|Biography from Tucson Museum of Art:|
|Born January 7, 1965 - Evanston, IL|
BFA, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA - Tucson, Arizona,1988
Major Field of Study, Photography
MFA, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA - Tucson, Arizona,1995
Major Field of Study, New Genre
ESSAY ABOUT THE ARTIST by Julie Sasse
Herb Stratford, Institutional Alchemy, Mixed media assemblages
Tucson Museum of Art
September 8 November 4, 2001
Encountering Herb Stratfords sculptural works for the first time is like stepping into a surrealist time warp. His fascinating, calculated assemblages evoke powerful memories and haunting associations that are rich with metaphoric poignancy. Much of his recent work consists of propped open, hinged boxes incorporating an intriguing mix of found objects and text. These boxes are physical manifestations of private memories and psychological states of being that are awakened from their secrecy and suddenly revealed. Among the many objects that the artist employs are old photographs, salesman sample vials, dental crowns, bottles, magnifying lenses, and auditory sounding devices. Often entombed in a thick blanket of paraffin punctuated with typewriter keys, text, and other objects, these works become autobiographical narratives, or as the artist explains, "encapsulations of a memory, an event or an emotion." Through Stratfords clever juxtapositions, the images touch our own sensibilities because we are attracted to icons of the past and subconsciously connect to the metaphors they produce.
Herb Stratfords assemblages, of course, are part of a long tradition in modern art. For example, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) created the first documented assemblage, Guitar, in 1912 from sheet metal. A year later, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the acknowledged leader of the Dada movement, shocked the art world with his "Readymades." The most famous of these was Bicycle Wheel, 1913, where he mounted a bicycle wheel and fork on a painted wooden kitchen stool and declared it art. The most controversial of his readymades was Fountain, 1917, where Duchamp signed a porcelain urinal with the pseudonym "R. Mutt." Such innovations assured that what one considers art, and the materials that constitute it, would never be the same.
Drawn to Duchamps charismatic personality, world renown, and the intriguing nature of his work, Surrealist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) took the idea of assembling found objects to new and more nostalgic levels. As museum director Anne dHarnoncourt observed of the two artists:
Their taste for old-fashioned childrens games, new-fangled popular science, amusing advertisements, and the treasure trove of ordinary objects to be found in the Bazar de lHotel de Ville, the penny arcade, or a Sears, Rosebuck catalogue rooted the work of these two apparently esoteric artists in the popular culture of their time.
While Duchamps work was rooted in Dada irrationality, Cornells fell within the framework of the Surrealists, whose manifesto, written in 1924 by the French poet André Breton, declared that Surrealism is based on "the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought." It is the dreamlike images in Cornells box constructions of mysterious and sentimental objects that seep into Herb Stratfords oeuvre. Like Cornell, whose house in Flushing, New York, became crammed with memorabilia and materials for his boxes (often purchased from vintage shops in New York), Stratford combs yard sales to the Internet in search of the perfect tintype, vial of oil or hinged case to squirrel away until the right moment to include it in his narrative assemblages.
Creating art from found objects in assembled sculpture did not end, however, with Duchamp and Cornells achievements. On both coasts, artists in the 1940s continued the practice by making large scale works. Incorporating the detritus of urban and industrial areas, these artists reflected on their place in society and often reacted, much like the Dadaists, to the excesses of post World War II society through their art. Such California artists as Knud Merrild (1894-1954), Clay Spohn (1898-1977), and even for a short time, Man Ray (1890-1976), who was in Los Angeles to escape Hitlers invasion of France, created low relief constructions to full-blown three dimensional works using everything from flatirons, Halloween masks, and bicycle seats to the scavenged remains of Victorian houses being demolished by the block. These artists preferred to comment on the present and future rather than to wax poetically about the past. And just as in the work of Duchamp and Cornell, the choices of their materials played important roles in the outcome of their messages.
By the 1950s, a new generation of young artists began to work with found objects, creating Dada-inspired assemblages with an air of irreverence and rebellious sense of humor, armed with an enormous supply of materials as a result of postwar prosperity. Some of the most notable artists of the time, decidedly part of a Beat tradition with literary and social implications, worked with assembled found objects on the West Coast. Among them were Wally Hedrick (b. 1928), Wallace Berman (1926-1976), and Roy De Forest (b. 1930), who later inspired the 1960s funk artists William Wiley (b. 1937), Robert Hudson (b. 1938) and Robert Arneson (1930-1992). On the East Coast, Richard Stankiewicz (1922-1983) and Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) made their mark in the 1950s and into the 1970s as sculptors with a penchant for using scrap metal, cardboard boxes, Venetian blinds, and other materials that clearly smacked of the label "junk." Rauschenberg in particular, whose assemblages he called "combines," created the pivotal Monogram (1955-59) from painted wood, photographs, a full size stuffed mohair goat and an automobile tire. His sculptural works were bold in scale and often assembled outside in site-specific environments. On both coasts, artists were changing how they viewed their materials, techniques and scale.
One of the California assemblage artists that has particularly impressed and influenced Stratford is Edward Keinholz (1927-1994). While Stratfords work may relate more visually to the box constructions of Joseph Cornell, it is Keinholzs psychological narratives apparent in his assemblages and tableaux that Stratford strives to achieve in his smaller, intimate works. Keinholz made rough, expressionistic paintings on plywood in the early 1950s, often painting with a broom, creating what he called "anti-gestures." By 1957 his paintings became more dimensional and by the early 1960s, his art predominately consisted of large-scale, freestanding assemblages. In his use of mannequins, tables, car parts and other assorted detritus, Keinholz created profound social critiques.
While Stratford shied away from the heavy reliance on figurative elements that Keinholz so aptly developed, he has been drawn to the sense of the "relic" of a past time in such installations, and to Keinholzs ability to create works that resound with an intensity of emotion. Messages of social protest and an overt sense of horror are often apparent in Keinholzs later work (done in collaboration with his wife, Nancy Reddin Keinholz [b. 1943]), Stratford maintains a more sentimental, introspective approach to his found object compositions, all the while striving for a similar strength of emotional response from the viewer.
The metaphorically suggestive elements in the installations of Ann Hamilton (b. 1956), is of particular interest to Stratford. Utilizing found objects and elements from nature, Hamilton imparts a subtle sentimentality that Stratford also embraces in his art. Hamiltons use of natural elements such as wax, cotton, and felt has inspired Stratford and is revealed in his work. As Stratford explains, "Hamilton has an amazing knack for reducing her art down to basic elements and being eloquent about it. It is her ability to create a sense of uneasiness by the juxtaposition of manmade versus natural forms that I find interesting."
Stratfords use of hinged wooden, metal and leather-covered boxes and objects from science and industrycombined with beeswax, paraffin, teeth, and other assorted natural materialsfollows Hamilton and many other artists who bring together aspects of humanity and nature. An example of Stratfords similar pairing is Head/Heart, 2001, wherein a large, weathered metal box is opened to reveal the frosty effects of paraffin covering two pages from Greys Illustrated Anatomy. The subtle image of the brain on the left panel of the box is juxtaposed with the faint image of the heart. Spidery veins emerge from the depths of the beeswax/paraffin mixture that keeps the images entombed. Because Stratford cleverly splits these two images, the viewer is reminded of the duality of logic and emotion and the timeless struggle that humankind has waged to create a balance between the two.
Stratfords fascination with the metaphoric, sensual, and tactile possibilities of combining elements from nature with objects and images from technology also reveals influences from the German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986). Considered one of the most significant artists of the Twentieth Century, Beuys used such materials as wax, felt, honey, fat, blood, copper and sulfur in his sculpture to make social commentaries and philosophical statements that sought to merge art and life. Beuys pattern of referencing personal experience and combining natural and manmade materials with an underlying narrative imparted through metaphor has greatly impacted Stratfords sculpture.
Known for his 1976 statement "every human being is an artist," Beuys defied the conventions of his time by promoting the idea of a universal creative potential. Seeking beauty and meaning in materials that were not only cast off by society, but considered repulsive to many, he attempted to impart a deeper understanding of the power of art to transform the world. Reflecting on the power of Beuys art, Stratford explains, "From looking at Beuys work, it is clear that anything can be art. Because of his unusual combination of materials, it makes you look at the objects and leaves you thinking and figuring out the message." Stratford thus attempts to give the viewer a similar mysterious, thought-provoking set of messages through the selection of disparate materials, aware of the power these objects have to touch on different emotional levels.
Baggage, 2000, is a Stratford assemblage that pays homage to Beuys. In this construction, a large propped up wooden box from the Paasche Airbrush Company reveals layers of thin, dark gray felt sheets, each numbered on the lower right corner. Underneath the felt, tally marks are inscribed in chalk. Below the felt and tally, a drawer holds a lead weight resting on a soft brown velvet cushion, a small rusted flashlight from a bygone era, and a set of antique checkers. On the right side, a single column of words spells out "waiting, seeing, looking to feel again" next to a whitewashed map of the latitudinal demarcations of the earth. Below the map, a painted blackboard displays cursive numbers. This sculpture addresses time and Stratfords relationship with his father. Metaphors can be assigned to the objects in this composition: lead weights (what holds one down or back from emotional progression), flashlights (finding ones way through the darkness of the unknown), checkers (games and maneuvering to get through life), and maps (where one places oneself in comparison to others and in life) and tally marks (marking time and keeping score). Such associations make the work accessible by allowing the viewer to relate on a personal level to the mysterious compositions of objects and words. While specific appropriation of such materials as felt and wax are apparent, Stratford brings his own life experiences and philosophical musings to the work, making it poignant and timely.
Of the many artists Stratford embraces for their use of use of found objects and mixed media in their sculptures and installations, however, he looks to the work of French artist Christian Boltanski (b. 1945) for the successful melding of the found object with photographic images for emotional impact. Boltanskis installations are highly personal and autobiographical, imbued with a sense of personal trauma. Often these mixed media assemblages and arrangements focus on a series of photographic portraits. Illuminated by an overt light source with dangling cords and wires, his installations create the effect of an eerie documentation of departed loved ones, like shrines to memory and loss.
Boltanski at once abhors the idea of the relic and exalts in it. His early work was a reaction to seeing the many glass cabinets in the Musée de lHomme in Paris where the artifacts of ancient cultures were displayed. Noticing the tendency to value objects whose original function is unknown, he explains, "I think what I was trying to do in my work was to take strange objectsobjects that we know have been used for something although we dont know exactly for whatand show their strangeness. It has to do with individual mythology.
Stratford invokes a similar sense of individual mythology touched with an air of melancholy in his works that incorporate old tintypes and photographs. A poignant example is Year One, 2001, in which a small metal box opens to reveal a sentimental image of a baby in a white christening dress framed in a familiar background of indecipherable cursive writing in chalk on a flat black surface, reminiscent of an old-style slate blackboard. The words are of little consequencethe viewer can imagine what might be written. The strength of the work lies in its ability to impart a personal, yet mysterious message or poetic musing.
On the right panel, in diptych fashion, various chambers hold vials of powdered chemicals and pills. While the message might be obscured, one can easily make associations between the image of the child and the chemicals and pills: the fragility of life, the temporal qualities of childhood, and the subtle warning about tampering with nature resonate by the sheer placement of objects. The lone pink chamber implies something secret or preserved in its simplicity. To the artist, this piece reflects on the idea of starting a family and having children, in particular about premature birth and the medical issues surrounding it. "When something like that happens in ones own family," Stratford explains, "you dont have time to reflect, you just survive." Like Boltanksi, Stratford knows the power of metaphor and the photographic image and utilizes such pairings to the fullest. Each artist uses personal experience as the basis to impart broader messages pointedly expressed by ambiguous, yet poetic visual narratives.
Stratfords artistic ambitions emerged as a photographer, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The University of Arizona in 1988. Documenting the lives of the homeless in Tucson, Stratford published the book, Out of the Shadows in 1990, which revealed at once the desperation and the dignity of his subjects. Other projects included large murals involving color laser copies, Polaroid photographs, and the irregular result of photographs taken with toy cameras. Incorporating text from his own writings, these ambitious projects were clearly marked with his personal artistic stamp and philosophical vision.
By the mid 1990s, Stratford shifted his attention away from photography to concentrate on the field of "new genre" where he developed his ideas under professor Joyan Saunders through the mixture of performance, video, and installation-based art. Earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1995, again from The University of Arizona, Stratford found conceptually-based art the most direct form of expression. He developed an affinity for assemblage when he was preparing a whole room installation of objects on shelves at Dinnerware Gallery in 1998. Seeing the many found objects as mysterious relicsthe remnants of another cultureStratford realized that he could create a new narrative from the fragments of several unknown histories. Over the last six years he has refined his ideas and techniques, creating an impressive body of work that is sophisticated and powerful, yet sensitive and compelling on an intimate level.
Herb Stratford is an emerging artist who pays homage to key figures in modern art history while embracing his own past as inspiration for his creative expression. His work has developed in a creative and logical progression as his artistic awareness and technical abilities have expanded. To be an "emerging" artist in the true sense means that an artist is coming from obscurity and entering into a broader realm of recognition. Such is the case for Stratford. This fall, he will have his first solo exhibition in New York at the acclaimed O.K. Harris Gallery. Currently preparing for this important solo exhibition, teaching a class in New Genre at the University of Arizona, and spearheading the activities of restoring the historic Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson, Herb Stratford has a bright future.
2001: O.K. Harris works of Art, New York, NY
2001 : Institutional Alchemy, Tucson Museum of Art,
2000 : Temple Gallery, (Etherton Gallery), Tucson, AZ
2000 : Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Objects and Installations, Dinnerware
Contemporary Art Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1995 : Master of Fine Arts Thesis Show, University of
Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson AZ
1994 : Fire-Arm Facts poster series, Tucson, AZ
1993 : Installation for Arts Theatre of Dance - Valley
of the Moon, Tucson, AZ
1993 : Unwound, Installation at Central Arts
Collective, Tucson AZ.
1992 : Family, Installation for Arts - Reach for the
Rope, Pima Community College, Tucson AZ
1992 : In My Mind, Installation for Arts on the Moon,
Valley of the Moon, Tucson, AZ
1992 : New Environmental Imagery, Rotunda Gallery,
Student Union, University of Arizona, Tucson
1991-1992 : Home: Now Remembering Then, Central Arts
Collective, Tucson, AZ
1991 : "Some Thoughts + Images, A Drive-By Show",
Phantom Gallery,Tucson, AZ
1990 : Out of the Shadows, A Photographic Chronicle of
the Homeless Experience in Tucson,
Exhibit in the Mayor's office, Tucson, AZ
1987 : Solo Show, Todd Walker Gallery, University of
2, 3 OR 4 PERSON EXHIBITIONS
2000 : Assemblages, DC Harris Gallery Gallery, Tucson,
1998 : Phoenix Art Museum's Contemporary Forum grant
recipient show, The Icehouse, Phoenix AZ
1997 :T/PAC Visual Arts Fellowship II Finalist show,
1996 : T/PAC Visual Arts Fellowship I Finalist show,
1993 : 1992 Alumni Winners Exhibition, Union Gallery,
Student Union, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1993 : Works by Herb Stratford & Kerry Stratford,
Union Club, Student Union,
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1992 : Tucson Arts Coalitions Day of the Dead Event,
Installation, Tucson Center for the Performing
Arts, Tucson, AZ
1991 : The Temple of Music and Art, a photographic document of the restoration Oasis Gallery,
Tucson Community Cable Corporation, Tucson, AZ
1990 : The Temple of Music and Art; A Photographic
Exhibition, Community Design Resource Center, Tucson, AZ
1990 : 1989 Alumni Winners Exhibition, Union Gallery, Student Union, University of Arizona, Tucson AZ
1987 : Beyond the Frame, Two person show, Student Union/ Hall of Fame Gallery, University of Arizona
2001 : Arizona A to Z, Tohono Chul Park & Sky Harbor Airport, Tucson, AZ & Phoenix, AZ
2001 : 20th Anniversary show, Etherton Gallery. Tucson, AZ
2000 : no red dots II, Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ
2000 : Fall '00 show, DC Harris Gallery, Tucson, AZ
2000 : Dinnerware 20th Anniversary exhibition, Hazmat Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 - 2000 : Bright Shining Lights, DC Harris Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 - 2000 : Arizona - New Mexico Invitational,
GOCAIA Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 : no red dots, Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Member Show, Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Millennium Show, Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ
1999 : Fall '99 show, DC Harris Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Objects, Installations, & Sculpture, Apparatus Gallery. Tucson, AZ
1999 : Bug Show, Obsidian Gallery,Tucson, AZ
1999 : 1999 KCAD Juried Exhibition, Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Rapids, MI
1998 : La Bandera Vieja, traveling exhibit, touring North America via Arizona Commission on the Arts Grant.
1997 : 7th Biennial 7-state Juried Exhibition, Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1996: La Bandera Vieja, MARS Gallery, Phoenix, AZ
1995 : Arizona Biennial, Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ
1995: 1st Annual Men's Club Show, Tucson, AZ
1994 : Natural Selection : the rest of the story, Graduate student show, Joseph Gross Gallery, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1994 : Fine Art For Rare Species Benefit, Nature Conservancy, Tucson, AZ
1992 : Blue Lite Special, Mars Artspace, Phoenix, AZ
1992 : Chandler Invitational : A Photography Show, Chandler Center for the Arts, Chandler, AZ
1992 : 14th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1992 : Art Detour, Eleven East Ashland, Phoenix, AZ
1992 : Louis Carlos Bernal Benefit Auction Exhibition, Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ
1992 : Group Show, Central Arts Collective, Tucson, AZ
1991 : Blue Lite Special, Mars Artspace, Phoenix, AZ
1991 : Art with Words, Shane House Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1991 : 13th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1991 : Arts Ole', Pima Community College West Arts Center, Tucson, AZ
1991 : Desert Storm Show, Central Arts Collective, Tucson, AZ
1991 : Big Vision 1991, Temple of Music and Art, Tucson, AZ
1991 : New Members Show, Central Arts Collective - Tucson, AZ
1991 : 3rd Annual Historic Preservation Photography Exhibition, Phoenix, AZ
1991 : Arizona 1980-1990 A Decade in Perspective, Kerr Cultural Center, Tempe, AZ
1991 : Fine Art For Fine Causes, Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ
1990 : 12th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1990 : 3rd Annual McNeese National Works on Paper Exhibition, Lake Charles, Louisiana
1990 : GPI Group Show, Dublin, Ireland
1989 : Mail Art Show, Center For Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ
1988 : 10th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Arizona
1988 : Student Art Exhibition, Student Union, University of Arizona
1995:` "Control and Conform" Solo performance, Wasteland Circus at Mars Gallery, Phoenix, AZ
1995 : "Control and Conform" Solo performance, Downtown Center for the Performing Arts, Tucson, AZ
1995 : "Rock, Paper, Scissors" A collaboration w/Brigitte Jordan, Fine Arts Complex, University of Arizona
1995 : "Sonic Fez" A spoken word collaboration w/ musician Chuck Koesters, Cabaret Magritte, Tucson, AZ
1994 : "Pompous Ass or Poet, You Decide" Cabaret Magritte, Tucson, AZ
1994 : "Wounded By Love" Solo performance, Cabaret Magritte, Tucson, AZ
1993 : "Bedtime Stories" A collaboration w/ Leslie Epperson, Center for Creative Photography
1993 : "My Father's Shoes" Solo performance, The Screening Room, Tucson, AZ
1993 : "My Father's Shoes" Solo performance, Fine Arts Gala, University of Arizona
HONORS & AWARDS
1997 : T/PAC Visual Arts II Fellowship in New Genre
1997 : Best of Show Award, 7th Biennial 7-state Juried Exhibition, Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, Tucson, AZ
1994 : Best of Show Award, Student Showcase, University of Arizona
1994 : Creative Achievement Award/Outstanding Graduate Student, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Art, University of Arizona
1993 : Judge - University of Arizona Alumni Art Invitational, Tucson, AZ
1993 : Tucson Partnership Artist in Residence; Photo Mural Project - 6 month long residency in the Tucson Arts District
1992 : Show Award, 14th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Arizona
1991 : First Place and One Honorable Mention - 3rd Annual Historic Preservation Photography Exhibition, Phoenix, Arizona
1991 : Contributor to Rebirth of the Temple of Music and Art Special Supplement to Tucson Weekly - First Place Arizona Press Club Awards for Special Sections or Supplements
1989 : Show award and Purchase Award, 11th Annual Alumni Art Exhibition, University of Ariz.
1988 : First Place Color Photography - The New Times Fiction and Photography Contest
PUBLIC ART PROJECTS
1999 : Finalist, University of Arizona Student Union project, with artists Tom Philabaum, Steven Derks, and Anne Franklin,Tucson, AZ
1999 : Finalist, River Road Roadway improvement project, 1st Avenue to Campbell Avenue with artist Kevin Osborn, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Finalist, Thornydale Road Roadway improvement
project, with artist Kevin Osborn, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Finalist, River Road Roadway improvement project, La Cholla to Thornydale, with artist Kevin Osborn, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Finalist, Campbell Ave. Roadway improvement project, Tucson, AZ (still pending)
1999 : Finalist, Deer Valley Airport project, with sculptor Steven Derks, Deer Valley, AZ
1999 Finalist, Pedestrian/bicycle overpass project, over Old Nogales Highway, with artist Kevin Osborn, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Finalist, El Pueblo Neighborhood Center Glass project, with glass artist Tom Philabaum, Tucson, AZ
1999 : Selected as Artist team member for Golf links Roadway improvement project, Pima County Department of Transportation, Tucson, AZ
1998 : Finalist, University of Arizona Transit Stop project, with architect Roy Noggle, and Boelts Brothers Associates, Tucson, AZ
1998 : Finalist, Silverlake Roadway improvement project, with architect Roy Noggle, and Boelts. Brothers Associates, Tucson, AZ
1993 : Tucson Arts District Partnership-Artist in Residence; Photo Mural Project - 6 month long residency in the Tucson Arts District - 12 temporary
murals created, 8' x 12' each
1991 : Tucson Partnership Phantom Fronts Mural Project- "Roadside Attraction" 8' x 48', Photographic Mural located in the Tucson Public Market, Downtown Arts District, Tucson, AZ
Chandler Center for the Arts, Chandler, AZ
Center For Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ
University of Arizona, Student Union Galleries, Tucson, AZ
Jan Crebbs, Tucson, AZ
Dan Leach, Tucson, AZ
Bob and Marilyn Joyce, Tucson, AZ
Elaine and Jules Litvack, Tucson, AZ
Elaine and Jules Litvack, San Diego, CA
Alex and Lynette Mautner
Jeff Kaplan, Washington, D.C.
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|