CCA+D: Allyn Massey: Lament
Since Paleolithic times, artists have explored human nature. Early homosapiens wanting to express their understanding, their place, in the limitless ‘out there,’ chose cave walls as an enduring backdrop for drawing the animals and places familiar to them. Protected from the elements and largely unchanged, cave wall illustrations provide contemporary insight on single moments and events that occurred thousands of years ago. This unspoken need for permanence is an important commonality through the centuries for artists. The Egyptians deep in their tombs, the ancient people at Scara Brae huddled underground by the sea. Thirty-thousand years later, do we carry those ritual spaces with us? Is there a way to honor our humble place in the world by recognizing the primal pull that still exists through our basic sensory responses? In this work, the lament is for the distance I feel from those caves, the distance from that primal connection to our breath and sweet sense of dark.
I use materials for their emotional weight as well as their formal properties. Glass is clear and cold: it lends a high-pitched sound to water, and suggests the clinical. Rubber is warm and pliable, with a weight we can sense. It acts as a metaphorical ground, insulating the work from the moment when the dream is broken, when the art touches the real world. Most materials have emotional suggestions for me: if our eyes were replaced with cat whiskers, how scared would we be, how comforted; and how would our sense of space change?
The round form occurs repeatedly in my work. With no corners to grab, it can escape situations, be directionless and non-aggressive, as in the pinky balls floating in the tanks. They have innocence, an emotional layer of childhood play for me. In the drawings, the round form is burrowing, turbulent, seed-like. They are in free-fall: threatening, distorted by suggested force and speed. The trees in the distance are the elders: they remain steadfast, witnesses tied to the fate of these seeds. I want the drawings to deny their own illusions and remain objects, insisting on their own reality through their physical presence. They are hung with space behind them, painted front and back, light enough and detached enough to react to the flow of air and people.
These large drawings were generated after seeing a rabbit frozen in the headlights of my truck, in an area that had been briar and woods but was cleared, paved and developed in the last year. I place myself in the rabbit’s feet and imagine myself with no currency to buy my way out; no map to lead me to a new location; my food source gone; trying to think my way out of the situation. I am amazed at what we assume animals are capable of. The impossibility of adaptation in such circumstances saddens me and takes me back to those early humans in caves, making marks and drawing images trying to make sense of their world.
- Allyn Massey
Allyn Massey is a 1986 Corcoran College of Art +Design BFA Fine Art graduate. Massey taught as an adjunct for the Corcoran from 1992-1997. She now works and lives in Baltimore where she is chair of the Art and Art History Department at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.