Cover Photo Image

Revels Ended
17 October – 10 December 2011
Opening Reception: 17 October 2011, 8p


Alex Bay

Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And like the insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Prospero’s speech from “The Tempest” awakens feelings of unrequited love. A bitter sweet remembrance of people and things long gone, and of a time now almost as foreign to me as to those who never watched “The Honeymooners” on Saturday nights, or who saw the first 1955 Chevy V8 sitting on the dealers linoleum floor. One of my constructions, “Revels Ended”, is a direct expression of this view of things.

I am fond of discarded things that retain the traces of human use, such as anonymous penciled scribbling on an envelope addressed to an unknown individual. On a larger scale, abandoned houses carrying the marks of lives once lived there. The factories lining the railroad tracks between Baltimore and New York fascinate me. The graffiti and shattered windows speak of another time. All these things, large and small, are the churning wakes of human activity whose mundane nature transmutes into a mystery of untold tales before they disappear. This ceaseless movement and change is the source of poignancy and beauty to which Shakespeare was alluding.

I once went into the half-razed house that had belonged to an old man. I had only known him by sight as I drove by when he picked up his mail from the mailbox on the road. He must have died and the place he called home was being redeveloped into monster houses. Being inside the house was profoundly disturbing. I felt like some voyeur. I had entered the partly bulldozed house by crawling through a window. Inside there were only a few sticks of furniture, too broken and cheap to sell at auction; a couple of old dirty and stained rubber dolls; and the remains of bills and circulars scattered about. Clearly the man had had a wife and children. At the end he was alone, and in the basement was a pile of coal cinders, which he had never removed after converting to oil heat. A narrow door leading down to the basement was sealed by duct tape to keep out the cold. I removed some doors (including the one to the basement), some siding and planks and in a brilliant fall light, carried them home where I used them in the construction of a room to a Venetian palace, which I called “Canaletto’s House.”

One could state that I manufacture artifacts, intending to capture the magical, fleeting, present. When old and used things appear in the work, their function is to highlight the instant the viewer inhabits. We spend hours as in a trance, unconscious of the ebb and flow of energy surrounding us. If we come to, and notice a trace of this process (say discarded scraps of paper with scribbling), we may see our own little life.

The important thing is that I wish that those who see my work experiences a feeling of mystery and fascination – the resonant emotional reaction that I get when I am open to the extraordinary beauty of ordinary life. I think the art is successful when the ugly, the tawdry, the ordinary are positioned rightly in a matrix of form, sound, and color, so that the work becomes a reminder of the totality of this moment.

I work in a number of media, including steel, wood, and fiberglass. But, I also use sound and video, so that electronics is also a medium, and the electronics workbench is a part of my studio-shop. Steel is a major component of most of my work, so I spend a lot of time welding and at the forge.

I aim for my work to speak for itself. I hope that at first glance one will say: “this is interesting, let me look more.” I would like the spectator of my constructions to feel an emotional tug. For me, I have a strong love for what is often considered ugly, tawdry, or just ordinary. I think that if I position things I make or find rightly in the artistic matrix of form, sound, and color, that you may see as I see.

I often use interactive devices so as to draw the viewers into the orbit of the art object, rather than allowing them to remain passive onlookers. Interaction can be as simple as pushing of a button to activate audio or video recordings emanating from speakers of small monitors resident in the works. A recording is activated by the viewer and played through the speaker.

I started as a painter, so that oil painting also appears in my sculptures.

I was born in Seville Spain in 1937. Afterwards, my family moved to Mexico City during World War II. We returned to Europe in 1945 and lived in Milan Italy until 1948, after which we returned to the United States.

Of all the places where I lived as a child, Italy left the strongest impression. The end of the world war left much of the country in ruins. And I was witness to a mixture of wartime devastation in which art was commingled. In the midst of the bombed ruins of the modern cities were ancient frescoes, statuary, and decorative work. In Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie, I was taken to see the Last Supper. I thought that it looked as though it too was a casualty of the war: a flaking and faded ruin.

After Europe, my family retreated to a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It was a time when family farming was common and I grew up in a peaceful rural community, a place of stone barns and dirt roads. Today, the Bucks County I knew has largely vanished. Even where there remains open land, in character is suburban. Many farms are gone, replaced by condominiums. The fields covered with tract houses. Interstate highways thread the region. That early life left me with a sense of loss and the transience of all things that is reflected in my art, and is best summed up by Shakespeare:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were only spirits and
Are melted in air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,


17 OCT 2011, 7p: Artist Lecture: Alex Bay
Duke Hall - Room 240

17 OCT 2011, 8p: Opening Reception: Revels Ended
Duke Hall - Sawhill Gallery

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