Whitehot Magazine

Hawkins Bolden’s Darkness

Hawkins Bolden (1914-2005), untitled (Scarecrow), ca. 1980s, 27x21x6 inches, trash can lid and carpet fragments with applied holes. Courtesy SHRINE Gallery, NYC.

By JOHN DRURY, May 2021

The fight for the bodies provision escapes absolutely nobody, or living thing, and the battle finds no favorites in pursuit creature comfort. When one’s livelihood is at stake, all bets are off in the ever-ongoing game of sustained life. 

Rubbery ears, vacant “eyes”, leather tongues and gaping mouths came in support to the Memphis plot of land planted by Hawkins Bolden; and they gathered in horrific multitude to haunt the dreams of his winged, avian competitors … Mr. Bolden’s garden nemesis. Tilled earth is an even playing field, where all that is righteous is generally equitable, and just about anything then “goes”. Atop fertile topsoil, true gamesmanship is an each-and-every, daily endeavor. There are then, no home teams per se, and competition is as likely to happen at dusk, as at dawn.

Hawkins Bolden (1914-2005), untitled (Scarecrow), ca. 1980s, 50.5x25x3.5 inches, mixed media assemblage. Courtesy SHRINE Gallery, NYC.

More artifact than what we may have supposed art, Hawkins Bolden made scarecrows – powerful and glorious talismans in the quest of fruitful living. In his Tennessee yard, he erected a kingdom’s bounty of adopted soldiers from life’s throwaways; those housing a bevy of Lucio Fontana-esque piercings, populating pot and pan alike. It is stunning, even educational to the intellectually curious, to understand that the materials of resurrection somehow, are rarely incongruous and found color pallets well shy of any theory, are none-the-less strangely cohesive to the sighted. There is in the pallor of waste, found congeniality. If it is cast off, it is fair game. You see, however (and Hawkins did not; Bolden was blinded as the result of an accident, as a child), our insatiable desire for pleasing combinations of hue must be abandoned, in evaluation his work. 

There is a certain purity that comes with the creations of the deaf and blind; a succinct and profound immediacy, as intuition guides the hand and creative impulse to generally unadulterated clarity. We might think of the marked genius of Mozart, the sounds of his late string quartets for instance, written entirely in the notes of his imagination. Do certainly strive to see Mr. Bolden’s constructions now included in the permanent collections of prominent institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, personally. But also close your eyes tight and imagine making them yourself. See instead, in your mind’s eye the threading of unraveling lengths of discarded garden hose, or the worn and tattered leather sole of a shoe through ragged holes that you have punched by hand, and by feel, through gathered objects – as you would poke lacing through the grommeted eyes of a sneaker. Choices are induced in physicality, as your hands roam over the surfaces and idiosyncrasies of articles found fallow. Bind them then in place, with twisted wire and will and knotted cord, securing them - so that they might endure time and the elements. Then, and only then, are they prepared to do battle – to serve. 

Hawkins Bolden (1914-2005), ca. 1990s, untitled (Scarecrow), 67x14x19 inches; metal pan, metal cans, garden hose, wood and wire. Courtesy SHRINE Gallery, NYC.

It was not Hawkins Bolden’s intention, that his works would inhabit the sterile facilities of commerce and houses of high culture. Here the maker’s unique wares inevitably take on new connotations. As we watch, empty eye sockets and backless mouths reflect now in ghostly fashion, not the defense of bountiful tomato plant, corn stalk and soon-pickled cucumber but, instead, the offensive posturing for one another; and us. Here, beneath unnatural light, we might simply fear ourselves. WM


John Drury

John Drury is a multi-media artist, published author, independent curator and instructor. Drury holds a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design (1983) and a Master of Fine Art Degree in sculpture (1985; including a minor in painting), from Ohio State University. John is the father of two teenagers, living in New York City since 1989 and has received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award for his work in sculpture.

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