Public Candy- SF Heart
I just finished a design for one of those public projects that various cities around the world have taken up along the lines of the now famous Cows on Parade of Chicago. Here in San Francisco, it is of course Hearts.
Ever since I saw the Cows on Parade in Chicago I wanted to do one of these- I mean who doesn’t want to saw a life sized fiberglass cow sculpture into parts, paint it and stick it on a building? I was invited to do a 6 foot long, 5 foot high Edwardian ladies boot for Haverille, but the timing didn’t work out. A shame- just driving down the Mass Pike with a shoe that size has a certain appeal. Still, I wasn’t quite satisfied that that design fit into my actual Art. With that in mind I made sure my Heart design would fit.
It’s hard to make something like this actual Art-art. You’re starting from something not your own, and something with a huge potential to be cheesy, commercial, generic and cliche. Still- it’s like candy for artists- even if it were any or all of these things, it’s a bit irresistible to take one of these things and transform it and put it into public space. In the case of the Hearts, it also benefits the SF General Hospital. What’s not to love?
The temptation is to take one and push it as far as you can while still being technically within the limitations of the project. I think of cracking the thing open, adding solar panels, leds, clockwork… and yet while all of that is fun for the sake of it, it isn’t really my art as such- more my newest hobbies and fancies coming out in public. That’s pure candy. Maybe one day those things will come into my Art, but at the moment it would be some sort of impersonation, or purely whimsical, which is usually no longer enough for me. I have been tempted to make art about impersonating other artists, other styles, but again, that hasn’t properly come to fruit- the thoughts aren’t mature.
These days I want my art to be visually interesting to just about anyone. It doesn’t have to be appealing, but it should be interesting on the eyes. I like it to conjure stream-of-consciousness thought- to be flypaper for free association. That said I ask a lot of people what their associations are these days, and I factor that in. These days my work always has to have layers of meaning and multiple facets for me to be satisfied.
So I have a very simple idea for a Heart that feels like it belongs amongst my recent and incoming work. It is participatory, and iconic. I even indulged in some realistic painting. With any luck some sponsor who wants to give money to the hospital will like it enough to sponsor it.
It is often tricky to walk the line between iconic and cliche. In this case it doesn’t help that you’re starting with a giant heart. You almost have to embrace a big of cliche and then get it to transcend in the execution. Cliches happen because they are so true and human that everyone is creating and re-creating them all the time, throughout time. So somewhere in there is something deeply human, and that’s something worth paying attention to. What makes them flat is insincerity. What makes them tacky and trite is poor delivery. It’s a tough line to walk. On a random note Janine Antoni is not the only contemporary artist who tightrope walks for a hobby. It’s amazing how certain skills (like balance) bridge the gap between literal and figurative.
I like my design. It isn’t just an illustration on a heart for a fundraiser, it’s actually part of my Art. With any luck one of the Hospital sponsors will like my design too and I’ll have the opportunity to bring it into a public space.
I am circling in on on my thoughts about common humanity, icons, cliches, and what makes things both personal and universal. But more on that another time.