The Roman historian Pliny the Elder writes that a potter in ancient Greece was the first to invent the art of modeling portraits out of clay. As the story goes, the potter’s daughter was in love with a young man who was about to leave on a long journey. On their last night together, to keep some part of him with her, she traced a line around his shadow on the wall, where it was cast by the light of their lamp. Upon seeing this, the potter filled the outline with clay, pressing it on to the wall, and then fired it with his pots, creating the first portrait in relief, and transforming the image of his daughter’s now distant lover into something she could hold with her while he was gone at sea.
If they ever existed at all, the potter and his daughter, and her sea-faring boy are all gone, as is their city, and their culture and country. The portrait itself was destroyed during the sack of Corinth, according to Pliny, who himself vanished from history in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. The story has survived, though only just barely. What remains, if anything, is one young girl’s longing and desire.
None of us has ever met her. She may have never even been real, but her yearning is real, the urge to take what’s dear to us, what’s beautiful, what’s splendid and humbling and intimate, and keep it close to us always. To find a way, despite a world which will take everything away from us in time, to hold on. To find a way to make the moment last longer– that ache and hunger is real. That has survived, because we can recognize it in ourselves.
We want to hold on, to each other, to hold onto images, and through them, if only for a moment, to relive times now lost to us, be close to people now gone, and to escape to worlds closer to the desires of our bodies and our hearts. To keep the things close to us that time and society would deny us.
My parents met on a camping trip in the early 70s. My mom saw my dad and his friends across a parking lot and whispered to her girlfriend “I get the one with the big eyes.” She got his big eyes, and then, a few years later, so did I.
I was born Downriver, the south, industrial land of islands and factories just outside Detroit, Michigan, and grew up across the state, in a house next to a river, near Kalamazoo. I began drawing naked people all the time from the time I was 3 or 4 years old, and never stopped. I don’t know why.
I just liked bodies.
I liked how they looked. I liked the people inside them, their weirdness, their individuality, their personhood expressed in the flesh. As I got older, I became obsessed with understanding them and making them as perfectly as I could. I loved their structure, their function, and the subtle, indescribable elements that made them seem not just perfect, but animate, responsive, filled with desire and identity and life.
When I was fourteen, I entered the adult program at the Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts museum school so that I could study life drawing and figure sculpture with live nude models. It took me a week to get up the nerve to ask my mom to try to get me in. Later, I got my BFA from the University of Michigan in sculpture and drawing.
After college I didn’t work for a long time. I ran a business painting and fixing up houses for a few years, and started to become a fairly successful carpenter. I’m not a carpenter, so in 2000, I left my life behind, and moved to a little stone house in the middle of a field of sunflowers in Western France to study and work as a teaching assistant at a sculpture academy in the Loire Valley. I met a girl nearby, and spent the next 3 years living between Michigan and her apartment in the Parisian ghetto. The girl and I moved to the US and got married, then got divorced a few years later. It was sad, but things like that happen. We can’t hold onto everything.
I joined the faculty of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, a museum school with about 800 students, as the anatomy instructor and was the sculpture department head there for 4 years. I currently run a teaching studio in Kalamazoo where I work on commissions as well as my own work, and take on apprentices in figurative art and sculpture.