ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. For this edition, Meryl Bennett shows us how she made her “Melting Statues” out of old trophies and candle wax.
When it comes to my creative process I tend not to plan all that much. Rarely do I find myself making preparations like sketches or models if I’m working on my own. And maybe in part because of this, rarely does something come out fully formed the first time. This is definitely the case with my photographic series from 2012 “Melting Statues.” The series consists of seven images of miniature wax tableaus I constructed and then photographed. The concept for this series evolved slowly. It took several years, two cities and a few different iterations before I finally let it rest in its final form.
I tend to work in three dimensions and my initial “sketch” is often an existing object or set of objects. I consider my first sketch for this project to be a small figurine I bought in a Chicago thrift store. It was a forgotten souvenir from who knows where. A kitschy little Grecian woman draped in cloth. For a piece of (almost) worthless trash she looked very dignified standing on the shelf next to the broken candle sticks, Precious Moments dolls and weird decorative corn. I was taken in by the melodrama of her situation and had to buy her.
I took a mold and reproduced the figure several times as wax candles. I melted the candles together into a mound of mangled wax statues that I then mounted to the wall. The process of heating, melting and burning down the candles left the figures in varying stages of decay. I was a junior in college at the time so I turned in the sculpture as an assignment and forgot about it for a while.
Then I was back at the Village Discount Store. The selection of knick knacks at this particular thrift store was like a freak show of human detritus. In fact the only criteria for merchandise seemed to be whether you could get a price sticker on it or not. I have seen price tags slapped on lidless paint buckets with the entire gallon of paint dried into a crackled mass inside, mashed up tubes of lipstick, used underwear with crust dried into the crotch. The place so closely resembled a trash heap that people sort of just treated it like one. More than once I saw parents let their children crouch in a corner and pee onto the floor. Anyway, I was sifting through the heap for my own cheap thrills one day when I noticed this shelf filled with sports trophies. Each one was engraved with the name of some faceless athlete or team. What on earth is someone going to do with somebody else’s old trophy? Even the person for whom it was intended, whose name is literally engraved across the thing, didn’t want it anymore. But I was struck by the resemblance that the trophy figures had to my grecian woman. Their little bodies shined in golden plastic as they struck dramatic and heroic poses. If they had been made a different size or different material, the trophies could look just like some old classical sculpture. So I bought them too.
Like with the first figure I took the trophies home and cast them into wax. I mixed the wax trophies in with the casts of the Grecian lady and once again melted them into a cluster of melting bodies and limbs. This sculpture was bigger than the last and the trophies and souvenirs melting together gave the appearance of classical ruins or some decaying landscape. I was still in college and once again I turned it in as an assignment and forgot about the piece for a while.
When I moved to New York in 2012 and set up my studio, I opened a cardboard box containing all of the individual figures. I had snapped them off their base before I left Chicago before throwing the sculpture away. In the last sculpture the figures had begun to resemble crumbling artifacts. “They need a habitat,” I thought. So I constructed them a world that would melt with them. It was like their own movie set where they could live out the potential of their epic heroism on their own miniature scale. The resulting models resembled paintings so I photographed them to frame the individual scenes. And now I’m done with the idea. I’m pretty sure I am. But I do still have the wax figures in a cardboard box in my studio so who knows.
(Photos: Meryl Bennett)