(Written in April 2011)
I have been deliberately walking underground between concourses T and A at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport because of the display of sculptures by artists in Zimbabwe. This week I had an unusually long wait in the airport, and I plopped myself down in the space between two of the sculptures, sat on my roll-aboard, got out my new fountain pen, and sketched this piece, which is one of my four or five favorites in the show. This is about 5 feet high, carved in springstone, and the artist hand chisels the many precise lines that make up the texture on his pieces.
Here is a photo of the sculpture, but the way they captured it loses all the texture, which is so much of the beauty of this piece. As with all sculpture, you must see it in person; this is much more true than it is even of paintings.
Then I drew this sketch while waiting at my gate - with people and planes coming and going, so that things seem transparent or overlapped oddly. The scene here only existed in a strange sort of time lapse.
Back in November 2010 I first found the sculpture from Zimbabwe in the underground, and I did a quick pencil sketch in a moleskine, as well as writing the blog post, below, which I did not post at the time.
(Written in November, 2010)
I was heading for the Atlanta Airport (the busiest in the world, I recently read - and I don't doubt it) and on the Skytrain from the rental car drop-off I thought it would be interesting to discover the airport's secret spots - the interesting little things most people miss or don't see because they're in out of the way corners of the airport. I was sure I could research this on line and then hunt them down on layovers in the future.
After checking in and getting through "the indignities," as I call the disassembly and reassembly of myself and my bag enroute through security, I was in the underground way. If you've traveled through this airport, you know there is an underground train that connects the six huge parallel terminals and the baggage claim and transport building. First, one of the down escalators was not working. No one was on that. I had long wanted to try going down such a very long set of stairs, so I lightly and quickly stepped my way down the whole thing. At the bottom I noticed that they had posted the length of the walk to the next terminals - I had three to go - a twelve minute walk.
I decided to hoof it instead of catching the train. I needed the excercise, anyway, and I hadn't experienced this space. I was astonished to find a beautiful display of stone sculptures by various artists in Zimbabwe, in a long line between terminals T and A. I stopped to sketch a particularly moving example, of three figures carved from one spreading stone. The faces were dark gray and smooth, the hair was roughly carved into waving textures, and the rock garments/base was an evenly hatched criss-cross of chisel work. It was well lit, and impressive, the figures slightly larger than life. It was called "Conversation" by Zimbabwean sculptor Agnes Nyanhongo. If you scroll down on the link above, you can see a photo of it.
While I sketched it, the hundreds of people rushing by either ignored me and the sculptures, or noticed the artwork because they noticed me. Those who noticed often swung out of their straight paths once they passed behind me, in order to catch a glimpse over my shoulder. I felt like I was in the eye of a small whirlwind. I was happy to bring some additional attention to these beautiful pieces, and to fix in my memory the place, the lighting, the sounds, and the experience by putting it in my small red moleskine.
As I hurried along to get to my gate, I looked at many of the other pieces, and stopped at a few that caught me. One was a flat piece of stone, about three feet long, left largely natural, but cut and polished with water ripple patterns. The rough stone was brown, but the polished sections were green. I felt it was some kind of riverine presence, and as I circled it I came upon the strange hydrodynamic face, and the powerful back-swept arm and large hand. I was startled and delighted to find the face and took a sharp involuntary intake of breath and stopped short. It was as if I had thought I was alone and looked up and discovered a wolf silently staring at me from three feet away. I was filled with joy that something like that can happen - something so sudden and powerful - as a result of such slow careful work and premeditation by someone from another culture on another continent. The artist (Nicholas Mukomberanwa) reached me from so far away.
I will definitely be looking for more surprises at the airport - and I will go back to walk that row of sculptures again.