About 15 years ago, mixed-media sculptor Jack King began studying Oriental philosophy. Inspired by Zen Buddhism, King became fascinated with the idea of shedding all your worldly possessions and beginning a journey to a different life.
"I wanted to be one of those people who could put all your stuff on a boat, push it out in the ocean and light it on fire," King says.
When King moved back to Florida in 1992, he saw in the news people who were literally taking the journey he had thought about. Cuban rafters, fleeing Castro, were packing all they had into handmade rafts and sailing for Florida. Fascinated by the plight of these Balseros, King began creating sculpture that paid homage to these brave souls and explored the dynamic of passing, both spiritually and physically, from one existence to another.
The result, which is currently on view at the Crealdé School of Visual Art, is a combination of mixed-media stand-alone sculpture and three-dimensional bronze wall art dominated by boat and water symbols.
Almost all the stand-alone pieces are combinations of boat-shaped vessels and oars with some supporting structure. In smaller pieces like "Transient Voyagers No. 2" the boats are marked with simple crosses and wavy lines and finished in smooth enamel. These pieces have a primitive feel, echoing some of the structure of early Mycenaean art.
The greatest expression of King's complex symbology comes when he plays with the scale and positioning of his main objects. "Gifts for the Balseros: The Water Is Wide" features actual-size oars that rise out of a box of beans. Carefully held at the top between the oar handles is a small fiberglass boat, partially filled with beans. It's an expressive sculpture, symbolizing the spiritual and physical nourishment the Cubans hope to find in America, as well as the incredible precariousness of their journey.
"I see the same pull between freedom and utter chaos in the plight of the Balseros as I do in my sculpture," explains King.
Although the wall art is less concerned with the Balseros, these works refine King's preoccupation with balance, something he's trying to maintain in his own life. King, now 50, has settled in as the head of the art department at the University of Tampa, but as an artist he's still restless as ever. At the opening, he thanked his wife, noting, "She understands that when we're traveling 70 down a freeway and I see some strange piece of metal, that we're going to slam on the brakes and go back and get it. Collecting seems to be part of my life -- and art."