In the autumn of 2002 I was confronting the reality of ending a twenty-year marriage, reconciling this with my two young children and dealing with the resulting deep depression that had been relentless for over a year.
An image of what I was feeling came to me one day and I sketched it onto a scrap of paper. The drawing was compelling enough that I decided to make a rough clay maquette of the idea. As I was shaping the clay I literally felt the sadness and weight that I’d been carrying for so long move down my arms, through my hands, out my finger-tips and into the clay. My entire sense of being shifted in about an hour as I made this simple study.
There was no question then that I needed to make this image in stone, both for my own survival as well as to share this metamorphosis with other people who’ve encountered profound sadness. I made another, small, more detailed maquette and then moved into the stone which I completed in the spring of 2003.
The composition of the piece is fairly simple. My intention is for it to be viewed by walking around the piece
counter-clockwise, starting at the left side and moving slowly all the way until you reach the front. At the beginning, the image portrayed is one of strength and calm and only the inclination of the head would give an attentive person the suggestion of sadness. But that posture could also be seen as concentration or meditation. As you move you see a strong body rooted in a rough stone block. This speaks to the culturally taught image of
composure that many of us project regardless of what we are actually experiencing or how we are truly feeling. At the right shoulder you see the left hand coming through the hair and resting there, giving comfort. Moving to the right side you, again, see a very strong arm which is twined with the figure’s long hair. At this point you are expecting to encounter the face and anticipated personality of the figure but what you confront are profound voids where the face and belly should be. Here the stone is cut very deeply, almost to the skin at the back. The right hand tightly grips the left arm just below where the face would be. This image of evisceration is exactly how I felt until I finished that first clay maquette.
I brought “Grief” to a large, outdoor sculpture show in Loveland Colorado in the summer of 2003 and was amazed and re-affirmed by the reaction people had to this piece. During the course of the show, a number of both men and women stood there looking and openly weeping. Several of them told me their stories and how this work spoke to them. I realized that because of the long hair I carved as well as the lack of a face to identify, some people took this to be female while others recognized it as male. I actually modeled the figure on myself, but the hair is considerably longer than mine. I realized that because of this dual gender identity anyone could bring their own story to rest inside the piece.
I’ve had the great fortune to get to know the painter Sam Scott, who once told me about the courage it takes to not only face your terror and sadness, but to embrace it and then discover that the other side of what you’ve been so afraid of is actually love, beauty and peace. He used his hand, held up like a shield , knuckles out and then slowly rotated it to the palm to illustrate what he was saying. When Sam told me this after seeing this piece in an
early stage of carving, it was like a benediction for me and the work.
The knowledge which comes from this experience
is nothing less than the antipode of grief and the source of healing.