“In our beginning is our end…” T. S. Elliot
What more poignant symbol of mortality? What more fleeting than that moment in which a conscious being is at once ultimately vulnerable and entirely without fear? These babies, despite the illusion of realism, are emblems of stopped time; snapshots, time bombs.
We project our experiences onto them. We attribute consciousness, which implies self-awareness, character, and memory. We experience their essential need as love, their physicality as sexuality, their vitality surpassing experience as courage.
Robert Jay Lifton, in his book The Life of The Self, proposes that the most critical task of the artist today, in the nuclear era, is to create symbols of continuance. He considers the greatest tragedy of our age to be that, with a discredited religious base and the capacity for global annihilation, our lives have become dangerously and desperately impoverished in internal conceptualizations of a future. Without such conceptions, there can be no future.
Images of babies attest to our reason to survive. They are also metaphors for artists, who perambulate with open fontanels, barefoot on the boneyards.
As a woman, infants compel me, move me, fill me with waves of feeling — conflicted feeling. Standing back, I am able to see the tragic discrepancy between the wish — hope in the future of mankind that each baby embodies– and the reality of human history. Stepping forward, I give in to the joy and awe of holding a baby in my arms.
On every level, I find a baby to be the most evocative and complex of subject matter because of the hairspring tension between the objective and subjective reactions we have to babyhood. I intend to examine the theme of infancy as the most intimate pre-verbal accountability of self. Technically, I am challenged, as there is nothing more difficult to paint well than a human being, at any age, and to make that image spring to life and command attention without easy devices, pretension or sentimentality.
Again, why babies? As adults, each of us brings a truckload of unconscious experiences and memories to any confrontation with that time in our lives. We tend to address a tiny person with tenderness and compassion, wish to bond in order to protect and facilitate that sublime goal — adulthood. These paintings take into account that as adorable and lovable as most babies are, there is no accounting for their future lives, with their misdeeds and foibles as likely as any in any full life, and that their diminishment with age and finally death is the one constant of those lucky enough to have lived beyond infancy.
True, my babies are sometimes malevolent, usually old, rarely innocent, but they are also unselfconscious, open, funny, and utterly vulnerable.
These babies are self-portraits, trips backward, images of myself in the general and the particular, still overwhelmed to find myself naked in the battlefield on the edge of a war zone. I weep for the innocence I believe I never had, for the shock of reality that made me old so soon. And finally, I laugh, for each day is as full of incipient possibility as the day I was born.
These paintings were originally exhibited at the Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles, California in 1988.
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