The generations in my family are yawning and gaping. I am a product of a faded Victorian culture and have keenly felt this connection spanning back into the Victorian era through the finger bowls, old trunks filled with rotting dresses of heavy silk and accoutrements and Granny’s endless stories. But untimely death has also affected me which makes so much of my work poignant, reconciling. This formative viewpoint and the city cemeteries I saw as a child (one of which was the shortcut to our bakery) are entwined in my mind with my experiences, filtered through the equally faded industrial city of Cleveland, Ohio—the rust belt that I experienced at the tail end of the 1960s counterculture moving into the punk aesthetic of the late 1970s and onward. This accounts for the sardonic, humorous and provocative quality seen in some of my works. I pursue both the irreverent and the poignant, letting them sit side by side. All the work is connected though, because in both I am trying to face some difficulty in life, head on.
I am a collector, a categorizer, and a seeker of the extraordinary, all of which create the strata in my work which includes sculpture, drawing and handmade artists books. Singular industries such as a brick factory, various sanitary-ware manufacturers, refractory companies (silicon carbide), monument plaque companies and a stencil press are appealing to me for their industrial setting where I can push myself to work the hardest, rise to the occasion and create something of great satisfaction. The Dedouch Monument Plaque Company, for example, came directly from my long investigation of cemeteries (a high school picture has me on the family tombstone!). Industrial settings, like Knust printing press in the Netherlands, also allow the creation of multiples of objects or books that can be disseminated to my peers more freely than sculpture which might span two years in the making process.
My sculptural works are funerary-based. They represent a categorizing and re-organizing of thirty years of cemetery wanderings. They could be utilized as monuments or grave markers but they are works that merely reference death and our need to live on in some way. The idea of the impermanence of permanence intrigues me. I choose materials like enamel, refractory, bronze, steel, leaded glass or mosaic, which suggest a futile longevity. They are the traditional materials of memorials. For me the pieces should also require some visual effort to divine their nature; they accumulate meaning through time. And lastly, several of these sculptures are about the death or absence of children. If we “live on” through our children then perhaps my own impermanence is guaranteed, as I have none.
© 2020 Mary Jo Bole