the wire over the top of it to close it.
I was a little guy – the poles were heavy and tall…. I never did get it right. If I took too long, my father would have to jump off the tractor to help me. And if that happened, I would sting from his wrath for the rest of the day – not only physically but with his looks of derision.
I sculpted that moment, and instead of there being two poles, I put myself as an adult man - figuratively speaking - into the swing pole's place as a substitute replacement.
Of course, in true artistic mode the man is nude – depicting vulnerability. He is leaning against the wood grain on one side and straining against the barbed wire wrapped around the body holding him.
When I showed this sculpture to my wife, her eyes widened with horror. It wasn’t the nudity she was horrified at – she understood that. She was horrified that the knots in the barbed wire, which had been slightly exaggerated for artistic affect – were wrapped around the neck, the feet and the privates. Ordinarily that would have worked well - as attempt at modesty. However instead of covering the genitalia discreetly – that knot actually looked like it was pinching the rather large penis.
Talk about pain! Perhaps more than I had anticipated, but symbolically accurate.
Since the first showing of the farm boys was going to be held in a Mennonite venue, my wife wondered if perhaps for this particular show the nude figure could be clothed. I actually put the first one on the shelf and sculpted another figure of a man tied up in barbed wire in the same way as the first - but this time clothed.
We showed them both to our daughter. Again she was very quiet as she looked at my art…very quiet.
Then said quietly. “Good work, Dad." as she pointed to the nude man.
Then she turned to my wife. “Mom,” she said with a big sigh - “Art is art,” she said. “It's working. Who cares if anyone is offended.”
At this point, both of the sculptures were still bisque white, so I colored the nude a steel-iron to depict strength which changed it somehow – enough to appease my wife. Even though it remained a symbol of torture, it didn’t seem quite as suggestive.
After that the clothed model disappeared somehow - my wife murmuring something about feeling guilty and not wanting to interfere with the higher purposes of art.
This torturous sculpture of a nude man wired to a fence post became an important piece of art work in all of my showings after that.
Something changed for me with that piece – I found freedom to be a true artist.
Up till now I had used art to physically duplicate an object, to declare a moral teaching, propound knowledge and promote camps – all utilitarian.
There is an art that is more than that. An art that through symbolism expresses and arouses emotion.
Humans are hard-wired to express themselves emotionally and whenever we repress, deny, or disallow an emotion to be what it needs to be, we get stuck. We get as clogged as a toilet – and we all know how ugly that can be.
In order for emotions to move through us freely, they must be accepted and expressed.
It’s not only important to keep ourselves unclogged, it is also our gift to others to help them, to keep their blood flowing.
The fence post was my symbolic artistic expression of the "hazards of being male."
The post, the wire, the sharp edges of the knots, the choking of the throat, the tethering of the legs and even the pinch of the penis depict the cruelty of being restricted and being stuck.
It was only after I had finished it, did I realize my sculpture holds the same symbolism of Jesus - the naked man nailed to the cross – two wooden posts, tortured and dying but still flowing with love.
A fierce restlessness. Healthy cynicism.
A real-world perspective. An ability to simplify. Restraint. Patience. A genuine balance of confidence and insecurity.
And most importantly, humanity.
- David Droga