Contemporary art isn’t pretty. At least not always.
It need not be beautiful but rather can be judged by its power. Its message. The feelings it stirs. The universal truths it exposes. Any loveliness is fortunate but may be purely incidental.
This is the case I made to Randy, and why I needed to own a piece by Amberella, a Philadelphia street artist who has been wheat-pasting her hearts all over the city’s fringes. Her poignant slogans peek out from their backdrops of graffiti and urban decay, projecting messages that may warm your heart or stop you cold.
Either way, they have impact and connect you to your urban environment in a new and exciting way. Crumbling paint and rusting metal frame heart-shaped messages you’d never find on real candy hearts. Valentines for the human condition. A perfect V Day treat.
So when Amberella expanded her web shop for February, and I was all too happy to open my wallet and own one. But I leapt without thinking…
I love the irony of this one, the melodrama and implied violins. The delicious nihilism of the thought and the way it mocks the heart that contains it. But even with my tongue in cheek, I feel a real power in this one fueled by a silent fear. Like it is a bad luck charm or curse, something to hide or bury. This one is a powerful work of art, and isn’t that the point?
Even before it was delivered, I knew Randy would overrule it. So I hid it in its frame. And when I finally did have the guts to hang it, just after Valentine’s Day, he objected.
But it was OK, because I had ordered another to hang in its place.
This one is loaded, open to a couple interpretations. And that’s how I realize that context is such a critical part of this sort of art. And even in a happy middle class home, this brings some of the street with it. I’ve cut my teeth on Banksy and Shepard Fairey, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Trying to own street art is a fraught thing.
I want to support an artist. But just like someone who rescues their first stray animal, I am a little overwhelmed by the power of her art in my own home.
Context is everything. Do I want to be drinking coffee with my husband and son with a FOREVER ALONE heart peeking over their shoulder?
ALL I EVER WANTED works well in our breakfast room, feeds a sense of familial contentment. “…all I ever wanted.” But imagine the feeling it would evoke in my office. “All I ever wanted…”
As someone who writes for a living, I should be the last one to be surprised by the power of this artwork. These words are chosen here. Owned. And they don’t fade quite like the ones that wear down or peel in the urban landscape, time and elements slowly reclaiming the public spaces they occupied.
These ideas are captured behind glass in my tidy home, nailed to the wall, domesticated wild things.
FOREVER ALONE now hangs in the quiet solitude of my office, where it better fits the mood.