LARRY CWIK – ARTIST STATEMENT – TOTEM
After working for 15+ years in both single image photography and in
Super 8 film, I visited and was profoundly inspired by the beauty and power of
the Totem Poles of the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast. The poles inspired me to begin arranging my
photographic images in a stacked manner to allude to a story or theme. Some use
symbols or archetypes. The arrangement is intuitive, from my subconscious, like
the individual images themselves. Many Totem Poles refer to transformation and
all have correspondences between images.
I similarly share correspondences in works in the Totem series works and
often hint at transformations in many of the works.
Most of the works shown have a narrative. Totem 28 (Memory) speaks of memory, with the
hand of my mother, now 82, with Alzheimer’s, in the center, a “memory machine”
in the Alzheimer’s wing of an assisted living facility at the top, and an
ancient tree in a now-modern suburb at the bottom. Totem 44 (Bellflower) has two images in an
ethereal fog, one of a house, one of a forest.
In between is an image of a beautiful but poisonous flower. In Totem 47 (Page) the top image shows my
hand holding pages of text about artist Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), one of
the last two living original surrealists, who inspired me. I enjoyed talking by
phone with her each year from 2001 to 2011.
Above the page with the text is a cloud reminiscent of a flame. The
center image shows a pastoral scene of grass and high clouds symbolizing
peace/serenity. The lower image shows
the light of the sun breaking through dense artistic clouds. Totem 24 (Glass) has symbols of travel (at
the top), dining (in the center), and nightlife (at the bottom). Totem 27 (Liberty) alludes to privacy in our
contemporary society. A symbol of
liberty is at the top, a symbol of light and possible surveillance is in the
center, and a symbol of government is at the bottom. Totem 26 (Empire) is a socio-economic
commentary and shows a parking sign, a jumbo jet in flight, and a homeless
person pushing a grocery cart piled high with bottles and cans. Totem 23 (Balloons) has three images that
together comment on urban density and life.
Totem 49 (Perch) shows a dog looking forward peacefully on a beach, a
bin of fish destined to be food, and a fisherman on a jetty above a driftwood
piece with the design of a face, with the three together commenting on life and
transcendence. Totem 41 (Family) shows a man, woman, and
small child at the sea in the center image, a “family” of driftwood as an
upright installation on a beach in the upper image, and what may be a plant
family in the lower image, raising the question of what is a family, and what
can be a family. Totem 11 (Helmet), the
only horizontal Totem in the exhibit, has three images united not only by a
compositional sphere in each of the three images, but to me through its
representations of land (the helmet), sky (the clouds), and water (a satellite
dish atop a boat on a river).
In 2008, I visited Alert Bay, B.C., a major center of Totem Pole
building, to do research for this series.
Totem 45 (Boat) is comprised of three images taken there. The top image, part of a boat, looks like a smiling
porpoise or dolphin. The bottom image, a
life boat, seems like a large-eyed fish.
The center image appears to have a spirit figure hovering near a ladder
in the midst of boat rigging. The three
are all nautical images, but can signify different things to different people.
While the works in the series often have a narrative to me, I keep the
titles short so that the works are open to a viewer's own interpretation. Similarly, a Totem Pole's narrative is open to
interpretation even if its creator had a specific narrative in mind when designing/carving/painting
the Pole. The images comprising the
works in the series are primarily from the Pacific Northwest, particularly
Oregon and British Columbia, with a few from New York, Hawai’i, and California.
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Portland, Oregon 97228