Love is often conceived as an amorphous and mysterious state of passionate attraction between people. You can’t see it, but you know when you’re in it. The current retrospective of work by Mike and Andree Stansbury at the Acadiana Center for the Arts is testament to the fact that while you may not be able to see love, the fruits of its labor are pretty easy to spot. In the case of the Stansburys, a couple that has been married for a solid 55 years, love manifests in a dazzling array of sculptures that fills the entire Main Gallery of the Center (along with the occasional bricolage, painting, photograph, and the odd piece of furniture, textile, or taxidermy).
The Stansburys share a strong modernist aesthetic: for the most part, their take on sculpture is abstract, analogous to the works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The effect of their combined efforts, however, is one of abundance, openness, warmth, and versatility—sensations that rarely figure into strict avant-garde notions of high modernism. Similarly, the couple’s working methods defy expectations; though they frequently begin separate projects, neither is proprietary. If one comes to an impasse in the process of creating an artwork, the other takes on the project and brings it to completion, often taking it in a different direction.
This new direction might include adding a tangle of snakelike copper pipes atop a wooden table or incorporating animal bones into their ideal forms. Generally, Mike works on the heavy carving while Andree handles the additive processes. With nature photography, bird carving, and taxidermy all on display, one gets the sense that while the history of abstraction is important to the couple, the natural world is the true inspiration for practically everything they create. The Stansburys are both avid scuba divers, and Mike Stansbury was once a champion weightlifter, opening one of the first gyms in Lafayette; these interests are exposed through the couple’s use of wavelike and aquatic animal forms and their dual obsessions with contour and muscularity, balance and the illusion of movement. The works thus operate on a holistic continuum that eschews arbitrary hierarchies that pit abstraction against representation, form against function, and nature against industry.
Perhaps the most astonishing point about this wildly eclectic exhibition is that most of the objects on display come directly from the couple’s home. As opposed to the bulk of careering artists who exhibit in institutions such as the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the Stansburys have created most of their work solely for themselves, exhibiting internationally on occasion and accepting a handful of commissions in the past. Nothing seems to illustrate the passion they have for working with each other more than the awe-inspiring quantity (not to mention quality) of the work exhibited, and that they live with it every day in their artistic love nest, which is a gesamtkunstwerk in and of itself.
“ArtAffair: A 55-Year Retrospective” on view through October 8, 2011 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 West Vermilion Street in Lafayette.