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Jean-Michel Basquiat Hands An excerpt and collaboration from a life work “Artists’ Hands Grid Continuum,” Copyright Rena Small 1985
Description: This piece is a silver gelatin handmade photographic print (aslo known as black and white). Art making has always been a stimulating learning cultural experience for me. Over a period of decades I work on one idea in a series, as a part of the raw material of the art motivated by an inner curiosity based in self-portraiture. Although born an artist I was not raised by fellow parent artists and struggled to comprehend who I was and why did I feel different and had this extraordinary talent in drawing faces at age 10. Why photograph artists’ hands? We are taught to look at the face first and then reach out for a hand to shake in friendship. Although not the focus of standard portraiture human beings do not prejudge hands and hands generally don’t worry about how they are appearing to others. Hands point toward accomplishment. Begun in 1984 as a tribute to my fellow “Artists’ Hands” classical silver gelatin commonly known as black and white photographs, is a deeper expression of self-portraiture by photographing a community I felt most akin to. Each photography session strengthens my artistic identity and placement in contemporary living art history. The feelings of joint admiration, understanding and a shared belief system affirm our endeavor. The portrait is a document; response and collaboration of the moment and a result of years of practice in performance art self-portraiture of my bare back or face, somehow concealed or deadpan towards the audience. Similar to the back, the hands are a body part that is carry behaviors not identified by speech or facial clues. Both body parts simply express whatever they are privately feeling. The hands are naked; the back is covered as a social rule. We clap our hands in unison to show appreciation. We turn out back when we say good-bye, or in anger. The messages are clear and contradictory. During the late 1960’s I was a flower child when it was a common idea among peers that you could tell a lot about a person by looking into their eyes. “Love Ins” at Griffith Park in Hollywood attracted large groups of young people together to listen to The Iron Butterfly, push love, not war, while everyone fearlessly listened, played and loved each other. There was no paranoia. Now it is the year 2002 and the world has changed taking a dark turn on September 11, 2001 when freedom was definitively attacked by the hands of evil. Thoughts have shifted from looking good to staying alive and safe perhaps more now. Strangers are everywhere and may use their hands to hurt others. People do not know who anyone is anymore. We have to watch hands more carefully and hold onto what we hold dear each waking moment, our freedoms to learn, create and feel as we as individuals see fit for our communities. The idealistic artist will continue to want to help make the world a better and peaceful place to live. As a child I watched the movie “The Beast With Five Fingers” starring Peter Lorre. The film scared me out of my wits. For several years after I needed my mother to check under my bed to be sure that the hand was not waiting to crawl up to the surface and reach out to strangle me! Here I am more than thirty years older and unafraid of hands, embracing their very essence, concentrating on artists’ hands as a major part of my artistic fascination. Life is full of opposite expectations and strange coincidences. Considering the possible impact and engagement the art object can have on its’ audience is paramount to my process. “Artists’ Hands” shakes hands with all audiences by using a familiar idea, body part without their usual partner, the face, to share an emotional relationship between the subject, audience and artist with surprising results. -Rena Small
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