The text below is a portion from ceramic artist Mark Errol’s Hole Up thesis, part of his project at Georgia State University this year. According to his profile on Mudfire, Errol is originally from New York and lived in Florida before starting his MFA at Georgia State University. The full text of his thesis (which we recommend) is available here and this video, courtesy of Meta Gary on Vimeo, is an interview of the artist discussing his exhibition, which conveys the story of his life through pottery and home ware items such as coffee mugs or quilts. Through it, Errol explores his own relationships, identity and the ability to convey both through what he terms “layered imagery.” We pulled quotes from his introduction and conclusion.
The layered imagery on the surfaces of my forms allows me to represent multiple perspectives simultaneously, showing both what the world sees and what the world wants to see. This imagery is carried into people’s homes and integrated into their lives because it exists on functional pottery. Hole Up as the title of my thesis exhibition, was chosen for the ambiguity of its meaning. On one hand, the phrase makes reference to one taking shelter, to finding a place to go to get away or hide. It is a sanctuary from which we need to escape. The term makes me think of a casual conversation occurring amongst friends. I hear it in my head, the voice saying “yeah, this weekend me and so and so are going to hole up in the mountains for a few days.” There is a tone to the term that makes me think of a retreat, the ability to leave behind one aspect of our lives and engage in another for a while.
Homosexually speaking, it brings to mind glory holes. These little cut outs where a man can engage in sexual release through a hole cut in a wall. In this sense, it is a casual yet highly direct gesture of anonymity, a place where action is key and identity is not. Going another step further, it can be the offering of one’s intimate hole, a submissive gesture to be dominated and taken from behind or penetrated. For some, this is the definition of homosexual sexual acts.
In the most personal reference, it is all of these things but also the idea of me forming a home with my partner. Since I was a young boy I have been fascinated with the notion of building my own home. I would spend hours drawing floor plans to dream homes I would one day inhabit with my partner and our dogs. I would imagine myself gardening and making art, creating a life. The home we would create together would be the place where all the most personal elements such as collected artworks and family belongings of my life would occur.
I have chosen to be a potter because it is a way for me to create many surfaces to decorate and share my personal stories in a manner that puts me in direct contact with my customers. They have made a choice to purchase my work and display it, most likely in their homes. Making work that is about the home for the home has always been important to me as a maker, but so has been being honest about what my message is. The fact that two men are cuddling on a sofa on a cookie jar or that you lift a coffee cup decorated with bold colors and patterns to find an image of a man having his ass played with by another man, reinforces that I am fully engaging in a dialogue about our changing social and cultural climate of acceptance. That acceptance is not everywhere and is not universal, but it is ever evolving and thanks to the media, political and social activism, I am optimistic that those who come behind me will only grow in their understanding and preservation of the great strides that have been made.
The package I present to the world as Mark Errol, as a gay man and artist, is never without thought. Though I do not filter myself much, I do not choose to live with a Rainbow flag on my house, nor do I wish to be invisible. I am aware that my personal presentation is also an opportunity to engage with others about expectations of what and who I am. I have a very long beard, I wear very bright colors and patterns (often multiple patterns clashing at once), I am heavily tattooed (even with images that cause second glances), but I never take for granted the ability to be private and only share what I want. My work does the same thing and just like me, one must go past the obvious to get to the heart of what I am and what my work ultimately wishes to convey. It is open to interpretation, but is not vague enough to be misleading. I think it is best summed up by an encounter I had this past winter here in Atlanta in Woodruff Park.
Quietly walking through the park, one of the park officers monitoring the park for riff raff, stopped me and informed me that I represented to him the word Man. He told me emphatically over and over that I was to him the definition of Man because I had grown this beard, the truest symbol of masculinity. “You are the ideal Man, your long and thick beard could only be attached to a real Man, a True Man, a man that is not into any of that Man on Man shit.” I wanted to reward his declaration with an equally emphatic response-a kiss to his lips and simply walk away- but I did not. I walked away letting him know that he was never likely to become a detective, chuckled to myself and went about my business. It is this type of interaction that I have, that Glenn and I have often with people, that drives my fascination about what we think we see and what is actual. What is on the surface might not always be the truest meaning of the presentation. When we take the time to dig deeper, both physically and mentally, to peel away the layers, often we are rewarded beyond our initial thoughts and truly become more informed.
Mark Errol is an artist with Georgia State University’s MFA program.
Featured image: A composition featuring a ceramic work by Mark Errol as part of his Hole Up exhibition and thesis at Georgia State University, 2014.
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