In a recent interview with La Cuadra, sculptor Keith L. Andrews said that his life had unfolded in stages, “like the life of an insect.” It was an intriguing observation from an intriguing man.
Each stage, he says, is about twenty-one years in length. The early years were spent in preparation and study. The second stage was a career as an entomologist at an agricultural university — likely explaining the bug’s-life reference. The third, when he entered his early forties, was working both in administration and bureaucracy. And now he has reached the fourth stage — one in which he will integrate what he has learned thus far into art.
The transition may seem an unlikely choice for a scientist and an academic, but if you decontextualize his previous careers, it actually makes a great deal of sense. As a scientist in general, and specifically an entomologist specializing in integrated pest management, Keith developed an ability to see the actions and interactions of many forces in a complex matrix. Those matrices have changed. No longer is he riddling out ways to ecologically manage an infestation of bugs or slugs in a remote, impoverished mountain village that has a tradition of overusing pesticides and is currently suffering a drought. But he is still using similarly structured thought that requires a global view of interactions within a system, while maintaining focus and attention to detail on each individual participant to bring a sense of life’s complexities to his art.
A central theme to Andrews’ show, Mentiras, Chistes, Gritos y MuyBuen Gusto — or Lies, Gags, Screams and Very Good Taste — is that to appreciate the subject, you need to consider the interactions taking place in the piece as a whole. The human figures in his sculptures are rarely depicted alone. They are reacting to and exerting influence over their environment, something he feels is absent in much of the sculpture world.
Andrews noted that many sculptors create works that seem cut off from the world. The human forms, if present, have vacant eyes and their bodies are perfect in symmetry and form. There are no flaws. Most sculptors seem to be driven by a Platonic ideal, not by the world as it actually exists: full of contradictions, faults, imperfections and the changes wrought upon humans by the simple passing of time.
Andrews wants to represent that real world, and as such he intentionally includes the cellulitis that is on the thighs of his models, and their scars from surgeries and life. Then he places them into insightfully real, often absurd, situations.
Consider the sculpture called Screams from Quotidian Life by clicking the gallery link below. There you will find an overview and two details of the piece. The work describes a series of common, and often ugly, realities of life in Mesoamerica. (We apologize for the images being out of order, but fixing that rather simple issue proved a greater challenge than our sadly limited website management abilities. We presume you can pick up our slack at your end.)
Around the neighborhood are the lies, gags and screams of our hopes and folly. There is an armed guard standing outside a kindergarten with barbed wire on the roof. There is an Auto Hotel, the kind normally used for discrete meetings with paramours, called Amor Platónico. There is a poor child begging outside an entertainment center called El Mundito Feliz, The Happy Little World. All of these images are of real places that Andrews has seen during his years in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. As he described the piece, I thought to myself that this scene was eerily familiar after almost a decade in this country.
Then there are the two figures featured in detail. The first is an Evangelical preacher who shouts The Word in front of a Catholic church, actually being the hypocrite on the street corner that the evangelists caution us all against becoming. Meanwhile, inside the church, not visible at this angle, is the Catholic priest receiving certain services from a boy that have cast that clergy in a rather bad light over the past several decades.
In the second detail, a man is standing in waste and producing more of the same next to a helpful warning that “Cleanliness is Health.” Sadly, this is an uncomfortably accurate metaphor for so much of what we do in this world.
The piece as a whole — the show in its entirety — is filled with comedy and tragedy, pain and hope, struggle and some modicum of success. And all the actors are imperfect.
Just like real life.
And we, as part of that real life, are very thankful that the entomologist has entered the next phase in his life. With his scientifically trained mind and his predisposition to see the world in all of its complexities, he is producing some remarkable work.