SchoolArts Magazine

NOV 2018

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 23 B E T H C AV E N E R V I S U A L A R T I S T A N D S C U L P T O R L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G Emotive Anthropomorphism Beth Cavener working on her In Bocca al Lupo installation, 2012. Photo by Doug Yaple. Image courtesy of the artist. B eth Cavener explores the connection between animal instincts and human emotions through exquisitely sculpted clay sculptures. Often working on a large scale, she uses a combination of traditional ceramic techniques and innovative methods to create her emotional and dramatic works. Cavener creates arresting works by her incisive attention to detail in the modeling of animals' anatomy, particularly in her sculpting of fur and muscula - ture. These surfaces are compelling to observe, even when covered in delicate painted floral patterns. She uses color sparingly to heighten the emotive impact of her work. Her highly detailed surfaces combine elements of real - ism and surrealism as the animals take on human expres- sions and behaviors, such as fear, aggression, or innocence. Her animals reflect aspects of human psychology, and Cavener often thinks of them as portraits of people. By por- traying human interactions and emotions through animals, Cavener highlights aspects of humanity that can be very difficult to discuss directly. Her anthropomorhic sculptures feel quite different from the whimsical or humorous depic - tions often seen in cartoons or comics. Somehow, when viewing the experiences of animals, we are able to more eas- ily experience empathy. For example, in everyday life many people can dismiss or ignore the plight of poor and homeless people, yet the same people are brought to tears by ASPCA advertisements featuring homeless or mistreated animals. The Question That Devours (www.followtheblackrab- bit.com/gallery/the-question-that-devours-2) depicts a wolf frozen in mid-leap, its jaws about to clamp down on a rabbit curled into a fearful ball. Instead of suggesting a scene from a nature documentary, Cavener's sculp - ture can be interpreted as a piece about powerful human "wolves" who take advantage of those who are vulnerable. The sculpture itself is a masterful use of form and space. Cavener's twisting, often contorted stances are reminis - cent of the theatrical figure sculpture of Baroque master Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680). Process Cavener's process begins with oil-based clay maquettes that are then re-created on a large scale, typically requir- ing 600 to 2000 pounds of clay. She constructs elaborate armatures out of metal piping, wooden dowels, and other materials to support the weight of the pieces as she sculpts them. Once they're sculpted, the works are cut into as many as 70 different pieces, hollowed out, and fired in a kiln when fully dry. The fired pieces are reassembled, painted, and finalized. You can find more information about this process on Cavener's website (see Resources). Cavener's education in sculpture consisted almost entirely of working from human models. She learned the language of the human form, and through diligent study of animal anatomy, she applies that knowledge in her art. She received a BFA in sculpture from Haverford College and an MFA in ceramics from Ohio State University. She currently maintains a studio in Helena, Montana. Historical Connections Animal/human combinations have a long history in art. Many ancient Egyptian gods had animal avatars, but the majority of them were depicted in painting and sculp- ture with animal heads on human bodies. In European medieval cathedrals, portal sculptures often included animal-headed humans to depict various negative human qualities, such as a donkey head to symbolize laziness. Many cultures have attributed animals with human traits as well. In the Haida First Nations culture, the raven is considered a trickster. In ancient Mexico, Mayan culture ordained a feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl as a protective crop god and adjunct to the rain god Tlaloc. The Choju Giga (Scroll of Frolicking Animals) was a scroll created in Heian period Japan (ca. 794–1185 CE), in which monkeys, frogs, and rabbits are shown acting like human beings. The scroll depicts the follies of human beings in a comical way. In sculpture, Indian artists depict Ganesa, the son of the Hindu god Siva, as a benefi- cent being, usually with a plump boy-child's body and an elephant head. In contemporary Western art, perhaps the closest in spirit to Cavener's work are the paintings of Texas artist Melissa Miller (born 1951). Her animal subjects inhabit hybrid worlds, engaged in activities with distinctly human moods and actions.

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