It was 1980 and a modest young guy in his twenties went out to explore the world, calling home for a time St Paul de Vence in the South of France. To what extent would this journey to place one's self outside of a typical American context play a role in developing him into a person aware of a universal pulse?
I suppose for Bob Clyatt that became clear when an unpredictable set of circumstances brought him to the supper table of James Baldwin, where he was a frequent and welcome guest that summer. On reflection, Clyatt's body of work, “A More Human Dwelling Place”, begins to answer that question. However, there are many questions and it is the attempt of this essay to locate these questions and their answers, perhaps only a few but enough to place Clyatt's new Cscape Series of sculptural reliefs in a wider context.
In the collage-like Cscape Series, both rational and mystical cues are apparent in the familiar corporate logos and objects of our technological era, and the figures, faces, and hands that adorn the plane. Rising out of that plane, as if turned up by some subterranean geological activity, appear forms that suggest that there are truths and partiality in both concepts. Clyatt seamlessly brings the two together in a collaged landscape further suggesting that the two often shattered apart can and must be contemplated at the same instant—just as they share conscious space. While the reliefs are busy, some more than others, there is a particular contemplative calm. Foremost in the composition of the reliefs is the crucial human implication, which I will come back to a bit further down the page.
With the use of 3D printing technology, the logo and object portions of the reliefs project with potency exactly what they are as logos; what they stand for and what resonance they evoke. In short, the corporate signifiers are present without contempt. Indeed, while this is a critical outlook Bob will be the first to tell you that some of these items can be found in his own home. In Cscape #28, the rational representations are decentralized to the edges, with a delicately androgynous face within a sunken eye as the central focal. Buddha's and other figures of the past and rising objects symbolic of power and structures protrude as well from the periphery. It is clear to see all that has entered the human psyche. And indeed, the human dwelling space is filled with coincidences, opposites, and contradictions. Yet they all arise, evolve and share the same consciousness. If they share that space, then they can dialogue, something Baldwin was adamant about.
It was said that Baldwin didn't much believe in labels, which might explain why, much to the chagrin of many, he hadn't written critically of the impetus of the gay rights movement rising in the late 70s, early 80s. I believe that critical and literary circles can limit the understanding of prolific black thinkers, only allowing their ideas to span the reach of the subject matter. However, Baldwin was more than a forward-thinking person in race relation intellectual circles. For whatever reason, not overlooking the fruits of his lifelong intellectual contemplations, he was consciously evolving at a rate faster than most of society. His ideas had much greater implications. Baldwin was pointing to a value greater than the sum of its parts. When we create these labels within society they are ofttimes taken literally, shattering what is in truth a natural unity; we are all here arising on the same planet in this same span of time.
In Cscape #50 a vase is emptied of its contents—the logos, ephemera of body and spirit, as if to empty the contents of the mind. All of the stuff that is the product of our existence, but not our Existence. While objects fall and exit the plane of the relief the vase floats above perfectly intact against, perhaps, rolling waves of consciousness. Although not literally present, one can imagine among this fallen chaos of media, if you will, the shattered perceptions of false identities which create the separateness that Baldwin lived to dissolve. The vase becomes the symbol of life and choice over perceived and real instituted powers.
We live in a time of great disagreement and cultural upheaval. As the truth is revealed we see the consequences of our actions. Our lust for things and conveniences and the rush into a digital future is wreaking global havoc. Yet incredible technological advances have proven beneficial to becoming a more efficient society leaving a much smaller footprint. We see that many advances have come at a sacrifice and subjecting of cultures whom we do not see. As Americans, we decry the 1%, yet we must realize that to some foreign lands we as an entire country are the global 1%. And that reaches to the depths of Baldwin's ideas and Bob Clyatt's Cscape Series, an obvious and direct critical approach eschewing the mystery of abstraction and freely engaging with a rational participation with the life we know today. It is this life we know that implicates us as active individuals in a constantly evolving landscape.
Bob Clyatt's “A More Human Dwelling Place” C Scape Series was exhibited this Summer at Anthony Phillips Fine Artin Brooklyn, New York.