According to the medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the chief characteristics of a beautiful thing is “integritas” – wholeness. By this logic, one of the surest ways to create something ugly on the physical level would be to create something that is deficient in its parts. This seems true especially with the human body – a structure that we are used to seeing full and complete from head to toe. If portions are subtracted, components isolated or rearranged, the “wholeness” is disturbed. The structure immediately becomes shocking, often unbearable.
The British painter Francis Bacon (1909–1992) was perhaps the first artist to radically and violently agitate the integrity of the human body. In his 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, he depicted three pieces of sculpture made of human material. There were no faces, just screaming mouths within masses of flesh against a dark orange background (interpretations, of course, are numerous). Of this grotesque vision, art critic John Russell (1919–2008) observed in 1971: “There was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one…can confuse the two.”
What Bacon explored on flat surfaces, Andrew Etheridge – a Durham, North Carolina-based artist – has been working out in proper three-dimensional models. In his new series, Andrew re-imagines the body as a new creative form by morphing its individual sensory parts. Each piece is made by deconstructing parts of the human anatomy and meticulously reconstructing these parts into a type of self-examination. Eyes are embedded in feet, ears are set at the end of wrists, legs emerge from heads, lips are found somewhere below the knees. The sculptures collectively are an assault on the senses.
It is indeed Andrew’s intention to create a particularly uncomfortable experience, one that he believes will ultimately lead to a positive effect. “This playful repulsion set in a sterile environment causes the viewer to become increasingly more aware of his or her own body,” he says. You won’t take your physicality for granted.
Why this fascination with the body? The artist explains: “As a child, I had a condition that kept me in and out of hospitals, this coupled with my mother being a nurse began my fascination with the medical world. The industrial/sterile environment found in healthcare facilities mixed with the feeling of observation and intrusion crept its way into my work. After leaving grad school I wanted to pursue my interest in the body as inspiration. Little did I know how much influence this decision would have on both my art and my job.”
“I fell in love with the field of anaplastology,” he continues, “and am incredibly humbled by the people I serve. My work as a clinical anaplatologist most definitely influences my art, manifesting itself in how we see ourselves, how we perceive beauty, how we feel and about people who are different, and how we psychologically digest that. Vice-versa being an artist, I believe, helps me problem solve in a creative way while providing the patient with a passionately created custom prosthesis.”
Andrew Etheridge obtained his BA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2011.
Images used with permission.