Deconstructed Portraiture (2016) Silicone, Acrylic, Fiber Glass, Steel, Leather. 6' x 4' x 3'
Informed by a career in Anaplastology, artist ANDREW ETHERIDGE seamlessly mashes human body parts together to evoke a visceral response and reflection. An eyeball is nestled inside an ear that is attached to a toe. A shin leads not to the expected foot, but rather ends with pursed lips and a chin. These grotesquely beautiful sculptures show us the human body in a way we have never seen it before. Andrew earned a BA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and an MFA in Fine Arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was a 2018-2019 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship recipient. He received a Durham Arts Council Emerging Artist Grant in 2016 and the Da Vinci award for presentation of exemplary case results at the International Anaplastology Association conference in 2018. Andrew lives and works in Durham, NC.
OtherPeoplesPixels: When I first saw your work, I was expecting to find out you had a wage job in the movie industry, but you actually work in Anaplastology. Tell our readers what that is and how you came to work in that field.
Andrew Etheridge: That is a great observation. I was always interested in the film industry as it relates to special effects. Towards the end of grad school, I knew I wanted to get into prosthetics, more specifically medical prosthetics. It was a long road, but I worked my way into the industry, went back for more education and became increasingly specialized leading to my current position at The Anaplastology Clinic. My colleague and owner of the clinic actually spent 17 years in special effects makeup working for the team that was the first to develop silicone prosthetic appliances for film. Anaplastology is a very specialized form of medical prosthetics mainly focused in facial, ocular (eye), somato/ body (hand/finger, foot, toe, breast), and other custom devices. In this form of prosthetic care, we provide function and realistic medical devices to individuals suffering from disease, trauma, or congenital defects. As anaplastologists, we are healthcare clinicians as well as technical fabricators, a perfect blend of art, medicine, and science. I feel privileged every day to be able to use my art to help others in need.
Primary Specimen Cyanoptypes (2015) Cyanotype on watercolor. Each print around 24" x 30"
OPP: Has your artwork always revolved around the body? What was the work like when you were in grad school? I’m imagining that you were not yet so skilled in prosthetics, but correct me if I’m wrong.
AE: Yes, my work has mainly concentrated around the body. In grad school I was very experimental. My work ranged from video, sound, figurative sculpture, and performance to wearable and interactive prosthetics.
Awkward Machine was literally a machine that I wore in public. It pulled my face in various directions based on the motor and pulley system, and a speaker distorted my voice. Another work titled New Skin Glove was the first time I worked with silicone with the purpose of creating something meant to more realistically mimic the body in appearance. This wearable glove looked like skin—as much as I could have it so at the time—and had microphones in the tips of the fingers that amplified the sound of any objects touched. A tiny camera in the dorsum of the new skin captured the wearer’s experience and projected it into the gallery in real-time.
While completing my thesis, I fell in love with prosthetics and hyperrealism as an art form. In my recent work, it’s as if the concepts behind pieces from graduate school combined and then leapt forward with my new technical skill sets honed by my medical career.
Primary Specimen (2014)
OPP: I see both the grotesque and the beautiful in your sculptures. What do you see?
AE: My hope is that beauty outshines, or at the very least is found in, the grotesque aspects. I am very careful to walk the fine line between the distorted and gore. I never intend to cross that line as I believe the intent and questions presented by the work will then be lost. Lastly, thoughtfulness and humor are underling messages injected as a counterbalance to the visuals one is confronted with.
OPP: You mention the questions presented by the work. What questions do you ask yourself before, during and after making your work?
AE: The conception of every artwork is different. Smaller works usually start with one intent or concept. Larger bodies of work or bigger scale pieces take lots of planning and are usually more complex. All the work focuses on the Body: is it an ethereal vessel or object? What do we consider normal? How are we confronted with it? What about the body is beautiful and what is ugly? I also try to confront our humanity by portraying emotion or a mental state of being. Lastly, I look to Art History, the sciences, and organic forms in finding references. I do not necessarily ask myself direct questions while creating the work, rather often I have abstract thoughts during my process. I allow the process of making the work to be fluid which in turn gives me more freedom with decision making and creativity. When a piece is finished, I reflect on my initial concepts and compare/contrast this with how it presents. Truly, I try to remain vague with how I describe my work. I don’t want to overshadow a person’s own interpretation of the work.
Epithesis II (2017) Silicone, Acrylic, Plastic, Foam, Fabric.
OPP: Your work is disconcerting, to say the least. I definitely feel physical discomfort when looking at these works online, so I can only imagine what I would feel in person. What kinds of responses have you heard from in-person viewers?
AE: “Love it” or “hate it” are most of the responses. The hyper-realism evokes an initial visceral reaction. At that point people are confronted with those feelings and either continue to explore the work further or immediately shy away.
Vanitas 2020 (2020) Mixed Media.
OPP: Disfigurement and deformity are real experiences for some human beings. It appears you side-step making bodies that might actually exist in favor of very extreme displacements; e.g. an eyeball inside a foot, for example. But are there any ethical concerns that influence your sculptures in terms of representing non-normative human bodies?
AE: I would never want to exploit people or their afflictions. My profession allows me access into the lives of many individuals who are suffering from the most devastating of diseases or traumas one could endure, so yes, I could not help but draw inspiration through empathy but never exploitation. I wish to question the Body, to present the Body as object, and reflect the mental space. The intent of the work is to question how our physical selves relate to our humanity.
So This Is Life, Memento Mori (2020) Silicone, Acrylic, Hair, Fabric.
OPP: In your most recent work, you make a huge departure into self portraiture. What precipitated that shift?
AE: I could argue that all my previous work was a kind of self-portrait, but I understand what you mean. The piece So this is life, Memento Mori not only departs stylistically from past work but it elicits different questions. This sculpture is a hyper-realistic self-portrait illustrating one’s contemplation of impermanence portrayed as a memento mori but with modern influences. During creation of this piece, the global pandemic (Covid-19) was happening, forcing us all to confront our mortality. This event fundamentally altered the direction in which the narrative was finalized. The work encourages the viewer to examine their own physical, social, and psychological journey through 2020. My personal intent in creation of this piece was questioning self in the present, reflecting on mortality, and placing one’s self in society at large.