figure drawing, constructions, sculpture
by Michael Vaughn Sims
The exhibit does exactly what an exhibit should do: It’s challenging, it’s enlightening, it’s beautiful, it demonstrates the artist’s skill and discipline, and if it moves you to tears—so be it.
The Sense of Place:
Sims left New York in 2008 to return to Lowndes county, his spiritual and physical home, to pursue his art on a full time basis. He has been successful—his skill as a painter is astonishing—he is able to reproduce the texture of the Southern landscape as though the earth is breathing.
His work is at home in numerous public and private collections,. His latest honor is his selection as the Montgomery Area Business Council for the Arts 2018 featured artist. He will create their award paintings.
This is his second one-person exhibit at Stonehenge, the previous exhibit in 2016 was titled Briar Patch; this title of this exhibit (figure drawing, constructions, sculpture) simply describes levels of space employed by the artist: The fifty-three works shown here offer the illusion of three dimensions on a flat two-dimensional surface, high relief, and sculpture in the round. These spatial progressions draw the viewer in to Sims’ complex, beautiful, and often sublime interior world.
For Sims, his work is “a way to understand my feelings about Alabama, particularly as they relate to the themes of home and family and the passing of time. I have been concerned with my place in the family circle, about heritage, the ephemeral nature of life and relationships and the hope for life eternal.”
Sims studio and home are on a plot of land purchased by his parents in 1987. At least two Protestant Episcopal churches were previously on the site. The earliest services were held in the late 1830s. The Sims family built a house, restored an “outdoor church” built in the 1930s, and began clearing the land. They replanted azaleas, boxwoods, and irises which thrive today. The history of the site, the churches, and the people who owned the land has been carefully documented by the artist.
Sims has constructed a tower, based on the structural principles of Richard Upjohn, on the original site of the church. He continues to refine and complete this soaring structure.
“In the Alabama Black Belt there is always the sense that the time of real prosperity is gone forever into the distant past; yet the land is a perpetual garden of Eden, albeit an Eden dotted everywhere with relics of injustice, violence and neglect,” Sims observed some time ago, “Everywhere I see roots and vines climbing eroded banks, abandoned buildings and huge trees. It is as if our cultural legacy and memory are just lying in pieces on the ground…”
Sims, the artist, identifies with the Nineteenth century, and within it, the French Beaux Arts academic tradition. Skill was the most revered aspect in this tradition, and clarity its greatest goal. Sims is highly skilled, but continually expands his skills as he needs to employ them in his vision. He is studying sculpture and has embraced the discipline of drawing from the model every week for the past two years.
The work itself:
Sims’s life drawings utilize a variety of supports, some are on kraft paper. He uses three crayons (red-brown, black, and white) to model the female form. Some of the women may be warrior goddesses; others are simply women in resting poses, such as the sleeping muse on the exhibit announcement.
The artist’s small blue drawings (anatomical studies of arms and legs) are studies of male anatomy. Several of these drawings are circumscribed by a blue line, as though they were drawn from a plaster cast.
The simplest of the constructions is About My Father’s Business,, from that point on the constructions become more complex, Fall from Grace is covered in circles; The family circle is a given, but we add more circles born of experience and acceptance. Idealized male figures inhabit the “backdrop” or support of these constructions, and they are viewed through a circular opening. They are painted so beautifully, they, like Sims’ landscapes, appear to breathe.
detail About my Father’s Business
The overlayer of Revelation XXI (“a new heaven and a new earth) is made of strips of thorn branches, some are Trifolata (Japanese Bitter Orange) which reminds believers of Christ’s crown of thorns. The wire, glass, and natural materials (“sticks and vines that are taken from the woods that surround my home”) partially covering the images harks back to Sims’ observation about the Alabama landscape which he found “overgrown with a thick mat of vines and briars, preserved and obscured at the same time.” Preserved and obscured are the operative terms in constructions layered with photographs and ephemera.
Several two-dimensional portraits, either representational paintings, collages, or a combination of both, are striking images of male beauty. These are marvelous pieces, and the artist’s use of the color blue is one of the aspects that make them so successful.
Chattahoochie Scarecrow 2 and detail
The two small Chattahoochie Scarecrows (1 and 2) seem part sculpture, and part armature and part pine straw or paper—but their gestures make them seem capable of movement.
The Resurrection of the Dry Bones is a miracle given form. Small circular shapes (I think of them as mandalas) arise as the bones come alive.
When children learn to draw they scribble for awhile, then they draw circles or mandalas, sometimes suns with rays spreading out from them. Sims’ mandalas (to my eyes) hold the power and mystery of these drawings, the center of is empty, leaving room for the miracle. Huge mandalas form parts of Sims’ tower; the centers are carefully crafted, the rays are crepe myrtle branches.
I am drawn to the first two sentences of Rebecca Solnit’s essay “The Blue of Distance” from A Field Guide to Getting Lost. They are: ”The world is blue at its edges and at its depths. The blue is the light that got lost.”
Look for this light in the work of Michael Vaughn Sims—you will find it sometimes as intense and shimmering as the wings of an Eastern bluebird, other times it is a gentle pastel bit of sky.
Sims (scale is one of his greatest strengths) continues to work larger, he imagines vines encroaching his tower, he will add figurative elements “working out of doors to build structures that combine art and plant material that people may pass through and under and around, like ruins of cathedrals overcome with vines– landmarks of an Alabama culture that is hidden behind the trees.”
Physicists argue that the concept of time is an illusion: That the past, present, and future exist simultaneously. They may or may not be right, but time and space do exist simultaneously in the work of Michael Vaughn Sims. However, one might have to glimpse this continuum through a clouded window or between the branches of a crepe myrtle tree. Sims has come home.
Susan Hood PhD retired
Rusty and I hope you will continue to support regional art and join us tonight for the reception featuring Michael Vaughn Sims new work.
We are now located at:
Food provided by Chef Michael
Montgomery AL 36106