Saturday, January 29, 2005

Can one create a tsunami as sculpture?

Of course not. Any fool knows that. But Dorian didn't, fortunately. Her mental deficits do not allow her the power of reason or judgement. It's in the arts that such deficits may become assets instead of handicaps. There are lots of "cannot do" areas in her life, but not within the walls of NIAD, where with clay, paint, glue, fabric, etc., all things are possible. The rules that govern so much of the rest of the world stop at the front door, and dream life becomes easily accessible, and a group of great teachers stand ready to help artists to see the possibilities in any chosen medium. It's a truly magical place.

We weren't prepared for the power of the exhibit on Thursday evening. Dorrie's wood sculpture was fantastic! Have no way to describe it except to say that it probably measured about 40 inches in length and stood perhaps 18-20 inches high and was composed of brightly-painted small bits of wood shaped into indescribable abstract suggestions of chairs and tables and other artifacts of life. There were no people (presumably post-wave). One end consisted of a single sheet of down-sloping wood painted in blues and greens and stopped by a wall she'd created to hold back the "water". She explained that the higher elevations were to give people a place to be where the waves wouldn't get them. It was all there. It was chaotic in feeling in almost florescent oranges, reds, yellows, and blues with shapes going in every direction as if wave-tossed. It was a tremendous work, and probably all inspired from the endless repetitious news coverage of the historic tragedy. It was a stunning piece of work that surprised everyone who stopped to visit her exhibit.

I felt so grateful that an imaginative instructor had chosen to not dissuade her from tackling something so abstract and impossible to create as her first attempt at sculpture. I can just imagine Dorrie saying, "I'm going to make a tsunami," and a less wise teacher saying, "no, dear. We should first try making something more familiar -- maybe a snake or an ashtray, or something ...". Instead this young woman said, "sure, go for it!" And she did. There's a message here about the danger of lowered expectations, a problem that's all too common these days.

There's that quality that Dorian enjoys that I often envy. Like the bumble bee who is not aero-dynamic and doesn't know that it can't fly -- does it anyway. Dorian has no way to know that one simply cannot capture the power of a tsunami in bits of wood and glue, so has the freedom to "soar" artistically.

There was more magic in the faces of the guests at the reception who stared with wonder as they viewed her creation. Maybe she freed us all just a bit, at least enough to get us through the weekend, and another round of horrors from the war zones.

Her Tsunami will be featured in NIAD's summer show in June, and she's now officially assuming the title of "Artist."

Makes me wonder how one measures talent and ability as expressed by people like Dorian Reid and her 22 year-old friend, Ingrid, who suffers from cerebral palsy and paints wonderful landscapes from her wheel chair -- holding her paint brush between her teeth ... .

And, no, the work at the S.F. MOMA was not better, only different.

There are more dimensions to the arts than many of us can perceive, I think.

Photo: Dorian Leon Reid, Artist studying at NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities) in Richmond, California.

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