Yesterday, Mother and I finally caught sight of the artist (what else could you call him?) in action, a raw-boned man with a paunch wearing a baseball cap, dragging a shovel behind him on the deserted beach. (It was as rare and wonderful a sighting as a hummingbird weaving its sock nest.) For years, we have seen half a dozen sculptures made from raised driftwood, draped with long strands of boa kelp, stood on end along the empty expanse of the beach, starkly silhouetted against the water. I've never liked them much; they were gnarled, eerie; they disturbed the clean sweep of tawny sand, the fluttering strands of kelp, like unheeded prayer flags, limp and desultory. Yet, I must admit, they held a strange beauty. But during the last storm, all the statues were leveled by the wind and the northern tides. And I was secretly glad of it.
"Pause" by Belle Yang, gouache 2009
So there he was in the distance, alone on the beach under the blue firmament, slogging across the strand, one ponderous step after another. Stopping and concentrating on a bleached log for a long moment, he then lifted it and shoveled sand around its base. He dragged his hefty shovel behind him toward another bleached remnant of a mature tree, his head bowed and unaware of everything except his purpose.
So all of these ghostly statuaries are the creation of one man. I had imagined druids had strayed off course in a storm.
What drives this man to become a maker? What essential urge compels him to erect monuments? Why does he build, knowing that he is work is impermanent? Is the world simply his living room to be arranged by his eye? How does he fill his hours when he is not on the beach? He does not seem to come from elsewhere but the beach. We left him at his work-in-progress.
Today--a luminous autumnal hour--when we returned to the strand, the artist was not present, but his spirit was palpable. We saw additional pillars draped with kelp.
What if today I chose to topple what he has erected? If I don't like these sculptures and they are on public property, don't I have the right to push them over? Yes, because there are no laws to prevent me. No, because they are creations, the physical manifestation of human will, and I will respect the divinity of all creation.
And it occurs to me that I am painting and making books under the illusion that my works will last, will stand erect in the ebb and flow. I know they too will disappear, perhaps not tomorrow or in the next storm, but they will ultimately fall and disappear. And like the artist on the beach, I will go on raising my monuments in full knowledge of the way of the tides.
Causes Belle Yang Supports
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