Darkly Dreaming

by Madeleine Peck Wagner
There is a particular kind of pleasure in treasure hunting, espying something with deep personal value that causes the brain to light up with possibilities, and then acquiring it. Depending on who you are, that treasure may take the form of a dusty book filled with the kind of illustrations that beg to be preserved and reinvented or a startling, singular bit of the natural world whose beauty needs only to be retained and recontextualized.
Artists Crystal Floyd and Eric Gillyard regularly mine the forgotten edges of the immediate world for forgotten objects. Floyd, an avid hiker, painter and gardener, uses her time in nature to find actual specimens and also, to find ways in which communicate the delicate, sometimes unsettling aspect of flora and fauna. Gillyard spends his time in thrift shops collecting objects and materials he’ll later use in complex, dreamy collages. “I love these things…I try to give them a new narrative,” he explains.
Friends with a simpatico approach to art-making (their works find precedence in the collages and assemblages of DaDa and Surrealism), Floyd and Gillyard’s newest pieces will be exhibited together at CoRK in the show, “Dark Nature,” referring to aspects of the work itself, as well as their shared interest in shadowy aspects of art and the world, opening June 9.
Both are reluctant to put too fine a point on the whys and wherefores of what they do. “We see these as open-ended narratives,” says Floyd, “…we have ideas that are present in our works, but [the viewer] might have a totally different take…and that’s okay.”
Floyd clarifies that the overarching motif of her work (no matter the implied narrative) is often “the life cycle, birth, death, and rebirth.” She goes on to say, “These are personal shrines. They bring attention to things I am interested in and want to preserve…they’re also about transformation, and not just my transformation of the materials/subject but the way that transformation can take place.”
Because she’s always on the look out for materials and is open to serendipity, Floyd often finds herself the caretaker for marginalized miscellany and beautiful objects that serve no real function. Most recently, she came into the possession of a (deceased) woman’s collection of feathers, fish scales, seedpods, and scrapbooks. If the collection itself is a touching glimpse into one woman’s life, it is also an eerie mirror of Floyd’s own concerns and an opportunity for the artist to create a shrine/installation that serves two purposes. At her studio, Floyd has taken antique jars of feathers and mounted them inside dark-stained wood boxes. Her intent, she said, is to highlight this woman’s endearments and accomplishments and do so in a fine art setting, thus forcing the viewer to reconsider his/her own relationship to ephemera.
It’s an approach not unlike that of Fred Wilson, a MacArthur Grant winning artist whose work often takes place within museum collections. That is to say that Wilson, with permission, reorganizes elements of museum’s collections revealing institutional biases, assumptions, and racism. Though his work is of a historical/racial cant, his statement: “I get everything that satisfies my soul, from bringing together objects that are in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having things presented in the way I want to see them,” might also describe Floyd’s curatorial approach and Gillyard’s collecting. But while Wilson works within the bounds of existing collections, both Jacksonville artists build their own work too.
“I usually inject a little whimsy or humor into my work,” says Gillyard, who admits that since the arrival of his daughter, Sonny, six months ago, his works have become lighter and more optimistic in their fare. “Twilight Terror” features a circuitous arrangement of a deer, a cougar, and a child, with a man in the background drawing down on the scene is a specific response to parenthood. “I kind of imagined that she was being taken away to have wonderful dreams by the deer, when the cougar attacked, I step in and save my daughter.” Gillyard reveals his reasoning a little shyly, but it is an honest and tender (while still very male) response.
Combining her materials in ways that are often as clever as they are gruesome, Floyd will have several pieces in the show about teeth (and sugar), some using a variety of natural relics, and one that imagines a new use for a deer skull. One of the most beautiful of her assemblages, it features a mounted Orb Weaver Spider atop an almost ruined deer’s skull—between the antlers is a golden web, and in the center of the web is a Creedite crystal cluster. Soft pink and gold-ish, Floyd said she thinks of the crystal as the spider’s egg sac. But the crystal seems to be much more than that, with it’s geometric forms, it could reference crown, castle or sun, all things that eventually come to ruin, but while living are enjoyed beyond measure. It is a luminous mediation on the beauty and brevity of life.
Fornasinius Russus is the Latin name of the Flower Beetle, a giant (about three inches long) specimen found in Africa. Characterized by a wide body that looks like red velvet, and wings that open like a DeLorean, the beetle is graceful in a lumbering kind of way. Floyd has three of them that she’s mounting for display. When asked how she learned to prepare insects, Floyd said, “I got a book on it.” Then she adds with a grin: “With mounting insects, you kind of have to get over the ‘crunch.’”
A do-it-yourself aesthetic pervades both Floyd’s and Gillyard’s work. Theirs is a willingness to trust their individual aesthetics and piece together cohesive works from materials others might consider detritus, resulting in works that are at once soothing and off-putting, familiar and foreign, while striking a forgotten chord deep inside the viewer. Though neither artist puts a fine point on their work and methods, theirs might be the shared message of history and invention. Certainly, it is impossible to look at either artist’s work and disregard that which has come before. This is a strong argument for conservation, and, for remembering.