Art is about taking risks and experimenting. After a year of creating Rorschachs, I knew that I needed to do something different– so I booked a one-way ticket to Asia.
Traveling to a foreign country always makes me see things from a fresh viewpoint. I find it both frightening and thrilling to be in a new place where I don’t speak the language and where local social norms are entirely alien to me.
I took time to research the art and architecture of each country that I visited– Thailand, Hong Kong, Bali, Vietnam, and Japan. Many of the cultural landmarks in Southeast Asia were originally built out of religious reverence; complex, ancient structures that demonstrate fealty to the gods. These structures were both stunning and haunting. As I walked the halls of these grand palaces and temples, I couldn’t stop thinking about the tens of thousands of people who had been slaughtered within them over the centuries.
These temples had been built for worship, and yet they were the site of dozens of bloody battles. I kept turning it over in my mind– the contrast between the two reminded me of other dichotomies I had previously considered. Dark and light. Yin and yang. Male energy and female energy.
Male and female energy. The chasm between them fascinated me.
Philosopher Ken Wilber once described testosterone as being the “fuck it or kill it” hormone, while estrogen is the hormone of connection. War and conflict are born from masculine energy, whereas communities flourish under female energy. As I reflected on the polarity between the two, a concept for a piece began to take shape in my mind.
When I stumbled upon an Apple store while exploring Hong Kong, I bought an iPad and stylus and started to sketch. In August 2018– four months after I had returned to the States– I completed the piece I had envisioned in Hong Kong. I took a step back to look at her.
She was poignant. And hideous.
I named her Venus.
In Roman mythology Venus is the goddess of sex, love, beauty, and fertility. She also ruled over victory and prostitution– two areas which oppose the traits she is usually associated with.
I wanted to create a sculpture that was fundamentally at odds with itself, as the dichotomies I saw at play in Southeast Asia were the inspiration for my vision. I also knew I wanted her to be primordial in appearance. Usually I focus on the aesthetic value of a piece: how the colors and shapes of a work interact to provoke an emotional response in its viewer. The statue of Venus would be my first work to be birthed from a concept rather than based on aesthetic vision.
I laugh when I think about how much technology I had to use to create something that looks so primitive. I used a 3D modeling program to give depth to the sculpture and play with the sizes and placements of components I had worked out in my initial sketches. Then I worked with Roboto.NYC to 3D print the model, a process that took six nerve-wracking days to complete.
3D printing is fickle and expensive. The materials used to print break easily, and the rotund shape of my work ensured that it broke several times before we successfully brought her into the world. Once Venus existed in a tangible form, I polished her, sanded her down, and treated her with a patina.
Patina is an acid that gives color and texture to bronze. I hadn’t used the treatment since turning my creative focus to abstracts, but it was a material that I was familiar with from years of working with my sculptor grandfather in his studio. I wanted Venus to have a metal-like appearance, reminiscent of the ancient Asian weapons I’d seen during my travels and referenced during her conception.
Despite her metal appearance, Venus has a soft, rounded, pregnant form. One of her arms covers her chest and the other clutches her stomach– allusions to both her erotic and maternal nature.
In my Venus, the erogenous zones– her facial chakras, the back of her head, her nipples– are actually minute statues of Buddha, kneeling as if in prayer. Larger portions of her body erupt with dozens of hands, sculpted into gestures. Some reach out towards the viewer. Others clutch each other. One particular hand holds itself out to another in an almost proposal-like way: a moment of harmony in the middle of the statue’s chaos.
The hands on her body are like fractals, growing more complex the more closely you look at her. But like the proposing hands or the arm across her belly, moments of her form are peaceful. Chaos and calmness, war and peace. Polar opposites I wanted her to convey.
My travels in Southeast Asia opened my eyes and mind to new understandings of human culture. Translating these understandings into the tangible, complicated, and somewhat disturbing sculpture of Venus taught me that equilibrium can be achieved through opposition. It also taught me about my own capabilities– and my limitations– as an artist.
There is a lot more to the Venus statue, both in concept and in structure, than I could possibly convey in a blog post or newsletter. If you’re interested in seeing her in person, let me know. I would love to host a viewing for you.
Wishing you war, peace, and everything in between.