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?