Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists Aviary
Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans 2004
David S. Rubin
Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists Aviary (excerpt)
Indeed, a number of today’s artists derive contemplative sustenance from making images of birds. For Andrew Young, this involves a system of using craftsmanship as a means of classifying and replicating nature’s essences. A former science student who switched to art-making while in college, Young has held a longtime interest in the ways that artists and scientists alike have historically maintained spiritual connections with nature. For this reason, he has trained himself in traditional processes such as painting with egg tempera, which he practiced throughout the 1990s, or with dry ground pigments combined with binding ingredients, a technique he uses today to treat the paper from which he makes collages. In the tempera paintings, floral and architectural patterns are rendered amidst fragile, cracked surfaces that suggest age-old walls, ultimately serving as remembrances of times past when floral architectural ornament commonly served as a nature surrogate. In the collages, architecture is referenced through geometric patterning, into which Young embeds abstracted or silhouetted images of birds, insects, and plant formations. In Untitled c-219 (2002), he has also included a handwritten passage from Henry David Thoreau’s writings about the sanctity of Walden Pond. Working with Zen-like precision as he makes each fragment and then assembles them to form the collages, Young experiences a virtual meditation. It’s as if his soul is temporarily transported to a nature preserve. According to the artist, “the process engages a search for a lost sensibility, the physical versus abstract representation, the spiritual in relation to the terrestrial; and the longing, through classification to understand our place in the heavens.”1
Whereas Young finds solace in humanity’s creative legacies, Thomas Woodruff gleans inspiration from the aesthetics of everyday popular culture. For Woodruff, who considers himself a populist, beauty is to be found in the decorative and sentimental images of dime-store greeting cards, posters, and tattoo art. Since the mid 1980s he has exhibited whimsical paintings on a variety of themes, including self portraits of a clown, ornamental still lifes, childlike narratives and fanciful animals. Consistently rendered in a style of playful splendor, these works have demonstrated a positive outlook on life, even in the face of catastrophes such as the AIDS crisis or the annihilation of the World Trade Center. In Snowman Ostrich (2002), a dapper ostrich sporting a topiary neck, a top hat on his noggin, and a carrot in his mouth, has arrived to entertain us. Poised beneath a floral arch before a backdrop of sparkling star-lit skies, he appears like Fred Astaire in a 1930s movie musical—ready to sing and dance for us, to wash away our troubles.
The art of Lance Letscher, in many respects fuses aspects of Young’s collages and Woodruff’s paintings. Like Young, Letscher creates hand made collages that are meant to express hope and optimism, and like Woodruff he relies on popular culture as a resource for conjuring up hallucinatory fictions, albeit abstract, conceptual ones. In Letscher’s collages, pages of old diaries, ledgers, and paperback book covers, are cut up and restructured into pinwheel configurations that represent hallucinatory states brought on by hunger, fatigue, and poverty. Conceived as the abstract visual diaries of a fictional character, the collages also include images of birds, which the artists views as symbols of hope, providers of flight from depravation. Letscher’s attraction to the bird as a symbol stems from his own childhood experiences as a “nature boy” who collected bird skulls, nests, snakes, and the like. As an adult, he and his wife Mary devote much of their time to rescuing abandoned baby birds and raising them until they can be released to fly freely on their own.
David Rubin, curator
Contemporary Arts Center
New Orleans, LA
1 Andrew Young, Artist Statement, 2000.