Though the artist must be willing to enter into the crux of human suffering, anxiety, and the propensity for violence against both self and other, the artistic spark comes from a deeper place.
Here is Juan Diego responding to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s visitation to him even as he struggles with his own deep sense of loss from the ravages of colonialist violence:
“Then he dared to go to where he was being called. His heart was in no way disturbed, and in no way did he experience any fear; on the contrary, he felt very good, very happy…The mesquites, the cacti, and the weeds that were all around appeared like feathers of the quetzal, and the stems looked like turquoise; the branches, the foliage, and even the thorns sparkled like gold. He bowed before her, heard her thought and word, which were exceedingly re-creative, very ennobling, alluring, producing love.”
Here I am reminded of one of Gurdon‘s last sculptures, the overpowering Prophetic Thunder. I remember him telling me about how tired he was of images of King that sanitized his prophetic fire.
And I imagine that in order to articulate this fire into bronze, he must have had to discipline himself with exquisite attentiveness: returning again and again to this ‘re-creative, very ennobling, alluring…love,” in order not to go astray into bitterness and resentment as he worked. This spiritual discipline of the artist is deeply analogous to what King had to do day after day as he faced the violence of American racism and economic and political inequality. Art, spirituality, and social justice are intimately related in this tradition Gurdon brought to Cornell and shared for so many years.
In this inspired sculpture, currently on display at the Tompkins County Public Library, we see that in Gurdon’s time with Daddy King and the beloved community, he learned his lessons well.