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Students reveal family secrets through art

TAYLOR HOUSE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Art graduate student Celeste Trimble speaks Friday night in front of an altered photograph she printed of herself as a child. Her exhibit, 'Relations' , will be on display in the Lionel Rombach Gallery through Dec. 18.
By Randi Eichenbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
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We all have our own "skeletons in the closet," so to speak. As much as we try to avoid it, family dysfunction seems unavoidable, especially this time of year as we go home to spend the holidays with family members and remember the problems of our roots.

Some opt for therapy while others creatively express their dark pasts, which is what fine arts graduate students John Clarke and Celeste Trimble have done for their photo work exhibits. Both artists have examined their lineages to explore their own individual family disorders, and they present those issues through photography and sculpture.

Clarke represents various members of his family in an unconventional way. The exhibit, which is just an excerpt from a larger group of work, is a cast formed over his head of six portraits of his family members.

In his artist statement, Clarke wrote, "Though some of the portraits' photographic elements are abstract, their three-dimensional renderings create unique attributes distinguishing one individual from another."

Clarke portrayed family members who have gone through illness, both physical and mental, and those who have dealt with other hardship in their lives.

"This is my cousin down here," Clarke said pointing to one of his sculptures at the far end of the room. "She died in her apartment in a fire she might have started herself."

As I viewed Clarke's work with him, I could not help but wonder the reaction that his family might have on him being so open to the public in sharing their dark secrets.

"When I first started, my mom responded quite strongly," Clarke said. "My family has been quite tight lipped on our history, and that has been part of my exploration."

It took actually viewing his work for Clarke's mother to gain an understanding of what he was trying to accomplish.

"My mom said, 'This is my family, isn't it?' I said, 'No, this is my family,'" Clarke said because he had included family members from not only his mother's side but his father's as well. "My mom understands that while I am depicting horror I also have a level of respect."

Clarke hopes that while others view his work and take notice of his openness, they will be more accepting of their own family's past.

"Not every family has to be perfect," Clarke said.

Surrounding Clarke's sculptures are blurred, black-and-white photographs by Trimble.

Trimble took negatives from her mother's father and her father's mother and altered them to reflect her family's history.

"You can almost see their skeleton when you blur something," Trimble said. "I felt like I was getting closer to the truth."

Taylor House/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Art graduate student John H. Clarke's work is on display along with art graduate student Celeste Trimble's in the Lionel Rombach Gallery until Dec. 18.

Trimble's inspiration began about 10 years ago when she took photographs of ballerinas that she put on a small scale and put into a book.

"I always took out that book because I really, really liked them," Trimble said.

While discussing the pictures with a colleague, Trimble decided to re-visit the ballerinas and make them on a larger scale.

"The larger it got, the more real it got," Trimble said.

It was from there that Trimble got the idea to use portraits of her family members on this larger scale. Trimble said many of her peers have expressed that one of their favorite parts of her work is when she explains the meanings behind them.

Trimble and I stopped to talk about a portrait of herself on her family's property. In the picture, Trimble, at around eight or nine, stood in front of a wall of oleanders.

"I was always told that I lived amidst a wall of poison," Trimble said. "It's like my family I'm trying to depict, it's beautiful and it's poison."

Moving on, we stopped at a portrait of Trimble's entire family. The outline of each member was clear, however, the photo was blurred in such a way that you are unable to see the faces of any of them.

"It's my family but it's framed by me. It's from my own perspective," Trimble said. "The reason why they're blurred is because I don't understand my family and how I come from them."

One of Trimble's favorite pictures is a portrait of her mother as a child. This picture in particular holds a lot of emotion for Trimble.

"My mom has had a hard time, she is a recovering drug addict," Trimble said. "She takes and takes and takes and as much as she wants to give ... I hope she'll be able to come back to life in a healthy way."

Like Clarke, Trimble too finds a purpose in what she is doing.

"I'm dealing with family dysfunction and I'm making it beautiful," Trimble said. "The meaning of the pictures might not be apparent in how they look but there is beauty in everything."

Through the pictures in this exhibit, Trimble has creatively documented so many memories of her childhood and upbringing. Now as an adult, Trimble continues to capture her family's lives.

"I have my own family now. I'm starting to take pictures of them so I just don't have the past but the future as well," Trimble said.

Clarke's and Trimble's exhibits will be up through Dec. 18 at the Lionel Rombach Gallery, located between the Center for Creative Photography and the UA Museum of Art.

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