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Frederick Gazette

Life-size: Artist’s sculpture is a celebration of suffering

Thursday, September 15, 2005

by Tracy O’Dowd

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Ancient Roman author, orator, and politician Cicero said, ‘‘Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.”

Perhaps nobody understands this better than Aaron Quinn Brophy.

Born in 1975, Brophy was raised in a Quaker community in Bucks County, Pa. Aaron was born with a significant cleft palate, requiring a series of surgeries over several years to correct. Today the scars that remain are barely visible, but the scars that hide beneath his very own nature seep through his fingertips, and are revealed in clay, wood, epoxy, and more recently, plastic.

‘‘My art is a celebration of suffering,” seems to be an odd thing for a sculptor to say, but for Aaron, it is remarkably close to the reality of his life. For years he endured the physical pain of operations that were to make his smile ‘normal.’ At times he grew impatient, but today this artist is quite handsome with dark features, watchful eyes, broad shoulders, and the ability to express his thoughts through a variety of mediums.

‘‘A lot of my early works have a narrative process, [which] expresses the frailty of human life,” he said. ‘‘Textures can feel gruesome if [the viewer] is thinking of it as flesh. But it’s more just telling a story.”

In real life, there aren’t any opportunities to Tivo the spontaneous once-in-a-lifetime events. Do-overs are eliminated from games by age seven. Second chances are rare, at best.

It’s safe to say in life, ‘‘Some stories have good endings. Some don’t.”

The truth is the same for gallery exhibits. ‘‘Everybody who comes to the show will find pieces they are drawn to, and maybe something they are repulsed,” Brophy explained.

Many of his creations are life-size figurative sculptures, sometimes depicting the entire body, and at times just a part of the body. For example, ‘‘Idol” is a female leg. Although that sounds simple enough, it has been ‘Brophied.’ That is, the leg from a mannequin, changing from smooth to textured to rough; and incorporating the use of plastic, wood, and epoxy, and then painted gold.

‘‘Fragmented Man” is his freshman attempt at sculpture. Initially, it was a life-size model—it even went into the kiln in that way. However, the slightest crack or sudden temperature change can cause a fracture or complete break during the firing process.

That was the fate of ‘‘Fragmented Man.”

As he attempted to repair the piece, he realized how much he enjoyed the process of taking things apart and putting them together again—construction and deconstruction.

Soon after, he packed his bags, grabbed his passport, and set out to see more and learn more about art. Since then, he’s traveled to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, and North America, and became ‘‘enraptured by these eroding works that have remained through sand storms, rain, floods, and lava.”

‘‘It’s fascinating. They’re timeless,” he said.

This is when it everything seemed to make sense for Aaron. As a teen, he watched his father slowly die from leukemia. The nine-year roller coaster took him on a journey in which he depicted death as beautiful. During this time, his sculptures evolved from using, ‘‘fragmentation and amputation as symbols of disease and helplessness” to where he has ‘‘found more subtle ways of addressing the frailty of the human condition.”

‘‘Ephemera” is a collection of Brophy’s work currently on exhibit on the campus of Hood College. Walking across the grass outside the Tatum Art Gallery, one is taken by surprise when the vacant eyes of ‘‘Sitting Man” seem to be watching every step. ‘‘Fragmented Man,” the sculpture that forever altered the course of his artistic style lays nearby, also silently pleading with his eyes.

Inside the gallery, a wide variety of his works are on display, including ‘‘Winged Torso,” made with clay, wood, and epoxy; as well as, ‘‘Triptych,” made with clear plastic, which took its form through the use of a blowtorch. Suspended from the ceiling with clear wire, and exhibited with a bright light passing through and onto the wall, the shadows created become a part of the art.

Because Aaron’s work is so peculiar, no two people will have the same response to the same art form. Comments written in the guest book at Tatum Gallery include, ‘‘Your pieces hover somewhere between beauty and ugliness; and challenge the boundaries between the two.”

A guest named ‘‘Taylor” writes, ‘‘I love how easily the forms change from smooth to jagged to decaying. Powerful stuff.” While another guest named Patrick was inspired to write a poem:

Music and wonder

in your light danced,

surfaces Aaron.

Brophy thinks the wide variety of responses is ‘‘cool.” Even words such as ‘‘beauty and ugliness” are evoking an emotional response, and that’s what he wants.

He admits he likes to be present to talk with gallery guests and listen to their ideas; but he also confesses he sometimes likes to go and listen anonymously to what people are saying.

‘‘It’s intriguing,” the intriguing artist said.