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 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Ernest Whiteman
Whiteman, UntitledClick to larger image
Ernest Whiteman
Steel and neon
H. 73 x W 44 in.
About the Art

In this image Whiteman pays homage to an ancient Native American image by placing it in a new context. The shape of this sculpture is derived from ancient Native American petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are flat carvings incised, scratched, or pounded onto rock formations. Petroglyphs and can be found in many areas in the United States. They range in date from 2,500 B.C. through the 19th century. Whiteman believes that petroglyphs are a form of ancient writing. Dinwoody Petroglyphs
Petroglyph found at the
Dinwoody site in the Wind
River Mountains of Wyoming. Credit: M. Landem

An important traditional symbol in this artwork is the heart-line, Represented as the central line which runs from the mouth to the heart. According to traditional belief, the heart-line provides a sense of balance and harmony between the environment and human life. Whiteman, an Arapaho Indian, has re-introduced many traditional images in his art.

The long wavy line cut into the steel represents the heart-line. It is illuminated by a bright, powerful red neon light, which shines through the body and divides the image in half. The hot-red glow is like a vital life force. Whiteman says, "It's like a path or the journey. No matter how many twists and turns are in that path or journey, it lines up right in the middle at the end, with the central portion of the heart."

Whiteman communicates the continuity of the traditions of his ancestors through the gestures and stylization of the figure. Arapaho traditions are based on harmony between man, animal, and nature. This image is made of steel, a hard and solid material, but appears to float or fly with the lightness of a spirit. Several vertical lines hang from the left arm, suggesting water and rain. The right hand is cupped as if to scoop up the harvest. The centered heart-line provides the balance between what is given to us by nature and what we take from the earth. As Whiteman explained, "Everything is in balance with nature."

This sculpture was made from a new sheet of steel. Whiteman loosely sketched the original design on the steel with chalk. He then cut the design from the steel sheet using a plasma cutter, a tool similar to a laser, which uses a beam of intense heat to cut. Whiteman "aged" the steel through a rusting process in order to give the new steel a more organic, natural look. He applied a concentrated salt mixture which caused rusting. Whiteman also broke up the smooth, even surface of the steel by deliberately cutting the edges of the sculpture in a rough, uneven way.

Vocabulary Terms

gesture--A motion of the body as a means of communication or expression.

organic--Things pertaining to living organisms or something from the natural world. In art, organic shapes are derived from natural forms.

petroglyphs--An ancient carving or inscription in a rock.

stylization--Portrayal which eliminates or exaggerates details of the subject based on a style or pattern rather than nature.

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