May 3, 2012

casey riordan millard artist cincinnati

photo by steve metz                                                                                                     casey, with floating shark girl installation

     There is both a delicateness and a strength to everything.  The ant can be swept away by what we perceive as a gentle rain shower, yet, emerges unscathed from beneath the random footfall of a creature thousands of times its size.  The elephant stands unfazed among the flailing, falling branches of a typhoon, but is gently felled by a simple, poison-drenched dart.  Our own human strengths and weaknesses, our particular position within this elaborate schema, our perception of ourselves as either hunter or prey, victor or victim, is that which impregnates us with our fears and our confidences, and, ultimately, our perception of our own mortality is the droning heart of this push and pull.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                shark girl sculpture, detail

     Our developing minds make us especially likely to push fear into the realm of the irrational when we are young children.  For me, it was a dream I had at age seven.  I was in a store, alone.  A strange man pulled a syringe from his coat, jabbed it into my arm, and calmly said, you're going to die in nine minutes.  Then he walked away.  I awoke, terrified, believing it real.  It could have ended there, but, as would happen many times throughout my life, that's when my irrational mind took a tiny seed and turned it into a giant weed tree that would flourish within me.  Maybe the man had said "nine hours" or "nine days" or "nine years," it said.  Are you really sure it was the number nine, it taunted.  It's possible it was nineteen, I whispered. Or twenty-nine.  

     It sounds so silly now, but it was so real then.  So real, surreal, so real, surreal, so real...

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                figurines

     This week, I found simpatico, a kindred spirit, in visual artist, Casey Riordan Millard.  Through her  art, Casey has found a miraculous and beautiful articulation for a deep-seeded childhood fear of sharks, and, transitively, of death.  I've always known that a shark was coming for me, from a toilet or a pool, she tells me.  I imagine a young girl of four or five standing at the edge of the shallow end.  She is frozen in a place where no one else can join her...trapped in her own spiraling thoughts.  She can't take that step.  She can't stop seeing what she sees.  Her mind can't stop thinking what it thinks.  Others are in there playing, having fun.  Don't they know what's going to happen?    

     People's lives are unbelievable, Casey tells me.  Those inevitable moments we all know are coming...the deaths of our parents or watching a spouse die...we live our entire lives knowing that they're coming, yet, somehow we're able to move through them.  She pauses.  I don't know why I worry so much about it.  Casey understands that as people, uniquely, we are both blessed and cursed in having an awareness of our own mortality.  Blessed, for it helps us live richer lives.  Cursed in our understanding of eternity, of finality.

     My life is just so great, and I get so sad that it all has to go away some day.     

     Yes, but you got to be here.

     I know.  She smiles softly, sadly.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                              shark girl installation, detail

     She's not alone.  What then do we do with these overwhelming feelings, which can cause our chests to heave in the deep of the night, swimming in an airless, wordless sea?  One solution is to do something darkly beautiful.  We could breathe life into the things that haunt us.  We could make them real, living among us, rather than holding them prisoners of ourselves.  We could write, as an Edgar Allen Poe would.  We could paint, as a Vincent Van Gogh would.  We could make music, as a Harry Nilsson would.

     As for Casey Riordan-Millard, for her, a form would emerge from the deep, dark sea waters of childhood.  Her name is Shark Girl, a figure which has emblazoned herself into Casey's work, to the admiration of a growing, national audience of devotees.  Shark Girl is a metamorphic figure combining the innocence and fragility of a young, pastel clad, patent leather shoe wearing, ivory-skinned girl, and, the unsettling, kinetic ferocity of a white-toothed shark, with inanimate seeming eyes.  As I study Casey's art, my emotions evolve from disquietude to empathy.  The more I come to know this creature, the less I see a shark and the more I see an inconsolable soul, trapped in herself, engulfed in the luster and beauty of creation, but afraid to touch it, afraid to be known in it, afraid to breathe so as to awaken something hidden.  The more I come to know this being, the more I want to stand between her and the objects of her fears, the more I want to sit at her small bedside, guarding.  The more I come to know this person, the more I see my own reflection.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                     casey, with floating shark girl installation

     And so, through this expression of angst through art, has Casey begun to cage her inner shark?  I'm hoping yes.  Anyone who feels so deeply truly deserves a place to put it.  As I imagine her working, I see an image in her mind.  I see a blank canvas and with each stroke of her brush or pencil the mind image emptying tank, and the canvas image timidly breathes its first breath.  We who understand her are left with a vibrant, sad wonder.  We are left with a rich, fairytale-like landscape, imaginary to us...all too real to one of us.  I'm glad that Shark Girl is here, but I hope that she doesn't always need to be.  My new friend Casey has earned the respite.    

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                shark girl, cradled

     As for me, I am sitting on my front porch as I write this.  The feeders are full and the song birds and the scavengers are singing.  There is a brown-headed cowbird perched on a lonesome looking limb in the Japanese maple.  I am imagining tiny Shark Girl sitting there with him.  In the evening heat, she has found a moment of solace in the wordless cry of her compatriot.  In this, the light before dusk, she has convinced herself, for a moment, that she can see everything.  The bird squawks, flaps its wings and disappears into the evening sky.  She looks down and swallows hard.  Night is just around the corner.  

photo by steve metz                                                          shark girl sculpture, detail

     Casey Riordan Millard
     Hi Fructose
     Packer Schopf Gallery Exhibition
     Like Shark Girl On Facebook

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