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Posts Tagged ‘Cedric Harper’

Prior to my meeting with artist Cedric Harper I had emailed him a list of questions including a query about his sculpture, The Book of Truth. When we later met in a coffee shop, I noticed in his hands two pieces of paper. One was clearly the list of questions. The other I could not identify. A short slip with handwritten script. It didn’t matter. We began talking and what a wonder that was. Read more here.  But as I started to rise that day, thinking our conversation done, he stopped me. “Cynthia, ” he said with a smile.  “You haven’t asked me yet.  You haven’t asked me about the Book of Truth. Not everybody notices that one.”

book of truth sculpture by cedric harper, image courtesy of the artist

image courtesy of the artist

I told him that I had been struck by his use of color, the creaminess of the red, the smooth white upon the branches of the trees. Most of all I was made curious by the concept.  “What’s in that book?” I asked him.  As we began to talk about this book, our conversation ended where it had began, with family.

In Kansas, he’d grown up in a family with a strong oral tradition.  Stories were told often and life lessons emphasized. Those words of wisdom heard as a child and words of wisdom collected throughout adult life infuse his book of truth.

He worked on that sculpture for quite a while.  As he so frankly shared in the previous post, when his lover died in 1994, that was a pivotal moment in his life.  “I was lost. It took 15-18 years to feel like, to know that, I had a future. Part of gaining that future was creating this box of truths, of memories and experiences lived.” He handed me the slip of paper.

We may all have our book of truth. Those words and experiences garnered throughout our lives that guide us in how we try to live each day.  I appreciate the fact that Cedric Harper was moved to turn his book into sculpture. Here are some of his truths he chooses to share:

  1. Love is the escape from everything, an abyss of mind, body and soul.
  2. Every time one experiences a lapse in common sense the result makes them start over.
  3. Faith is to believe in things that we do not see and the reward of this faith is to see in what we believe.
  4. People should fall in love with their eyes closed. Just close your eyes. Don’t look … A. Warhol
  5. If you want to know your past life, look into your present condition. If you want to know your future, look into your present action. Padmasambhava
  6. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you only see the manifestations … Lao-Tsu
  7. Power is a drink that few can refuse …
  8. There is a quake that rips the soul asunder. It is the pain of remembering.

Cedric Harper Website

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Visit the website of artist Cedric Harper. Scroll through the sculpture page. Be patient. There you will find The Book of Truth.

As described on the site, it is a ceramic sculpture with a tile base. Inside a large black box is a small black box with a white book. Next to the book is a line of small white trees glistening against a dark red sky. Stark. Beautiful. Visually compelling. Mysterious. What truths reside in that book? During a recent conversation, Cedric would not only tell me about the book but how life, especially its challenges, had shaped his unique artistic expression that combines, as he describes, language, symbols and dreams.

photo courtesy of the artist

I first met Cedric at the Riverside Gallery at the Cambridge Community Center.  We were exhibiting in the same show.  I would later tell him that he reminded me of my brothers.  He is a tall, slim, African American man. Very humble.  And like them someone too easy to underestimate, a sentiment I was reminded of when he described how surprised people can be to discover that he, this quiet gentleman, has created such bold work.

photo courtesy of artist

photo courtesy of artist

Having seen his work in person and online, I was drawn to his use of color and texture and his unique juxtaposition of words and images. Why particular words, images, even the use of such colors?  “They come to me in a dream.  I pick up the broken pieces that others throw away as trash.  In my dreams I see the completed piece.  And then all I have to do is make that image real.”

photo courtesy of artist

photo courtesy of artist

Born in 1957, raised in Kansas City, Kansas, member of a large family, he remembers how his parents stressed working hard. “You had to believe in yourself to achieve success. There were always stories about that.” After college at the University of Kansas-Lawrence, he met a nice fellow, and moved to France for a year.  In 1982 he returned to Kansas where “I met the love of my life.” Eventually they moved to Massachusetts where Cedric would work in healthcare as an advocate for individuals with disabilities.  He would do so for thirty years before becoming a full-time artist. “But when did you actually start producing art?” I asked, and he said quietly, “When my lover was dying.”

photo courtesy of artist

photo courtesy of artist

Cedric’s lover had contracted HIV. As they tried to figure out next steps, they set him up in a home on Cape Cod. Cedric commuted but eventually his lover’s condition worsened and Cedric took leave to take care of him.  “When I moved to the Cape, that’s when I began making art. You know how in Provincetown there are so many shops and they sell box kits for people to put their shells in and other trinkets. To keep my sanity, I started buying the boxes and putting them together and painting them. The paintings became more elaborate. People started paying attention.  They encouraged me.”

photo courtesy of artist

photo courtesy of artist

The pieces evolved.  “Provincetown is a mecca for people throwing out great trash. Beautiful pieces of wood and other materials. If some object called to me, I would bring it home, break it down. Later I’d have vivid dreams about the finished piece specific to the object I had picked up.  That was the hard part. Figuring out how to make that concept real.”

Cedric’s lover died April 7, 1994. “There were a lot of dishes broken that day,” he said with a gentle laugh.  Later he would add, “Art brought me back. Gave me perspective. Something to hold onto and communicate with.”

photo courtesy of the artist

Since then, his art has continued to evolve.  “I began reading books on ancient languages, studying heiroglyphs, and exploring how one translates pictures into language and vice versa.”

photo courtesy of the artist

“Exploring these ideas of language and symbols is what I want to do especially with something that already exists, that people have tossed away.  I can take it and make it my own. My inspiration comes from my imagination. There are no boundaries.”

See Cedric Harper’s artwork firsthand. His work will be on display this weekend, along with eight other fine artists, at the Riverside Gallery Exhibit, Words in our Work.  Opening reception is Sunday, February 28, 3:00-5:00 pm. The exhibit runs through March 2016.

As for what’s in The Book of Truth? The answers will be shared in a follow-up post. Take care.

Cedric Harper by Carol Moses

Artist Cedric Harper, Photo by Carol Moses

 

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