Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In the eye of the beholder

I own very little original artwork apart from some inexpensive pieces picked up in markets on my travels, and a few paintings by a talented great aunt. But I have one piece of painted wooden sculpture that I love so much I would grab it second on my way out of my burning home. The first, most cherished piece of art I would grab is my son's painting of his fourth birthday party. But that's another story.

I call my sculpture "Silly Little Man", although that is not what the artist called it. It depicts a small man with arms outstretched, standing in front of three large salmon swimming toward him. Here it is:

If you are thinking "Is she kidding? That's junk," you are not alone. Someone once asked me if I bought it at a garage sale.

I love it.

I love that the salmon are so fluidly carved, and done in otherworldly colours, while the person (to me he is a man, but could be female I suppose,) is blocky and rough, with no nuances of colour.

I love that the salmon look as if they are about to swim right over the man, barely seeing him and his outstretched arms.

I love that this piece symbolizes for me the mystical power of the salmon runs; so much a part of our west coast culture, both from prehistory to right now, for first nations and all of us. Anyone who has seen a shallow stream roil with the ruby backs of salmon on their fatal upstream journey, or watched them arc high over a waterfall cannot be but awed.

I love that, while the body of the fish are painted in jewel bright colours, their eyes reflect the raw cedar forests that line the streams they travel.

But what I love most about this piece of art is the foolishness of the little man in trying to stop the salmon from swimming upstream. At the same time, I identify with his hubris at trying. When I bought this sculpture, in 1992, he was me. I was a single mom of a toddler, still wet behind the ears in the practice of law, and going through an ugly divorce. It was just beginning to dawn on me that I was not CEO of the universe, and I had to let go of trying to control things I had no power over, or go crazy. I saw the "Silly Little Man" in a gallery window downtown, and it stopped me cold. I knew at once I had to have it, though at the time I could not have fully articulated the reasons. It is only in retrospect that I came to realize why it "spoke" to me. It cost far more than I could comfortably afford then (or even uncomfortably afford). I ate many meals of cheap mac & cheese after buying "Little Man". It was worth every noodle.

So "Silly Little Man" sits on my mantel, and I love it even more than when I got it 17 years ago. He still makes me chuckle. At both of us.

The artist, Peter Kiss, would likely be surprised by my interpretation of "Silly Little Man". His title for it, printed on the underside, is "Fish Guides". If you look closely at Little Man's right hand, it is pointing backwards, as if perhaps he is showing the salmon which direction they are to take. (And, yes, one finger of the right hand is broken. Sorry Mr. Kiss, your art is a little too delicate for the number of times I have moved house.) Perhaps the artist intended to portray the whimsical idea that, instead of salmon having a mystical force guiding them to the spot they were born, there are actually little traffic cops showing them the way.

What do you think?

Do you have a piece of artwork that you were compelled to have?


Carver said...

I love this. It's so whimsical and I like the silly man take on it. I have art that I love too for various reasons.

LadyFi said...

Oh, I love your interpretation of this work of art. So whimsical and colourful!

I once had a painting depicting the cycles we all go through: anger, sadness, happiness etc... but when I split up from my partner so many years ago, he insisted on keeping it. So I guess it spoke to both of us.

Right now I have two darling paintings done by my daughter when she was only 4... They are framed and up on the living room walls.

secret agent woman said...

Yes, I bought a piece of art from a blogger when I saw it on her site and just loved it. And posted about it here (5th picture on the post):

When I looked at the salmon, I saw the man as rejoicing in them, their freedom and grace. It truly is about how a piece speaks to you.

Jazz said...

Personally, I LOVE your piece of "junk". I'd have it on my mantel too.

Voyager said...

Carver, would you care to blog about some of the art you love? I would love to see it.

Lady Fi, how about sharing those paintings done by your daughter when she was four? I'll show you mine if...

Secret Agent Woman, I know of Andrea Platt's work, she is a local Vancouver artist. In fact, I had seen your painting on her website before, and loved it, especially the dove.
Thank you for the new take on "Little Man". I like the idea of him celebrating the salmon. Perhaps if I had first seen the piece today rather than through my 34 year old eyes my reaction would be the same as yours.
P.S. You have done a fantastic job with your house.

Jazz, OMG, upon reading your post I realize I spelled "mantel" incorrectly in my blog. Gotta go change it quick! Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I think Silly Little Man is just perfect and a lovely metaphor concerning little us trying to control nature. I like it. I'd put it in a prominent place, too. The one I have is a brass temple bell that belonged to my grandparents, and that they used as a dinner gong.

Dumdad said...

It's great. I can see why you love it. The wonder of artwork is that it is open to interpretation by whoever happens to be looking at it - whatever the artist might have intended.

Voyager said...

Mrwriteon, A brass temple bell used as a dinner gong? What kind of temple bell? I sense (and hope) there is blog post at I Still Think So in the future about this.

Dumdad, you have the Louvre at your back door. "Silly Little Man" looks even sillier compared to the masterpieces you get to see and interpret through your own eyes.


Carver said...

Hi, I thought I'd pop back and answer your question about the bee. In the summer there are so many bees in my garden that they ignore me and I ignore them for the most part. I took a macro shot with my hand directly above the bee and I got the camera very close. Thee bee was so intent on the flower it ignored the camera which was only a few inches above it. I actually remember taking the shot although it was a long time ago, because I thought if it flew up it would actually touch the camera.

jmb said...

I love it too.

I have two pieces that I had to have. Both are sculptures in soapstone and while one is an Eskimo carving of a head the other is a very modern carving called Swans although it is very abstract.

I was with an art appreciation group touring a gallery in White Rock and at the end of the tour I said to the owner I will take that sculpture. It cost $700 so it earned me quite a reputation with the group! Everyone said what will your husbands say! LOL. As if I cared but he loved it too thankfully.

Jocelyn said...

The appeal of this piece for me is just the same as for you--how laughable for a human to try to stop nature's flow. Plus, I like how primitive it feels.

We have, on loan, one of my mother-in-law's paintings; we couldn't afford to buy it, so she lets it hang in our house. I adore the thing.

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Voyager said...

Carver, thanks for the info on your bee photo.

JMB, that's a great story about your swan sculpture. It was an art appreciation tour, you really got into the spirit of appreciation!

Jocelyn, I take it your mother-in-law is an artist?