Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Charles and Joseph: Fractured Lives

What happens when a life-changing event happens to someone in the transition between childhood and adulthood? For Charles Mee and Joseph Cornell, it led to the creation of beautiful and fragmented art.

Joseph Cornell's father died when he was 13, thrusting him prematurely into the role of head of the household. He would assume the burden of supporting his mother, Helen, and his disabled brother, Robert, until their deaths. Only a few months after his father died, Cornell was sent away from his home in New York to a boarding school in Massachusetts. The trauma of the separations he experienced during his thirteenth year no doubt affected the way his life unfolded. He never married or had normal relationships with women. Could this be due to the trauma he experienced during puberty? It's no wonder that much of his art is devoted to memorializing childhood - it was when he was happiest.

Charles Mee's life also changed drastically when he was a young teenager. At 14, the athletic, fun-loving youth was stricken with polio. He spent months recovering. During this dark time, he began reading; a teacher brought him Plato's Symposium to keep him entertained during his hospital stay. His future as a football player was set aside and Mee discovered the painful reality of how people with disabilities are treated, even by their family and friends. Mee has said that his work is fragmented because his life has not been ordered and intact.

These two collage artists - one with images, one with words - have left works that allow us to view the world the way someone has when his life has been broken and pieced back together.

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