For the past 12 years I have taught drawing and art history at The College of Idaho. As an artist I have made ceramic sculpture, drawings and paintings (predominantly in oil-stick). Two-dimensional work has been my focus for the last 7 years.
I tend to work in series, and the themes that have preoccupied me in recent years have included variations on the Great Seal of Idaho, the Heavy Dancers (see statement below) and Sleepers. All tend to allude satirically, but indirectly, to current socio-political issues.
The following Statement accompanied a recent showing of my work at the Stewart Gallery in Boise:
Heavy Dancers, Searchers & Sleepers
In the spring of 2003 my son Henry took wrestling lessons. Having nothing to do other than avoid the occasional flailing knot of bodies, I sketched. Wrestlers use a set of standard poses, and I enjoyed drawing the burly coach as he demonstrated these. I thought they might come in handy, and they did.
In the same sketchbook there were earlier studies I had done when we took Henry on that secular hajj essential to the social acceptability of every young American…the trip to Disneyland. I had never been, and I was struck and amused by the variety of idiosyncratic hats, most of them sporting large mouse ears, that it seemed vital to wear to get the full “Disney Experience.”
During the build-up to the current Gulf conflict, I found myself drawn increasingly to the wrestling images, and I began drawing chunky, blundering titans who were bent on confronting some as yet invisible enemy lurking in the landscape. I also looked with renewed interest at Goya’s work, especially his Colossus (1808-12), painted during the Napoleonic occupation of Spain. I experimented with giving my colossi Disney hats, and then for reasons I don’t quite understand, I gave them briefcases and umbrellas to wield, and covered their heads with cardboard boxes or fire buckets. The blunt forms of the latter just felt more in tune with the subject.
And what was this subject? A note in my sketchbook suggests as a tentative title, Annals of U.S. Diplomacy. Another considers Ubu in Mesopotamia, a reference to Alfred Jarry’s extraordinary satirical play of 1895 on botched imperial conquest. In the end I opted for The Heavy Dancers, a title I borrowed from a book by British historian E.P. Thompson that gives an account of his activities on behalf of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I preferred its more universal sense. As Yeats put it in Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen:
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.
The following summer I took the theme further to include figures scanning arid landscapes with binoculars, while others disputed obscurely with each other as the occasional amputee pegged along in the background. I thought of these figures as searchers—not seekers, a slightly archaic sounding word that seems always to imply a spiritual quest—but searchers in the sense of to hunt for lost car keys, or for a puppet state one has mislaid.
Most recently, it seems my Dancers and Searchers have gotten tired. They have found nothing in any of the boxes and would rather sleep. They are like the guards around the tomb from which Jesus rose, but a tomb that never contained anything in the first place. Or if it did, it was whisked away from under their noses.
Garth Claassen November, 2005 contact
Sleepers, #1 (oilstick on Masonite) 2005
Heavy Dancers 1 (oil stick on Masonite) 2004-5
Heavy Dancers (map Reader) (oil stick on Masonite)
Submitted on Sunday, May 07, 2006
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