Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sammy Harkham's Wedding Night

Sammy Harkham’s Wedding Night (meticulously screenprinted by Jordan Crane) might seem, at first glance, to be an exercise in ghoulish violence - but the piece quickly flourishes with enticing sparks once its surface is scraped.

Living in it, from my point of view, are ideas and symbolic imagery that address the underlying rapture and violence inherent in a ritual that proceeds to kill the individual and embrace the unity of the new bond. Mythology expert Joseph Campbell puts it as “In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person, you are sacrificing yourself to the relationship”.

The alchemical reference of (virginal) blood, urine (semen?), and sweat recalls ritualistic elements of Magik, Aleister Crowley and old Voodoo folk tales that certainly carry with them a heavy feeling of anxiety, but also seem to celebrate and recognize the need for a proper physical jolt to mark the ritual with an effective psychological shift.

One of the things that stands out to me about Wedding Night is having assembled certain visual references that are found in your other work … the anchor tattoo (from Poor Sailor) bandaged foot (Typewriter) how the general position of the two figures is reminiscent of how the Golem has his hand over the young boy’s face before he kills him (Crickets) creating a sort of “marriage” of elements from other projects. From what I understand, this image was taken from a painting you had done for an exhibition?

Harkham: It was a drawing that grew organically for a show at the Yerba Buena Art Museum with the theme of Werewolves. I started the drawing with the werewolf and nothing else. I had the hand out stretched in a typical monster lurch and was unsure where he was or doing. As I kept drawing I drew a female face under the hand and it started to make sense, it clicked … especially when the tongue part emerged.

As I worked on the drawing over the next couple days each element was clearly defined in my mind … I am not a fine artist, and rarely do stand alone pieces of art, but this was one of those rare drawings that went beyond being a nice drawing, and had a lot of content - at least to me. The anchor tattoo, the rings, the blood, the knife, the placement of her fingers, etc. None of these elements are just there to look good.

It was drawn pretty soon after I got married, and it touches on a lot of things about love and lust and commitment I was just discovering (the anchor tattoo is as clear symbol of her commitment to the endurance of love that I could think of) The whole idea that’s interesting about men turning into animals is the idea of the inner self, the true-self emerging outward … I could go on and be more specific, but I rather viewers took from it what they will without my concrete interpretations.

It’s an uncomfortable piece because of its personal nature to me, and I am aware that it can be read in a sexist, violent way, but to me it is romantic and hopeful above all else.

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