“The Birds of Bob Privitt: Dreams of Flying” at the Buenaventura Gallery
By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer 07/25/2013
Duality and balance are consistent themes in the work of Bob Privitt. Whether he’s playing with geometric forms (spheres, right triangles, pyramids, rhomboids), exploring a Greek myth or finding inspiration from literature, the conceptual artist and sculptor is always seeking a balance between objects or ideas in disharmony. Birds and their disparate nature are one of his favorite subjects: symbols of both freedom and fragility; flight as an exhilarating experience or dangerous endeavor; rising “above it all” or flying headlong toward the brink; dreams realized or lost. Finding equilibrium between these contrary ideas has been a creative challenge for Privitt, as seen in “The Birds of Bob Privitt: Dreams of Flying,” on exhibit through Aug. 10 at the Buenaventura Art Gallery. On display are 23 works of assemblage, collage and sculpture concerned with birds and flight — and naturally, there’s more than one way to think about either.
Those fortunate enough to see the Focus on the Masters Artist Spotlight interview of Privitt in 2008 were given a glimpse of his down-to-earth yet erudite nature, as well as his upbringing in an abusive home in Arkansas in the 1940s. Art was his salvation and escape: the maltreated farm boy became a highly regarded artist whose work appears in the collections of the University of Tulsa, Indiana University, Oklahoma Art Center and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He retired from Pepperdine University in 2004 after 25 years of teaching. As with many artists, his dark past often informs his art, and Privitt’s “Birds” are powerful, haunting and perplexing explorations of his path toward the light.
Take, for instance, the troubling “Ticket to the Blue Birdhouse,” where the cheeriness of the bright blue birdhouse and jazz club advertisements are belied by a lurid, red, roughly sculpted face with a spiked protruding tongue (which, in fact, acts as the birdhouse perch). This is no home sweet home, but a trap. The diorama “Lead Crystal Blue Bird” features a bird rising in flight, chains hanging from its feet. Lead weights connect the chains, resembling the rungs on a ladder. These burdens check the ascent, and yet those same obstacles to flight — the things that weigh us down, perhaps — also build a ladder to greater heights. “Icarus Dreaming” uses wings created in negative space and the images of dead birds to evoke the Greek youth’s impending doom. More hopeful is the drawing “Hold Fast to Dreams,” inspired by the Langston Hughes poem, where a white bird flies into the curve between the thumb and forefinger of an outstretched hand, headed for a white moon, suggesting that the dream is there for you to catch.
There are other mind-tickling details throughout the exhibit. Plays on words, juxtaposition of black crows (symbols of death and foreboding) with white doves (peace, love, faith), whimsical musings on Mercury (the god and the element), and carefully balanced rocking metal sculptures all delve into “the ‘Human Condition’ with its myths, dreams, flights to freedom,” as Privitt states in the introduction to the collection. Attentive viewers will notice that negative spaces tell a story of their own. Dark and light sit side by side in most of these pieces. You might have to peck a bit to dig out all of the components. As visually engaging as Privitt is, you won’t mind swooping in for a closer look.
For more information, contact Buenaventura Art Gallery, 648-1235 or www.buenaventuragallery.org.