All Images Copyright of James Mellick
The Art of James Mellick: Before the Oil
Before the Oil, 1990
Private Collection, Grand Haven, MI
Walnut, alabaster, brass, copper
“…..what do you do with a drunken sailor, so early in the morning?”
“To muse” is like “to mosey”, except that it is mental and you do it sitting down. Not long after the Exxon Valdez spilled oil in Alaska, I was musing in my studio and the images of the oil-matted sea otters, birds, and other animals came to mind. Rather than lumps of coal turned into animal shapes by an imaginative mind, these were real animals turned into lumps of black muck; tar babies, orphaned by an oil hungry world.
To express my anger, it would have been easy to carve these animals and then char them to a crisp with a flame or to paint a thick goo over their surfaces. Such tortured images would meet much of the criteria for contemporary art, but for several reasons, are no more communicative than a primal scream. They fall short of the familiar and grisly realism of photo journalism. Another reason why the communication of some contemporary art is short lived, is the audience's unwillingness to deal with pain in viewing art. Shock treatment in art is quickly compartmentalized and then forgotten. While some artists "damn to Hell", others work redemptively.
Rather than repeating the images of photo journalism, I chose to contrast such visual memories with an allegorical vision of harmony prior to the "fall" or the "spill" in this case.
Otters are often seen floating on their backs or sliding down embankments, so an otter was a perfect choice for the sloping back of the dog. This dog, with decorative alabaster shells and stylized scalloped patterns on ears, tail and shoulders is a metaphor for the ocean.