#ARTPICK of the Week: “American Allegory”
Although perhaps considered passé among the more contemporary art works currently gracing Sarasota’s streets, Jack Cartlidge’s sculptures which dot our urban landscape are, nevertheless, an important part of the city’s storied, and at times controversial, dedication to public art.
As a former faculty member of New College (teaching sculpture from the late Sixties until his retirement in 1988), Cartlidge possesses the proverbial emotional finger on the city’s artistic pulse throughout his career.
Created using Cartlidge’s renowned copper repoussé technique (a metal armature covered in beaten and welded copper), “American Allegory” (1976) nestles quietly in the Charles Ringling Park and, from my perspective (both literally and philosophically), coherently expresses Cartlidge’s attitude towards the creation and purpose of art.
“A true artist has a calling, just as powerful as a calling to music, dance or the priesthood. It is as much a necessity for one's fulfillment as food and drink and is painful if one tries to quit. So, to use this gift to crank out kitsch and camp and publicity-seeking vulgarity is a sacrilege of a precious ability.”
Sadly anonymous as it struggles to gain attention from passers-by or office staff from the adjacent Sarasota County Administration building, “American Allegory” nevertheless stands its ground, creating an amorphous, near figurative work. In a grotesque pas de deux, several abstract bodies and amputated limbs writhe within a spatially expansive narrative. These ‘figures” appear to be struggling to escape from a totalitarian figure that is itself breaking under the power of a hand-like form.
“Despite the fact that I am not a religious person many of my sculptures have been influenced by religious elements,” Cartlidge said in an interview.
“That’s because these [sculptures] are so thoroughly embedded in our culture that they carry a message that is universal, regardless of the background of the viewer.”
Considering his “Nobody’s Listening” sculpture (currently based outside City Hall and inspired by his response to the Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement of the Sixties), Cartlidge obviously possessed a desire to comment on events consuming the political landscape he lived through and I wonder what Cartlidge would surmise from vocal opposition to public works of art such as MTO’s mural “Fast Life” and its successor, “Dr. Robin”?
Perhaps a clue lies in this quote from Cartlidge:
"Art (and by that I mean music, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance - the creative endeavors) is, by its very nature, the celebration of the uniqueness of the individual.”