-ART: Series 30 (Begotten Forgotten)

Multi-panel OmniDirectional painting group; panels composed and wired to hang at any angle. Dimensions variable; each panel (~20 lbs, unusually heavy for Ward art) size 78"x12" (6.5ft x 1ft). OK to show/sell/regroup any combination of panels (including singles) even with other series.
Series 30 (Begotten Forgotten)*
Oil, latex, acrylic, chopped vintage photos, reflective elements, photomechanical printing, glass, collage, lights on wood panels (aka mixed media).

All panels, hung horizontally:

Angular hang:

Real world view (from the "Between The Acts" show), in corner.

Hung vertically:

Real world view at Smithsonian-affiliate gallery (more info):

Detail views:

The individual panels:

*Artist notes:
Specially made for a Smithsonian-affiliate venue's group show requiring some use of light in the art. (Show set-up snapshots here.) Concealed solar panels and lighting doubled the weight of the panels. Glow paint and reflective elements added. The concept came after finding boxes of discarded family photos at a flea market.

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From the exhibit statement:

At a distance, my mixed media diptych Begotten Forgotten looks like a jumbled abstract-expressionist painting perhaps evocative of Jackson Pollock (drippy paint) and Jasper Johns (stenciled lettering) with a touch of Julian Schnabel (fractured texture) ---though also combining these and other elements into my own recognizable style. Metallic paint and reflective areas occasionally gleam. In the dark, soft lights may show or luminescent paint swatches might glow.

Approaching closely, one notices that some areas which looked like paint are actually vintage photos and foreign-language newspaper clippings. Strangely, the antique photos are often in multiples: the same lanky bespectacled great-grandfather or the same 1937 schoolgirl over and over. Those who look closely are soon transfixed and find themselves wondering who these people are and what happened to them.

What is their story?

I’m not telling.

I’m not being coy; I don’t know myself ---and that just adds to the mystery and to viewer-speculation.

I found these people piled in a flea market shoebox for a quarter each ---and it was a somewhat heartbreaking sight. Did they have no remaining family to respect them as ancestors? Did the last relative die off and the photos ---having only sentimental value--- got thrown away or auctioned for a pittance? Did their last keeper have dementia and forget this heritage? Were these found in a storage facility after someone could no longer pay the bill? For these images to have reached this end, something sad must have happened to these lost ancestors’ progeny.

I’m more intrigued (and saddened on behalf of these people) when I see so many multiple copies of the same image. Such duplicates are seldom found among vintage photos. Did some scandal render these people less popular than they were at the time of sitting for these portraits ---such that later there were undistributed extra copies? Did intended recipients die unexpectedly ---lost in a war, epidemic, or pogrom? It is tempting to think that some of these portraits, mostly dating from the 1890s to 1930s, show some people who were later erased in the Shoah/Holocaust or in wartime bombings. Maybe we’re seeing domestic debris left in the street after townspeople were packed off to a ghetto.

No one knows.

Anyone can speculate and weave a plausible story.

I made no assertions about the interpersonal relationships ---and few viewers can resist making assumptions. Maybe these are the combined influences, good and bad, upon some particular person ---maybe the schoolgirl or one of the old men. Perhaps the elders and the religious leader were positive mentors for one of the youngsters ---or maybe something sinister happened.

Maybe this is the fleeting netherworld where an Alzheimer’s patient mentally dwells.

Maybe it is all that someone forgot.

Maybe it is all that happened on some now-bulldozed city block.

I placed the pictures. The viewers assign meaning.

I meant nothing symbolic by cutting photos in odd shapes or by bisecting some of the faces. It simply adds interest. Keeping the portraits intact and aligning them neatly horizontally or vertically would be boring. The eye is more intrigued by seeing common things ---photos, faces--- presented in an unusual way. Preserving the discarded photos in their original form in a paperboard box would have insured that they remain as forgettable as they were when I first found them.

The unsmiling dowager in the black dress and the scholarly elder perched on a wicker seat take on a somewhat surreal air when fanned out in angular multiple images.

The 1960s old man with the glasses already had a striking Diane Arbus eerie quality which was sharpened by halving his photo and offsetting the pieces. With irony, this once-forgotten old man becomes hard to forget when shown in this way.

I edited out most photo content which would indicate where these people are ---no landmarks. Background newspaper clippings are in many languages. I wanted to keep the interpretive possibilities as wide as possible: are these Germans, Irish, Russians, French, or Americans? The futility of most of history’s armed conflicts came to mind: these could be “good guys” or “enemy” or neutrals ---they look so much alike, so so much alike. Without labels or insignia, friend and foe are often indistinguishable. Depending on year and location some could be each others’ enemies at war. How arbitrary national divisions seem.

Occasionally I added with metallic paint some tumbling lettering which spells FRAGILE. Family stories are indeed fragile; a tale not told before the keeper dies is a tale lost. A tale told and forgotten is a tale lost. The lettering fragments into possibly symbolic sub-words like FRAG (fragmentation? Of family/culture/memories?), RAG (steerage voyage? Rags to riches hopes?), LE (French folk? port cities like LeHarve?) Maybe FRAGILE was stenciled on some of their cargo as immigrants?

I like to think of this 2009 diptych as contemporary and edgy, but I realize that it follows a theme which artists (in the Western world at least) have used since the 1500’s: the memento mori ---the reminder of mortality. Those historic moralizing still-life pictures were meant to remind us that we have but a short time to enjoy Earthly life. Old paintings picturing a skull were obvious enough. More subtle symbolism sometimes included cut blooms (the flower is a perfect beauty for such a short while before withering away) or food or drink (a momentary pleasure, but then consumed ---gone).

My picture joins the group by including the vintage portraits of lost people. The sitters dressed up for posterity and were recorded in portraits in hopes of being remembered; instead they were discarded and forgotten ---as all of us (except for the one-in-ten-million who somehow win lasting fame) can expect to be forgotten in a few generations. We who look upon these lost forgotten souls are ---soon enough--- going to join them.

Since the 80’s some of my artworks have used lights or motors. Only recently did I decide to take pains to conceal all power sources and bulbs/LEDs: no more direct glare of exposed lights, and certainly no more dangling cords. Recent improvements in solar lighting technology have made Sun-powered lighting affordable and more manageable in size. I removed nonessential parts and rewired the system in order to hide all utilities under the surface of the painting. Solar panels are disguised and are hard to locate without very close inspection. The artwork needs no electrical plug-in; a few hours of daily sunlight exposure should be sufficient to keep the rechargeable battery working.

I sought a subtle, soft effect. The solar LEDs indirectly illuminate translucent cylinders which terminate with clear glass spheres. They make an ethereal effect which can look at times like tiny gas flames. Even without the LEDs, the artwork exudes light effects: luminescent paint swatches will glow at night, metallic and reflective areas will gleam occasionally in ambient room light. The glow paint is a non-toxic non-radium formula. Reflective areas include clear glass spheres and also small photographic images experimentally reprinted onto Scotchlite-style
reflective strips (like on firefighter’s jackets or on traffic safety cones).

As is the case with my other recent (post 2007) artwork, the panels of Begotten Forgotten are omni-directional: they are meant to be hung vertically, horizontally, upside-down, or at angles ---whatever the available space (and preference of
those in charge of exhibit-hanging) suggests.

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More WARD ART here.

Exhibit views.

Unusual art processes.

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