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September 11: Artis Lane
Artis Lane, Artist and Sculptor
Age: 81 Born in: Canada Education: Cranbrooke Art Academy and UCLA
Portraits She's Painted: Jaqueline Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and President Reagan After three years of art college in Toronto, Canada, Artis Shreve Lane trained at Cranbrooke Art Academy and UCLA. Lane was born with and mastered such technical virtuosity that duplicating the surface likeness of the person, place or thing was not the challenge, this was a given. The bigger challenge was to create art that could symbolize and communicate certain spiritual truths that have guided Lane's life and creative endeavors for most of her adult years. In the artist's words, "There is just one Truth, one Mind, one God and man is a reflection and an expression of that highest Idea."
This line of creativity led Lane to her conception of "generic" man/woman. These were female and male nudes worked beautifully, distorted gracefully so as to eliminate all references to real time, place, race, history and age. These svelte and hairless, bronze figures received titles like "First Man" or "Woman" to denote the moment when, as Michelangelo stated many times, "The divine archetype took momentary shape in the mortal coil." These early works were widely received and exhibited throughout the U.S. and Europe beginning in the late 1980s; they continue to be shown and actively collected today.
The real epiphany for the artist came with her piece aptly called "Breakthrough." While at the foundry waiting to oversee the completion of work, Lane saw a piece in mid-process. After the bronze is poured and set, the outer ceramic shell, which holds the wax mold in place, must be removed to reveal the finished bronze within. What Lane saw was a female head with parts of the glistening bronze peering out from behind hunks of chalky, ceramic shell. To Lane, this was the exact visual metaphor for the process by which we move out of the tangible and the physical toward the perfect, spiritual Idea itself.
Lane was the first artist to understand and utilize the expressive and symbolic potential of leaving the stages of the bronzing process on the finished piece. "That is what makes the process part of divine creation, it is almost as if this fragmenting process is designing itself. Of course I make artistic decisions at every turn, deciding what to leave."
In order to really project the full visual and metaphysical symbolism Lane intends for these so-called "emerging" figures, to work in pairs, and bronze heads as Dialogue Series. First the emerging piece is shown with random fragments of its ceramic shell intact, looking as if it were waiting to break through, to be born or to shed its false self. This "emerging" version is shown alongside the very pristine finished bronze of the same figure rendered in stark, smooth, black patina to suggest a final evolution from the material realm into the transparent realm of perfected thought.
From the early prominence in the 1960s as a portrait artist depicting dignitaries like Jaqueline Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Gordon Getty, President Reagan, Lane moved in the 1970s to social issue works, including "Tear on the Face of America," her civil rights statement, or "The Beginning," the now famous painting depicting a young Rosa Parks seated in the fateful bus.
While her "Emerging Into Spirit" works traveled worldwide over the last 15 years, Lane has received other important social issue commissions. In the early 1990s, Lane was honored by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., during the installation of her bronze portrait of civil rights leader and long time friend, Rosa Parks. In 1999, she was selected to execute the design of the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Ms. Parks, and Lane won the national commission to design and execute a biographical art tribute that will grace the official Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Alabama. "My Civil Rights images led me naturally to ideas about what and who we are outside of race. I went from there to the most important body of work, the metaphysical images of generic man and generic woman emerging out of the ignorance of material concepts and evolving into spiritual awareness."
For over two decades, these "Emerging Into Spirit" combinations have been internationally collected and exhibited at respected show spaces such as LewAllen Contemporary in Santa Fe, Sherry Frumkin, M. Hanks and Steve Turner in Los Angeles, Boumani Gallery in San Francisco, Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans, Southern University in Baton Rouge, Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, Hammond's House Galleries in Atlanta, and the Georgia and Joseph Bender Gallery in El Paso, Texas.
Most recently Lane has moved into her most powerful work to date: larger-than-life scale figures able to be shown separately but conceived as a multi-piece museum installation into which the viewer walks. The viewer enters a darkened space to see a series of larger than life scale figures that appear each to be moving upward, toward an ever-brighter light — the God Presence — illuminating the installation from above. The lowest embryonic figure lies in fetal or death position in darkness, the next kneeling, then increasingly well lit, balances on one graceful leg, looking ever more centered, sure. Situated at the highest point and fully bathed in light, the final figure has been conceived by Lane in transparent material, to denote the absence of physicality and the transcendent Truth that there is only perfected thought, one God Mind. "This installation denotes the evolution of consciousness and being as each moves out of darkness and into light," ex-plains Lane.
In the jaded 1990s, conceptual art rendered spiritual messages an artistic taboo. Always ahead of her time, Lane has never veered from her subject matter, regardless of the vagaries of what happened to be "in" or "out." As the new century opened, museum shows and reviews indicated that more and more artwork had begun to deal with questions plaguing us: Who are we, why are we here, what does our spiritual life entail? As this content inevitably comes to the fore, Lane's work becomes more and more germane. As we catch up to her profound vision, Lane will point the way to the future with work that addresses our highest selves.