DISTORTIONS OF ECSTASY
Great photographers have always challenged us to see differently. Michael Childers is no different. I have not seen how he achieves the distortion in the current body of work; however, I have looked into the mirror that he props next to individuals to achieve the elongated and fragmented figures. These distortions move us to view his subject matter another way. The results give the appearance of viewing an image through a fun house mirror. These works take on a flexuous dimension. The luscious black and white photos are imaginative in configuration; some with protruding limbs with no visibly attached body, others with multiple heads and body parts. The human figures in these works are nude, but nudity is not the focus; rather, the focus is ecstasy. Each photo is emotional and takes us to a place of pleasure. Each photo reveals the human form in twisted dimensions that resemble dreams of delight. It is not purely a sexual urge that they speak of. If a photographer seeks both an ideal form and an ideal moment in which that form is held and found, when we feel something is done perfectly, we are in a state of ecstasy. It is only in the struggle that we find and know perfection and achieve ecstasy. These works represent the moment in time when an artist has found his perfection and chooses to share his creation with us.
It is not only in the human figure that we find a heightened sense of emotion. We also find it in the awe of nature. His distorted photographs of flowers and still-lifes are lovingly hand tinted and are reminiscent of vintage photographs. These works make one want to reach out and touch them. The small photographs of flowers are akin to what we feel for nature – the way one desires to run naked in a field of flowers, or to swim naked in a pond. To me these photographs accurately represent how we see things abstractly in our memory – everything is fleeting and nothing is still. From moment to moment we may have several thoughts, one merging into the next. These flowers and still-lifes achieve an arc in our memory, a distortion of how we really see – in our mind’s eye.
Mark Arranaga is an art historian and curator working in Los Angeles, California.
MICHAEL CHILDERS’ PRACTICAL SURREALISM
Dave Hickey, renowned art critic and winner of the 2001 MacArthur Fellowship
We know the world as an extension of our bodies. We measure horses in hands, wool by the elbows worth and everything else in feet. We speak confidently about the head of the class, the body politic, the shoulder of the road, the eye of the storm, the mouth of the river, and the breast of the new fallen snow. Even so, we rarely look for our bodies reflected in the world we have made out of it. If we did, we would be forced to construct an exotic and protean creature out of rivers and roads, clouds and fields of snow. Traditionally, of course, human beings have striven to portray the body in different ways: objectively as itself, formally as a standard of measure, or expressively as an extension of the body of the beholder, distorted according to that beholder’s expressive needs and expectations. In each of these practices, the artist operates under an unforgiving mandate to work more closely, to see more clearly, and to exercise more control over the finished product.
The great virtue of Michael Childers’ new photographs is that they don’t strive in these directions. Instead, they embrace the core axiom of Andy Warhol’s aesthetic and “get it exactly wrong.” Distance, distortion and accident make the pictures dance. So, in place of intimacy, we have remove. The alienating distance engendered by the camera lens is further exacerbated by intervention of the curved mirror between the artist and his models, so Childers is not, in fact, taking pictures of people. He is taking pictures of mirrors. The figures portrayed in these mirrors are only tangentially the subjects of the photographs. They are images of the body reflected in the world that tells us more about the world than the body. The urge for clarity, then, is replaced by the necessary mechanics of distortion, and the result of these distortions is more sculptural than personally expressive. The whole process results in a kind of practical surrealism that is further impersonalized by the snapshot, fashion-shoot spontaneity of Childers’ method. What happens is exactly wrong: the madly distorted, spontaneously extravagant mirror images are invested with an aura of formal composure that somehow manages to subvert and enhance its subject matter in equal measure.