Thursday, September 10, 2009
Statue by Claudia Carlson, 1971
My parents are undertaking the selling of their house and to do this properly they are clearing out the attic, garage, and other corners of clutter. Family has descended to help them sort and haul and shred... I'm photographing and scanning old photos and the now musty drawings and paintings of the ancestors. My family was full of artists, both Sunday painters and professionals. The uncles, grandparents and my father's efforts are an astounding assortment of doodles, sketches, studies, draftsmanship and total whimsy. It is no wonder us kids were so encouraged to create.
My sister Christina spent a week pulling things from the attic and arranging them in the garage. She wore a face mask to protect her lungs from the attic dust and mildew from the now demolished shed. And out of the dust, she unearthed a statue I had made when I was 15.
"Look," she said, "here is the original and the knock-off." And yes, my statue that I haven't seen in 35 years, was sitting on a board just outside the garage. It was a jolt, a double-take. I'd forgotten so much about it. The dress had been black, she'd worn a crown, I'd left her flesh dead white...
A long time ago I fell in love with clay and my art teachers indulged me by letting me work during free periods or after school. I'd rolled and squooshed and carved this wonderfully malleable stuff and I was possessed by the need to turn it into a snarky yet elegant expression of my pissed-off attitude. I was a shy sarcastic skinny kid who looked 12 at 15. The next year I made a big fat American nuclear family--I wanted to savage the suburban life. I made cartoons in three dimensions. And if I hadn't been so stubborn and insecure, the sculpting would have netted me a scholarship into art school...I was offered one...but maybe in my heart I knew I was going to be an English/art history major and a conservatory wasn't what I needed.
But back to the evil queen. I remember her being much bigger. This was only 10 inches tall. And at 15 I considered it far better in quality than I can see now... But also, I'd forgotten how much attitude I'd put into it. I'd created a mix of Jadis (winter witch queen from Narnia), Coco Channel, and Sargent's Madame X. Her head was abstracted, snake-like, and the hands were my own, big with long fingers.
And next to it, stood a smaller blond version my other sister had made, setting off a huge intellectual property screaming match. Just one of many.
"You know, it's pretty good," I said, turning it in my hands.
"Yes, really, it is," replied Christina, putting my old work in a box for me to take away with some other, less successful efforts (including an odd pink elephant that looks like it has constipation).
All these years later, the terrible rage I'd felt at someone copying my idea, poof, gone... why couldn't I just have been flattered at 15? Ah sisters, it takes us so long to grow up.