Thursday, August 14, 2008

Taking Up Serpents

Taking Up Serpents, Speaking In Tongues, Singing God's Praises, 2003, by Jim Shores. It's in the High Museum's permanent collection.

Some Cabbagetown people recently urged me to check out something called "Black Castle". It's a community, or rather a hippie enclave, located in Stone Mountain. I'm sure it's fun. But it got me thinking about home—an unincorporated town in northern Mississippi—and about life in the country.

That's why I'm interested in seeing Folk Fest this year. Believe it or not, I'm a little bored of the repetition here "inside the perimeter."

Shores, Penelope Anne Nickels.

As a preview, here's an email interview with sculptor Jim Shores from September, 2007, after last year's festival:
Me: You spend a great deal of time searching for materials. How many hours would you say you spend assembling parts for a sculpture versus time spent actually piecing it together? Do you work mostly during the day or do you work at night as well?

Shores: I couldn't put a time frame on the searching. A sculpture could involve an object found 5-10 years ago, combined with things found last week or yesterday. I have my own mini junkyard which I keep adding to every few days. If I'm in need of inspiration all I need to do is walk around my piles of junk and there is usually something that "speaks" to me.

Depending on the piece, a sculpture could take a few hours to make or there could be many days involved. I tend to work in the afternoons on in to the evenings. But when the creative juices are flowing or a deadline is approaching, the time of day or night becomes a non-factor - I just keep going to make it happen.
Me:You hesitate to call your serpent handlers either male or female, and your angel sculptures are also ambiguous. Is there a reason? Also, the phrase "taking up serpents" reminds me of something from Sunday School. What inspired those images?

Shores: I may personally think of one of these pieces as male or female, but I'd rather have the viewer bring their own outlook to the piece, which makes it personal for them.

The bible reference you're thinking of is from the Book of Mark, Chapter 16, verses 17 & 18. Verse 17 - And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; Verse 18 - They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

I was inspired to make my Snake Handlers in two ways. I've seen TV documentaries on the subject and read a book titled Salvation On Sand Mountain. The book offered fantastic insights from the perspective of a reporter doing research on the subject who crossed the "journalistic line" and became part of the story. I find it amazing that there are folks in this world that have such strong beliefs and faith. So strong that they will drink poison and handle poisonous snakes, believing that their faith in God will protect them.
Me: You've described yourself as a self-taught artist. To your credit, you've developed some skill working with steel. Have you ever worked with metal professionally, or could you say that you have gained some of your skills "on the job?"

Shores: Thank you, Jeremy. No I had never worked with metal professionally, until my hobby of making things out of junk became my profession. My skills in this area are still limited. I don't use torches or plasma cutters and no bending or hammering machines. Most of my work is held together with nuts and bolts. Some pieces are riveted, wired or use epoxy putty.

My tools consist of hand tools and power tools like - drills, circular saws. jig saws. grinders and dremel tools. I did teach myself how to weld, which I employ occasionally. From the assembly aspect, so much of what I create, anybody could do. Fortunately for me I have an artistic sensibility that lets me see potential, where other's see an object that's outlived it's intended purpose or they don't see what that object could become.
Shores, Garden Angel.
Me: You have a very "down to earth" presence about you. Is there anything specific about your work or your experience as an artist that you find especially humbling?

Shores: The artwork seems to come naturally to me and I feel blessed to have whatever limited ability I do have in this area. What I find humbling is when others appreciate it. I don't know if I'll ever shake the thoughts I had from 20 years ago when friends and acquaintances saw my work and suggested I show it to art galleries. I would appreciate their comments but think it's just a bunch of junk I've put together, nobody in the "art world" is going to be interested in this. Eventually I stepped out to see if there was interest and to my surprise there was. For the last 11 years I've been working full-time as an artist. I find it to be a joy and a privilege to make a living at something I love doing.
You can go to Folk Fest on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.


K9 said...

jeremy it was good to meet you at folk fest. i gave you a shout out on my blog.

that down to earth presence you found in shores is what i find attractive; its artists that dont treat everything they make as all that precious, it seems to be a more journeyman approach..doing a craft like any other. and you dont have to be some hipster scholar to gaze upon it either. grrrrrrherhahaha.

Jeremy Abernathy said...

Absolutely, and thanks for the mention and pic of me on your blog!

On "hipster scholars": Although I don't consider myself very hip, I do like to bring something scholarly to the table whenever I can.

Like I tried to explain to you at the festival, I'm not an elitist, but I like want elevate the discussion above the democratic chaos of "the everyday." I think the art deserves that.

K9 said...

grrrherhahaha. i was talking about me not being a hipster scholar!