Ward Sanders is a unique artist who creates elegant boxes and other estranged objects (like open “Altars”), which often tweak the absurdities of life and death. He peers into the words of writers and into his own fictional characters’ texts to embellish these fearless works. While his pieces have been exhibited, he displays this astute art in near-obscurity on his magnificent Web site, wardsanders.com.
Sanders gives new meaning to “deadpan humor” — a form of dry wit that displays lack of emotion as a comedic delivery, contrasting with the ludicrous but sometimes “fatal” subject matter.
“Well, Hullo Death, What’s That You’re Whistling?” and “The Unbearable Recognition of Insignificance” are titles suggesting this blunt, sarcastic aplomb. Yet the artifacts bring on such uproarious laughter, because viewing his work says as much about us as it does about the artist.
It also says a great deal about what we all face — the dilemma of life unto death, which Sanders approaches in a humorous way, reminding of David Foster Wallace’s infinite jests.
Wallace is one of his favorite authors, and the entire “Howling Fantods” series stands as a tribute.
“While themes of boredom and mindless entertainment might seem unlikely candidates for inspiration, Wallace provides a goldmine for the visual artist,” says Sanders. “ I am especially entranced by his ability to find beauty in obscure information, pointless lists, fragmented description, mundane detail and odd footnotes.”
Sanders’ vision goes beyond literary influences, which also include Emily Dickinson, Jorge Luis Borges, Flannery O’Connor, Primo Levi, and several others.
The piece “Unnatural History” features this text: “Half-lives, biological decay, chemical bonding, gravity, plate tectonics, event horizons, and bird song. I love the world and language of science. Not for exactness or demanding procedures, but for its arcane explanations of the world, explanations that seem only to approach truth without ever claiming truth. It is here I find opportunity for pure religion unhampered by faith: imagery that becomes sacred in Gnostic uncertainty. My kind of science.”
While not labeled as his “Artist Statement,” what he writes is significant to his view.
Sanders has constructed about 200 boxes and “many other free standing altar-like sculptures” during the past five years.
There are eight series — “Short Stories” is the most recent, and at least 190 pieces on the site. Many feature old photographs, and in some the eyes are blacked out, suggesting blindness.
Sanders has also created boxes for his poet-friends. “Birdland” (from the late Charlie Parker to Stan Getz) is for the poetry editor of the Express-News, Jim LaVilla-Havelin, based on his passion for jazz.
“Little Box for a Shooting Star” is for San Antonio’s favorite Naomi Shihab Nye (Shihab means “shooting star” in Arabic). These and a few others are light-hearted charmers, but the greatest strength shows in Sanders’ hilariously absurd works, their titles and droll texts.
Visit www.wardsanders.com to see Sanders’ work.
Roberto Bonazzi’s Poetic Diversity column on Texas poetry appears regularly in the Express-News.
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