SPARTANBURG ART MUSEUM
October 11 - December 3
About James Mendes and his Collection
James Mendes attended the Ringling School of Art and Design and graduated with a degree in computer animation. While a student, Mendes, a disabled veteran, started Mural Makers, a non-profit organization that created large scale murals for hospitals, pediatric clinics, community centers, and other organizations that served children. For nearly eight years, he designed, painted and organized hundreds of volunteers to complete the murals, the largest of which was over 20,000 square feet.
During this time, Mendes also developed an interest in African art. A turning point in his life came while he was reading an online forum on African art and someone noted that “the only problem with museums is that you have to live near one to enjoy it.” The idea of creating a traveling museum network that would take artifacts to those who would not otherwise be able to experience other worlds intrigued him. It would soon possess him.
Mendes has spent the last ten years working toward his dream by hunting down acquisitions for the project. Through frugality, pure drive, and sacrifice, he has managed to amass a collection that provides insights into non-western societies and their cultures. Although the collection has a focus on African and Oceanic art, his research has also led him to explore other cultures: Tibetan, Maori of New Zealand, Luzon of Phillipines, and Ticuna of the Brazilian Amazon.
Mendes is a member of Phi Delta Theta and continues to strive to live by the fraternity’s principles which encourage its members to leave the world a better place than they find it. Currently a resident of Sarasota, Florida, Mendes is in the process of relocating to Spartanburg.
Excerpts from comments about
by Thomas Hoving
“Few sculptures are as robust, eye-catching, profound, and ceaselessly fascinating as those coming from Africa. This sculptural imagery, unlike much of European sculpture, does not depict the world the artist is looking at but, instead, portrays a new kind of reality on its own. African carvers feel they are delivering a being into the world–a new sculpture is often given a name like a newborn babe. The work is not narrative, nor does it seek to create a feeling of motion or spatial perspective. For example, if the artist wants hair, he’ll take real hair and attach it to his sculpture. If movement is desired, the figure is carried in a procession or activated through dance.
African sculptures are never frontal, although they may give that impression at first. They are developed fully in the round and are best viewed from all sides or by walking around them. Unlike European sculptures, they are not made to stand on a pedestal or some flat surface but meant to be carried or to be stuck into the ground. Their creators were unconcerned about whether they’d ever be displayed.
The one characteristic common to all African sculptures is aggressive volume and mass. In every piece, there seems to be an inner mass and energy pressing out towards the viewer. African artists often say they see a sculpture inside the wood and cut away the material to reveal it. This inner volume can be so strong that it can even be seen in naturalistic sculptures like, say, a Fang head where the domed forehead is like a deliberate containment of volume suggesting forcible intellect and overwhelming personality.”
The Influence of
During the mid-1800s a number of circumstances came together in a way that empowered a departure from Western European artistic traditions.
In 1826 the first permanent photograph was achieved by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and brought the role of the artist as the sole recorder of nature to an end. The camera was totally accurate in its rendition of physical appearance and the images it produced were ready in hours instead of weeks or months. With the burden of “realism” lifted from their shoulders, artists were now free to explore familiar and unfamiliar worlds.
19th century European Colonialism exposed audiences to new ideas that challenged their existing aesthetic norms. Objects and images from the Orient, Africa, Oceania, and Native America inspired the Western Art tradition to evolve.
In 1904 painter Maurice de Vlaminck introduced Pablo Picasso to African sculpture. Later in June of 1907, Picasso visited the Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadero with André Malraux. Of that visit Picasso said,
“When I went to the Trocadero, it was disgusting. The flea market, the smell. I was all alone. I wanted to get away, but I didn’t leave. I stayed, I stayed. I understood that it was very important. Something was happening to me, right. The masks weren’t like any other pieces of sculpture, not at all. They were magic things.” 2
In the Summer of 1907 Picasso finished Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the work which is often cited as the starting point of Cubism. While the figures on the left of the work are inspired by Classical and Iberian tradition, the two figures on the right clearly show the influence of African masks.
Although it is unclear when lost-wax casting was developed, it was after bronze was discovered in the third millennium B.C. The technique was used by ancient peoples throughout Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In America, the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas developed lost-wax techniques as well. The best known example of this process in Spartanburg is the statue of General Daniel Morgan on the square.
The basic concept of cire perdue is simple. A wax model of the object to be cast is created. It is then encased in a heat resistant material which becomes the mold. Metal, which has been melted in a crucible, burns out and replaces the wax as it is is poured into the mold. Once the metal has solidified and is cool, the metal object is removed from the mold and the surface is finished. This basic process varies in complexity depending on the nature of the piece to be cast.
One key element to the process is spruing. Molten liquid needs a pathway through the mold to the wax object; air and the resulting gas from the burnout need a path to escape. When air and gas cannot escape, they can form pockets within the mold that prevent the hot metal from filling in the form completely.
To ensure successful casting, a system of wax rods is attached to points of the wax object that are most likely to cause problems. These sprues come together at the top of the mold to form a “cup” into which the metal is poured. Later, the sprues are cut away from the casting, and the metal surface is finished as desired.