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TRANSITION (1977)

My first serious vault into the mind that is mine was with
the installation "Transition".
It was 1977 and I was 29 years old!
.... a step of major proportions.

After under graduate school, in 1972, with no desire for graduate studies, I went into an arts related business. It was not my first commercial art job. This time I was making, designing and selling custom (hippy) leather work. Fortunately, I was somewhat successful in the enterprise. It was primarily founded on sweat equity and good timing; in the 'John Ashcroft' portion of Missouri. From the outset I had hoped to use the leather shop as a financial base to make art; but that proved ludicrous. In my three active years of running my shop I made, what I considered 2 pieces of art. They were leather related, mixed media, semi functional art pieces; also I did a smattering of drawings. I was too busy with business!

I made the mental 'transition' of becoming a 'full time artist' at the beginning of the "Christmas Rush" of 1975. I closed my store front operation a few months into 1976 and opened a very small multi purpose home studio and shop. I hadn't much idea about what the hell I would be doing; except that I knew I must make art. For almost two years after that I floundered about and survived doing commercial art jobs, custom leather work, and occasionally selling or trading a piece of art to friends.
One friend, Dave Bilyeau, recognized my sincerity and commitment and took my situation on as a personal cause. He gave me instruction and information in the use of caste vinyl and various plastics. We had attended college together and he was using these materials in his local theme park job to create effects for thrill rides.

The installation "Transition" was a product of this life changing period and these new materials.
It evolved, as most of my large pieces do, from one broad concept image evolving into a series of images culminating in a final composition. In university I began experimenting with and conceptualizing environmental installations. I was attempting to create a total sensation: i.e. sight, sound, temperature, smell, lighting and touch. They were as realistic, or surrealist, as I could make them given my materials and constraints as a student.

With this piece I wanted to make the ultimate (youthful arrogance) personal credo about life and death; or an expression of reincarnation. Thus I began!

Central to the composition and initial in the conception of the piece was the face of death, the last earthly human transition. (I supposed)
-The chest and head of a dying old man passing from life to death. This section was made from cast vinyl, which resembles human skin, reinforced and stretched over fiber glass including glass eyes and implanted human hair! The man, mouth agape, is descending reluctantly into the vaginal opening of a cocoon like structure.
-The cocoon that held him in his final struggle was necessary to support the bust and put the figure element in a metaphorically recognizable vehicle of change. Initially, the cocoon was made from stretched latex sheets over foam rubber laminated to a fiber glass carcass. It had a certain feel!
-The life cast of my own 29 year old arm (self portrait) protruding, reaching from the lower orifice of the cocoon into the reflecting pool of life and eternal possibility. Originating from the old man; but youthfully transformed. Also cast in vinyl, the arm like the head and chest had my own hair (self portrait) implanted to add to the reality.
-The Muse faces of cast aluminum form a retention structure or doorway into the reflecting pool. The faces were originally modeled in clay from a live model. They were duplicated in series and attached one to the other around the reflecting pool.
-The reflecting pool (originally a mirror) was a cosmic field of stars and planets in a night sky. But the surface was reflective and mirrored the surrounding environment, including muted ghost images of viewers.
-A huge steal hook (recycled from an earlier sculpture) protrudes from an ambiguous sexual orifice. The organ symbolizes human birth. While the ominous hook represents a formidable connection to past life/lives. The hook suspends the whole cocoon/figure structure from the ceiling. The entire piece is approximately eleven feet six inches floor to ceiling. The fingers of the arm almost touch the surface of the reflecting pool/passageway on the floor indicating a passive resolve to begin the next existence or reality.

From the fingers to the top of the cocoon the piece was tactile and mobile. My original intent was to let the viewers touch the piece for a through experience. Kids loved it. But, the touching caused wear and tear on the installation and I had to cover the cocoon with fiber glass a few years later to insure durability.
The cast vinyl sections also require constant maintenance and have proven problematic long term.
As mentioned I had been working in leather for several years at that point. The idea of skin, hair , bone and all the materials I was using in the leather pieces influenced my work with these synthetic materials
"Transition" is visceral and was startling to the first audience that viewed the piece at the Park Central Gallery during its premiere in March of 1977, in Springfield Missouri. It was a group exhibit and other works included a quilt, decorative paintings and weavings.

Now almost three decades later with an art world that offers us a steady diet of shocking images and concepts; the installation "Transition" may not seem so out of the ordinary. But then, and there, it was an eye opening experience for the audience; causing shock, disdain, amazement, ridicule, admiration, nervousness, jokes, snickers, and it moved one woman to tears.

Strangely, "Transition" got attention locally stimulating commercial work that gave me the financial backing to leave Missouri the next October.
By that time I was thirty years old and just beginning a long series of transitions on my artist's path.

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© 2004. Frank Williams. All Rights Reserved.