Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati, Frank Herrmann examines a meandering motif which appears in the art and artifacts of the Asmat people, one of the last Stone Age societies remaining on earth today. As a consequence of their isolation, Herrmann believes the Asmat culture and the art produced, allow us to see a picture of human creativity and technique in its true primitive setting.
This meandering form, which appears on Asmat shields, has found it way into Herrmann’s large, 7’ x 7’ paintings, and is continually present in small mixed media drawings and spontaneous watercolors, as the artists explores the meaning and significance to contemporary society of this archetypal image. For the past several years, he has included the culture’s myths, symbolism and striking motifs in his paintings.
Tribal practices of the Asmat are closely tied to their creation myths as they deeply honor their ancestors. Much of their artistic practice evolves from these beliefs. Their work is invested with spirituality and respect, with references to the natural and supernatural world. Herrmann says the culture’s art offers him the ability to take on a new artistic language, which is honest, without pretension and imbues reverence and spirituality into inanimate objects.
Wood carvings are an important part of their tradition as they function as the vestments, utensils and emblems of the Asmat rituals. They communicate the history and ideas of the culture as a tangible record of events, ideas, personal connections, structure and belief systems. Herrmann says the carvings also transmit the culture’s own self-awareness, which is considered to be a vital and necessary attribute of civilized humankind.
Herrmann has examined extensive collections of artifacts at the ethnographic museum in Heidelberg and the Steve Chiaramonte collection in Salt Lake City. He said reading about the culture is important, but it is even more important that he touches the woodcarver’s motifs and designs with his own hands through making rubbings on paper from artifacts in his own small collection.
Herrmann says he is eager to explore ways to incorporate Asmat culture and art into his work until the urge has exhausted him and new possibilities have presented themselves. To see more drawings and large-scale paintings from Herrmann, visit his artist page on the gallery website. The gallery also has a published book of Herrmann’s paintings with further information detailing his exploration through the Asmat culture.