All Images Copyright of James Mellick
The Art of James Mellick: Witness (Kosovo Dog)
WITNESS (Kosovo Dog) 1999
Permanent Collection of Evansville Museum of Art, Evansville, IN
MUSEUM GUILD PURCAHSE AWARD, 38th Annual Mid-States Craft Exhibition
As other artists in history have had favorite themes, I use the dog for my allegories because it is supposed to be "man's best friend" and thus, it offers a natural personification to speak to the human condition. I knew that when the bombing stopped in Kosovo, mass graves would be discovered, as they were in Bosnia. I identified with the fathers and sons who were separated from their families. I wanted to express the horror in a beautiful way--like Picasso's Guernica. I wanted to keep the balance of truth and beauty. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I use craftsmanship and materials to hook the viewer into the meaning of the work rather than slapping the viewer at the start. My interest is to communicate, not alienate.
In my research, I could not find a breed and stature of dog from that region to carry the idea, so I used the ancient breed, the Anatolian Karabash, a shepherd's guard dog from the Turkish highlands. I like the way it's curled tail balanced the head in the chosen gesture. For the gesture, I wanted the dog to be weighted and bent low, cautious and pensive in expression. The gesture is somewhere between sniffing and pawing at the ground and getting ready to vomit.
The dog's body begins to separate like cracked earth. Within the neck and the body are over 100 individually carved figures in various positions of death, as though they were thrown into a pit. Reversing the positions gave me 30 different poses of the figures, some clothed and some naked. I thought about the individuality of each victim as I carved each figure.
Where I live in the country, they no longer bury the deer hit by a car, they just pour white lime over the body and leave it by the side of the road. Everyday I would walk by this deer and watch it slowly melt away to bone. That is where I got the idea for a white sand patina which looks a little like glass cast in sand. Then I realized that the figures looked like the people from Pompeii who were cast in Volcanic ash. Images of the Holocaust, Dante's Inferno and Michelangelo's Last Judgment came to mind as well. On first view, the figures look like viscera (bowels of the earth), or a cancerous growth that is invading the belly and neck. The viewer then sees that the convolutions are individual human forms. This is where the (loving) "slap" happens and the idea is delivered. At this point, for a moment, the craftsmanship, the aged cherry and fine woodworking become secondary to the intent of the sculpture.