Photographer and sculptor Carlee Fernandez uses the central theme of family - and how the past intersects with the present and gives hope for the future - to demonstrate her centeredness and strength. According to Ernest Becker's Denial of Death, to live a truly authentic and genuine life, a person must face the reality of death and limitation. Fernandez's reverence for her ancestors, who join her in spirit, allows her to create something larger than self in her first solo exhibition in Houston, "Arranging Family," at Inman Gallery.
Family, Baptismal Cup, a larger-than-life bronze sculpture (32" x 48" x 24"), was inspired by her husband's christening cup. She has meticulously added the names and birthdates for his ancestors back to Rufus (1804) and Emma (1809). Winding around from the other side, she also engraved her own family line, over seven generations, until they meet together with the birth of their sons, Xavier and William. It's a bittersweet tribute, lovely in its beauty, but sad in the knowledge that the family tree must end here, as the cup is now full. The piece appears again in an archival print (72" x 55"), Let This Cup Pass From Us, as the legs of her small family of four protrude out, with just the faintest glimpse of the tops of heads inside.
Family history is formed incrementally, such as the additions of birth and death dates inside the front cover of the family Bible. Imagine the same record keeping applied to a perpetual calendar, adding the birthdays of family and friends over time and then personalizing with color-coded ink, such as "green for family." Fernandez has expanded upon this idea, incorporating photographs from her native California, and up-sized it to an impossible-to-miss 99.5" tall, 14-page calendar entitled My Land, My Loves. It is truly a labor of love to carefully take the calendar down and flip the page to the next month.
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Fernandez's strength is evident in self-portraits, including 2012, a 99" x 77" canvas featuring a "real" Fernandez alongside stuffed pillows of her nude family - bawling baby, wry-smiling son, and stern husband doing his best to be dignified without the protection of clothing. Hues from Brown to Pink, from 2010's 'World According to Xavier" series, features her strong Earth Mother persona, fists clenched and arms outstretched, expanding and growing her family tree with child - evocative of the growth, division and creation of the rings in the tree stump upon which she stands.
The Possibilities, a floor-length dress adorned with the eyes of family members, features chromosomal columns of blue-gray eyes and brown eyes. Mothers often imagine the eye color of their unborn baby, invoking genetics to determine probable outcome. The hem of the dress is decorated with larger eyes, watchful and protecting in their all-seeing knowledge.
The Strand that Holds Us Together did not divulge too many secrets, other than the mismatched hands shared traits such as short nails and familiarity; a palmist could divine more. The artist's notes indicate they are father and daughter, adding meaningfulness to this 53" x 71" archival pigment print.
Arranging Family continues through February 21 at Inman Gallery, 3901 Main Street, open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 713-526-7800, inmangallery.com