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Look up, message on the way

Surely this messenger with wings is an angel. Angels do not lie. They speak the truth, and the truth is sometimes just a bit awkward, not to say startling. One may or may not want to hear it. But hear it one must. What is the truth this angel brings in the moment of touchdown?

The fact that the artist has chosen the precise moment of arrival suggests that the uplifting idea is one that must also have its feet on the ground. It's no good putting it up there on a pedestal as if it were separate from life. Integrate the base with the figure, the sculpture, the idea, the sculptor says. The whole thing must be practical, workable, to survive. The truth is not something up there in the clouds, or even up out of the common run. It is right here, wherever one is.

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William Calfee, the sculptor, says he reaches for truth.It looks to me as if truth reaches for him! The outstretched arms of the messenger seem ready to grasp as well as to balance. Maybe they grasp a two-edged sword which the sculptor has left for our own comprehension.

Another thing about this figure that arrests, as it is arrested, is its substantiality. This is no airy fairy. The material is bronze, pretty solid stuff. The way in which it is used, however, the ins and outs of the planes of the figure, indicate something immaterial without violating the sense of a complete entity.

An angel is a spiritual idea, a messenger of truth. It is not of itself material but it comes to the human apprehension in a recognizable manner -- to elevate it, to bring some higher and more substantial conception into being. Perhaps, one could say, to take thought out of a material context in order to give it enduring life.

How would one know an angel if one saw it? Or how would one become aware of such a messenger? Calfee thinks that ways of seeing accompany what he calls "inner states," and as an artist he is able to present what he sees. He may reach out to people in the effort to get them to see, "To see what is,"m he says. In any case, he looks and he records.

Speaking of seeing, as he teaches it, Calfee says, "What ism there, what is,m is a freshly related integrated new object, revealed by an analytic drawing. Particularly deeper truth is revealed to me as I draw from something. This is an art of investigation, really an opening. What is revealed to me is always there unsuspected; it takes infinitely variable shapes . . . [what I attempt] to describe reveals first to me and, through me, is revealed to others, a truth, a movement toward what is true, in the joy of creation. Yes, I know it is there and I work to touch it."

All right. We have investigative drawing, and then comes a certain amount of "editing," as he calls it, until one arrives at the essence of the thing. But what is the state of mind in which does all this?

Calfee says that "Arts is in the direction of the spiritual. That I need be empty to receive applies equally to art (of the highest form, simple though it may sometimes be) and to movement towards the highest (deepest) spirituality." In other words, an uncluttered, undistracted, discriminating and receptive frame of mind puts one in a position to receive the message.

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No doubt the messenger may take on the aspect of an avenger at times. Certainly anyone trying to get to the core of some problem has been aware of turmoil at times, whether in his own thinking or that of others. The point evidently is to go straight to the heart of the matter, excise the nonsense, and skewer the basic fact. The basic fact can be tested by how it works out in practice, whether it stands up under trial, by the fact that it puts things right, brings harmony.

Human beings have so many varied notions about what is "right" that to look for an absolute truth one would have to penetrate beyond the physical appearance , the human philosophy, to find the fundamental idea which rings true. I suspect this is what Calfee is up to and what he hopes to stimulate us to do by his sculpture. He is humbly conscious of the artist's function to transmit messages, but he is also aware of and anxious to preserve the individual character of the artist, for he says, "Is not the art expressed, the painting or sculpture, a revelation of the very being of the artist? It is that artist's truth and can only be expressed in that form."

Could one say that Calfee's truth is, then, the necessity to have hope, to look up, to make the effort toward a spiritual vision? Let us entertain angels.


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