First Kiss

First Kiss was one of my earliest large-scale bronzes.

It is based on a story I heard a few years ago…

A friend of my family was vacationing in Baja California, where the humpback whales go every year to calve their young. As more and more people flocked to resorts in the area, whale watching became increasingly popular. As a result, interactions between humans and whales became more frequent. Some people began noticing some new behavior by the whales. Mother whales (called cows, believe it or not) would intentionally coax their young calves up to the boats full of human observers. It was as if they were trying to introduce the people to their young, sometime newborn calves

A word on humbpack whales:

I have always been interested in whales, especially the humpbacks. Aesthetically, they should be incredibly ugly. They break all the conventional rules of aesthetic beauty. They are top-heavy, and their flukes and tails are over-sized, asymmetrical, and anything but streamlined. They are covered in fleshy lumps, and sporadic, thick hairs like wire. They constantly collect barnacles that grow on their skin. Their mouths are essentially located above their eyes, which, with humans, is incredibly visually jarring.

Somehow, despite all these perceived flaws, they can be incredibly beautiful creatures. They are one of the very few large cetacean species that “breach”, or jump out of the water. (A pretty athletic feat, for a sixty-thousand pound animal.) They have the grace and smooth movement of a creature that is perfectly adapted to its environment. In my sculptures of whales, this movement is always the tough part to capture. In first Kiss, I used a twisting coral-like shape as the base, to try to lend a visual movement to the top end of the piece, and visually lead to the focal point of contact between the two species.

This was my first attempt at the original concept behind first kiss. I made it out of polymer clay, looong before I started working in bronze. (I’ve got a whole trunk of these things, dating back to when I was twelve years old. -some of them are really embarrassing)

Whales intrigue me for reasons other than aesthetics, also. The longer story of whales, and the story of our human relationship with them, is pretty amazing. Our planet is mostly ocean, yet we are still on the land. Whales originally evolved from land-based mammals. Over millions of years, they tried out a life in our dry environment, but eventually ended up choosing a life in the vast ecosystem that dominates our planet. The evolutionary track that our two species followed diverged on the seashore. While humans have solved our many existential problems with big brains, critical thinking, grasping forelimbs and adaptability, the whales simply found a way to live seamlessly in their environment, without any need for environmental manipulation on a human scale. We sought to change our environment to suit our needs, while the whales sought to find a way to exist perfectly in the environment in which they found themselves.

In examining these two different narratives, it is important to understand that the whales are not demonstrably inferior to us, in a physiological sense: They have massive brains (often much larger than ours), complex societal structures, intricate languages and dialects, and extremely intricate cooperative behaviors. Humans evolved in a crucible of adversity on land, faced with challenges from climate, weather, predators, famine, and an extremely fragile body. We overcame these challenges by evolving an incredible brain, capable of symbolic thought structure, language, critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and spooky-fast and accurate pattern recognition abilities. Armed with this amazing brain, and a few grasping forelimbs, we developed complex tribes and societies, tool creation skills, and harnessed nature, re-creating our environment to suit our needs. As we diverged from the simpler primates, evolution favored these traits, creating a runaway feedback loop that has drastically changed the face of this planet. (mostly the dry parts)

The whales went another direction. Though they are extremely similar to us (there are massive finger-like bones embedded in those flukes) they evolved in a way that allowed them to change themselves to suit their environment, rather than evolving an ability to re-shape their environment. (many have postulated that the decisive factors here were grasping forelimbs and binocular vision, neither of which the whales have.) I often wonder if they have stories to tell us about their existence. We know of, but do not yet understand, their complex language. We hear them talking to each other whenever we take the time to listen. We know that they share complex familial bonds, and organize their pods into a complicated and dynamic hierarchies. We know that their brains are massive, and as we understand more and more the structures that exist within mammalian brains, we grow more certain that they are capable of real thought. I wonder what we can learn, if we ever develop an ability to truly communicate with them.

First Kiss is an intended to honor the spirit of that endeavor, our attempt to understand and eventually communicate with these creatures. In our long relationship with the whales, we are starting to finally put down the harpoons, and are trying to learn something from a species that shares so many commonalities with us, yet diverged from our path millions of years ago. As we try to understand our relationship with our planet, and our role in maintaining it, I wonder if the whales would have an insight, a perspective, that we simply haven’t thought of yet.

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One Response to “First Kiss”

  1. hannahjoy Says:

    Its great to get the story behind the piece, makes me see it differently. I love to see the process as well, to get an idea of the rough drafts. More 12-year-old-Jon-art please!

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