Poet and writer Charlie Angermeyer wrote this piece on the occasion of Christopher Cairns' 2005 show at Haverford College, Closing Time. It was posted at the entrance to the gallery. Cairns and Angermeyer met in 1963 at Oberlin College.
The Sculpture of Chris Cairns: An Appreciation by an Old Friend
CREATION plus “M” equals CREMATION. I don’t know why I thought of that now. For me, it seems original, but I know everything is derivative, and it probably has occurred to some poor devil who writes crossword puzzles or some Scrabble players in a think tank. I stand in my crow’s nest. I imagine F-16s buzzing my head, youth in Asia, old punctured love dolls wishing they were dead. I know “Dial M for Murder”, but I don’t stop eating M&M’s. But art is imagination under some kind of control. Words and labels can’t change what’s already done. I don’t judge it. Art should be beautiful, but never in competition any more than slaves bought with gold.
I watched Chris in our first college art class draw his first melted choir boys. We rented separate rooms in Mrs. Morgan’s house; she was a sweet old lady with a short memory. One cold winter night, Mrs. Morgan opened the door, recognized me, and said, “Who is your friend?” (Chris had his scarf wrapped around his head.) I said, “This is my sister.” “What a surprise! How long will she be staying?” Mrs. Morgan said. Then, after Chris took his first sculpture class, he started tracking in plaster dust. He had it all over his shoes and clothes. He loved drawing and making figures, and he’s still at it as you can see. Bones are made of plaster, and bronze makes fine, expensive, caskets. Thus, there was the Bronze Age. Maybe we’re in the Drywall Age. When you get old, the back bends, and your skull feels heavy. Pinch yourself. Feeling alive right here, right now? Some old philosopher wrote, “Existence precedes essence.” Your body was a thing before it thought. It’s all in Sartre’s novel Nausea, if you have the stomach to read it. Chris is more tactile than most people—Mr. Touch, I’d call him.
Try looking at these things on display as if you just woke up but you still feel like you might be dreaming or watching T.V. Think about the space you are filling now and what happens to it after you leave. For me, these sculptures are all music and light—the way water flows around a stone or flames dancing or the way the wind shifts sand dunes. Chris gave me a big, coal black, bronze head. It sucks up all the light in my room. It’s so damn dead it makes even me feel almost alive! You are part of the show. The content may be at first disturbing, but, for me anyway, it quietly becomes beautiful as the content recedes while the form overwhelms. I wrote a poem that fits, I think:
If looks could kill,
then all the dead
would be beautiful.
Charlie Angermeyer lives in Tokyo with his wife, Mari, and his cat, Nicky. He is currently working on three books and a screenplay.