Castaway (2023)


This shallow box has the size and dimensions of a standard hardbound book. The background of this piece is a black-and-white photo of an ocean liner grounded inland after a destructive hurricane. Three figures stand on the street in the foreground of the ship. Three windows are cut into the background photo, revealing at the top etching illustrations of Victorian-era children, and at the bottom, a color lithograph depiction of the Greek god Hercules. A mirrored piece of glass, with the mirrored side facing down, acts as a shelf located slightly above the center of the box. Resting on this shelf are four square black game tiles collaged on the front with color illustrations of sections of human lungs. Below the shelf are three glass vials resting on the bottom of the enclosure which is an illustration of varieties of primitive ferns. Each of these vials contains a base of orange-tinted sand. Stuck in the sand of each vial is a pin securing a text clipping of a numbered list of words from an English language primer. The side panels of this box are covered with clippings from the Currier & Ives print, Ladder of Fortune, which shows a crowd of people at an outdoor public gathering. A separate section of this assemblage is viewable by looking down at the top of the box. This compartment is covered with a yellow-tinted piece of glass and features a color map of the globe. Loose, in this drawer-like space, are several plastic mixed drink skewers, a small mechanical arm, and a spring. The box is covered with a dark blue wallpaper in a pink flowered pattern. The entire back panel of the box is covered with an extremely dark black-and-white photo of a woman holding a glowing egg.


In December of 2020, I’d taken the first steps with this assemblage and then shelved it for a few years until turned my attention back to it in the fall of 2023, finishing it by December. It’s not unusual for me to let an artwork idea go dormant for several years—some pieces have taken a decade to get back to actively working on them. At the time of this writing, I can think of half a dozen pieces of mine that are perpetual works-in-progress—one of which I’ve not looked at in eighteen years. When I work on a piece, the thread of thought that connects the images and objects sometimes slips from my grasp. Sometimes I can put aside a project I’m working on, and because I typically work on several pieces at once it may be an extended period before I return to an artwork. If I hadn’t taken notes or made sketches, I would have to rely on the relationship of the currently assembled parts to tell me what they are about, and sometimes those voices are faint.

With this piece, Castaway, I had a strong impression from the photo of the beached ship and I’d had that page clipped and saved in a file for several years. When I started this artwork I knew I wanted to cut windows into this photo that would contain the color lithograph of Hercules and the etchings of the girl. I also sketched out the dimensions of the box. Next came the mirrored shelf, but not what to rest on the shelf. That was the point at which it would sit waiting for the undecided elements. This took about a year. It wasn’t until I came up with the idea of vials containing tinted sand and a clipping of text on pins that I felt this piece come together. In the back of my mind, I knew that this needed something that would be a pivot point and pull the other parts together, but I also knew that I couldn’t force it and I rejected several ideas before finding the right one. With this new part, the sand-filled vials, after a year of waiting, it took only a couple of months to complete.