Deborah Howard: Beyond the Shore
Ideas and images emerge from intuition, conscious thought, and research. Cultural and personal identity and universal beliefs have been my ongoing subjects. My work has been a search to find ways to create art that is timeless and not bound by trends. Timelessness is an ephemeral, lofty and possibly unattainable goal, and to try to achieve it one must be aware of current innovations in art and at the same time remember and reassess the past.
Many of the works in this exhibition are influenced by ancestry: a great-grandmother who as a girl worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory before it was consumed by fire and knew some of the girls who died there, and a grandmother who was a suffragist and traveled across the Hungarian countryside spreading ideas about women’s rights.
A shoe is the only garment of clothing that can stand independently, like the living being that stands inside the shoe. A worn shoe has the presence of the person who wore it and the changing styles of shoes are markers of time and history, and symbols of age, gender, and culture.
Photographs of mounds of shoes, taken in concentration camps are etched into our collective consciousness and have become a symbol of the Holocaust. I have always found the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, and rings to be horrific representations of the Holocaust, but I am also fascinated by how visually powerful these images are in communicating an event in history that seems impossible to explain intellectually. The piles of shoes are powerful aesthetically and have the same visual elements that make all great art successful, the visual elements of shape, line, color, and texture. I first became aware of the idea that the mounds of shoes could be both horrific and beautiful when I saw a fuzzy photograph of thousands of shoes still warehoused today in a concentration camp. Before reading the photo’s caption I thought I was looking at an image of waves on a beach.
To support this exhibition I was given a PROF (Professional Research Opportunities for Faculty) grant from the University of Denver to experiment with different ways shoes could be used as a form of visual expression and to attempt to answer the question: At what point does the accumulation of a particular object reach a threshold at which it is transformed into something new and poetic?