POTATO IN MY RUSSIAN WORK
Early on in my Russian experience
I sensed a feeling of largess among many of the Russians I met.
No one was quite sure of the possibilities and there tended be a
cumulative sigh when anyone talked about the positive aspects of
the on going transition taking place in the early 90’s. I think
universally, there was a built in callousness toward disappointment!
If you don’t expect much and if you don’t get much you shouldn’t
be disappointed or feel betrayed. Further more if you not expecting
much ‘any’ reward for effort can be satisfactory even if it’s relatively
insignificant. I thought the ‘gold’ for the average person in Russia
could easily be symbolized by the potato! In the United States the
metaphor could be the hamburger. Think low, stay low, don’t rock
the boat, and don’t complain. Things could be worse and some days
The potato seemed right.
DAY (1995) was the first large piece in the
group of works utilizing the image of the potato. It was an imaginary
monument representing the illusion of a holiday for the working
class. The initial image was a large pile of potatoes cast in bronze
which sat without resolution for some months in my studio. Ultimately
the base became a surreal serving or dining table for the duly rewarded
Potato Day hero.
Around the base of the table top above the unstable
spindly legs (Russian Society) is a collage of repeated Xeroxed
copies of the figures from Ilya Repin’s painting “The Borlacks on
the Volga”. The copies were then glued to aluminum. Repin’s painting
had become one of my favorites by a nineteenth century Russian artist.
The theme, of this painting, portrayed exploited Russian laborers.
It was a very direct and poignant social commentary for the time.
The Borlack were Russian indentured servants, virtual slaves, that
only received there emancipation late in the eighteen hundreds.
Even after African Americans were set free in 1863 during the American
EATER #1 (1996) expresses a willingness to accept
the lowly potato as sustenance and reward. Simultaneously the figure’s
head is sinking into the table that acts as pedestal and support.
The legs of the table once again unstable in appearance are made
of four linier stacks of cast bronze potatoes. The piece is signed
quite obviously on the fragment of a potato being bitten off and
chewed up by our “Eater”. It once again has an element of self portraiture
in its implication although the sculpted head is not representational.
You may refer to my “Guilt Series” work of the late 1970’s and early
1980’s for further inference of a similar personal metaphor.
GROWTH (1997) brings an element of positive
possibilities into the series of potato pieces. We know that all
that is new is not good; nor is all that is old good. But new offers
hope, were as old ‘is what it is’ and can not deviate from the affects
it’s had. New Growth may be the beginning of improvements; hope
in nature is frequently symbolized by spring which follows the sleep
of winter and is the predecessor of summer’s harvest.
Note the handle on the shovel
which is designed with caution symbols and colors of all sorts.
The handle further draws attention to itself in its exaggerated
length (tempting us to grasp it). It’s saying, “be careful of what
I might do!” In its allure precaution should be considered before
EATER #2 (1997) is the crazy middle child. It
is the same head and hand consuming the potato but amidst a variety
of “new growth” possibilities. Color adds to the intensity as do
the twisting table legs. Nothing here gives a sense of security!
In my mind I find the piece entertaining and a break with the somber
quality of No.1.
EATER #3 (1998) is the finale in the Potato
Eater Series and in so being is designed to look like a grave marker
or monument (conclusion). The ceramic images on the walls of the
piece are done in the fashion of portraits of the dead frequently
seen on grave markers in Russia and around the world. In this case
I used copies of the heads of the four figures in Vincent Van Gogh’s
early painting titled, coincidentally, “The Potato Eaters”. It came
to me at some point that Van Gogh’s painting paralleled my sculpture
series thematically and had the same name. Maybe it was some subconscious
influence! I have always liked that painting and its Barbizon period
theme, and the earthiness and primitive caricature quality of the
figures. Certainly it was not an intentional influence! But the
ceramic disks add something timeless to my sculpture, and offer
a tribute to the master. And I think the inclusion of these images
© Frank Williams. All Rights