The inevitable task of aging: a First Friday exhibit

September 7, 2013

A provocative exhibit on aging and Alzheimer’s disease premiered at R. Pela Contemporary Art Friday night during Phoenix First Friday.

The show, “Silver Blue: New Work on Old Age,” by artists Eric Cox and Constance McBride, featured a topic that people don’t normally want to think about, according to gallery owner Robrt Pela.

Although young, Cox looked like he came from another era: shoulder-length hair sticking out from under a straw hat encircled by a red-white-and-blue ribbon with light blue-and-white striped pants and shirt punctuated by bright red shoes. On his face was a thick beard and waxed handlebar mustache.

McBride sported a green-and-brown blouse with geometric shapes and mustard-colored pants, her lively face framed by a tailored gray bob haircut.

Cox and McBride stood in the middle of the gallery, continuously surrounded by patrons.

The crowd was predominantly middle-aged, with a few younger people speckled in.

One patron, Deborah Partington, said she came to the show because she is a fan of Pela and was personally interested in the exhibit.

“Aging is not one of those things we look at as art,” said Partington, whose mother has Alzheimer’s. “I’m about to turn 60, so it’s kind of resonating with me.”

Pela and McBride both said they have mothers with Alzheimer’s.

In the center of the gallery stood McBride’s sculpted busts of elderly women with Alzheimer’s, coiled wire bursting from their cracked open heads. On the back wall hung portraits of aging men and women, with curves and folds made to look like landscapes, according to McBride.

“Let’s give this group a voice; they have no voice now,” McBride said she thought when she began creating the pieces.

She said that her mother was her inspiration for the art.

“We’re all going to age,” McBride said. “Everybody’s going to face this.”

Her work is about respect and loneliness from a women’s perspective, she said.

“For me it’s helped me move through my own issues,” said McBride.

Many of the women that make up the current elderly generation are widows of World War II veterans, she said. Some of them, like her mother, now only live in one room and have no one who pays attention to them, she continued.

“We’ve got this youth-focused culture,” said McBride.

This was McBride’s first event at First Friday, but Cox said he has exhibited work at many of these events over the years.

Cox’s work featured portraits of elderly faces sketched and painted on top of pages from medical textbooks. People were moved but almost repelled by Cox’s work, said Pela.

Behind Pela hung one of Cox’s pieces in which an older man’s face lay against the backdrop of a page describing the use of Catheters and medical diagrams of penises.

“For people going to medical school, this is just another day for them,” said Pela.

People were coming up to him and saying that their hearts were breaking while looking at the work.

“It’s emotional,” said Cox.

People go up close and read the medical text then step back and look at the sketch of the faces, he said.

“There’s a point when you realize that everything’s going to be different with your health,” Cox said.

Pela said that he was pleased with the exhibit which he specifically scheduled for National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in September.

Sometimes skill and talent don’t match an artist’s idea, but with McBride and Cox they match up, said Pela.

“We don’t want to depress people,” said McBride. “The fact is we’re living in this society.”

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