Contemporary art's purpose is to shock, be bold, daring, and brave. Explosive even. As we view a piece of cutting-edge art, there is a movement unlike anything else-- a visceral and raw, examination of societal, political, and personal issues. The art speaks to us because, frankly, the art is us. Charged with the ideals of humanity and the talent of an artist, contemporary works speak to us in ways that no other form of art can. It is for these reasons and more that South Carolina's renowned contemporary artist John Acorn is revealing his latest endeavor, Project Pistols, at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art from June 28th-August 12th.
With his latest installation, which seeks to discover the nuances of human nature through personifying day-to-day objects like a pendent, a pizza, lifesavers, a Palmetto tree, a heart, a crown, a wreath, a T-shirt, a person, and a skull, Acorn achieves new artistic heights. He does this through crafting these confections with something which he feels our culture is fascinated: firearms.
Yes, Acorn, who retired as chairman of Clemson University's art department in 1998, seeks to create a commentary about the aspects of life that bombard us through a medium that frightens, entices, and sometimes controls us. “My interest in using the pistol as a subject or theme for my recent artwork is part of my ongoing search and inquiry into the nature of our species, human beings,” Acorn says. “I do not intend to be a crusader or missionary on issues regarding firearms. I do admit, however, to wondering about the fact that my culture is so enamored with firearms.”
The nature of this installation will be full of harsh contrasts and shocking juxtapositions. In many of his pieces, Acorn associates day-to-day things like cars and books with the hard, daunting feelings of a pistol. For example, in his piece Life Savers for Pistols, Acorn drew inspiration from a normal SUV proclaiming “Guns Save Lives.” John also constructs food in his piece Pie of Pistols, which references a California pizza restaurant that refused to serve men who were armed. The social commentary and everyday occurrences are shrewdly exhibited in these pieces and more of Project Pistols, which even include a large charm bracelet, inspired by “a purchase of a birthday gift for my granddaughter, Mary,” according to Acorn.
Acorn was born in 1937 in Patterson, New Jersey, receiving a fine arts B.A from Montclair State College and later an MFA at the Cranbook Academy of Art. Sculpting was Acorn’s first artistic passion and this fervency has remained constant throughout his career. He cites Paul Harris as one of his many inspirations. He started work at Clemson University in 1961 as an art professor and later became chairman of the department in 1976. “John is an insightful critic, a gentle supporter, a model professional. He’s also a wonderful artist and craftsman,” local architect and 701 CCA board member Doug Quackenbush said. Even through decades and decades of teaching, working, creating, and living, Acorn’s passion for sculpting has stayed fiery and ardent. “I confess to being addicted to making things,” Acorn said. On his latest installation in finding art in everyday life, Acorn confesses that the “enlargement of objects and their positioning alter or transform them into new images.”
These new images are exciting the people at 701 CCA, for they feel Acorn’s project is a breath of fresh air in the world of contemporary art. “It is very good. It is spectacular even. It is ambitious and consists of work that is very smart in its conception and just beautifully executed. What Acorn has created is a brave commentary on our culture in visually spectacular works of art. His work is constantly relevant and cutting edge,” Wim Roefs, chair of 701 CCA board of directors, said. The installations is causing much excitement for Clemson alumni and arts lover alike, and even more so for 701 CCA, whose staff cannot wait to see what Acorn’s works will do for the gallery. “We’ve never done anything like this before. It is visionary,” Roefs said.
The exhibition is sponsored in part by Columbia, S.C., architectural firms Catalyst Architects, Garvin Design Group, J. Timothy Hance, Architect, P.A., Jumper Carter Sease Architects, Quackenbush Architects + Planners, and The LPA Group. Acorn’s reception for Project Pistols will be on Thursday, June 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free and non-members are suggested to give a $5 donation.
-- Christopher Rosa, Jasper intern