Lola Mae, My Friend

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
mid-1980s
Mud, white pigment, blackberry juice, pencil, on wood
25 x 9.5 inches

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Jimmy Lee Sudduth's Lola Mae, My Friend provides another instance of the doubly signifying sacred, but this time in a trickster mode.

Jimmy Lee Sudduth's Lola Mae, My Friend provides another instance of the doubly signifying sacred, but this time in a trickster mode. It is simultaneously eerie and playful; perhaps "spooky" is the right word, bearing the dual sense of the scary and the mischievous (as with poltergeists). The contorted shape of the figure suggests a repulsively inhuman ability to bend the body fluidly, as if every limb were double jointed. The balancing of an awkwardly attached hat on the figure's head is accompanied by a juggling ball in its hand and the improbable roller skates on its feet. The head of the figure appears hairless like that of a male (despite the tide of the work), but is clothed in a skirt like a female, thus suggesting the multiple sexuality or the indifferent non-sexuality of a spirit being. Gender non-specificity is a tricky phenomenon, as many cross-dressers and transvestites demonstrate; such indeterminacy also conveys the possibility of a suprahuman entity possessing obscure powers and intentions. The comic dimensions of this image do not render it less dangerous; it is only that the danger is presently impish rather than sinister. One would not be surprised by such a figure, however, if it proceeded to metamorphose into something less playful and benign—something more like one of Ralph Griffin's "Wizard" figures, for example, in which the presence of a spirit being is equally evident but whose motives and import are much more impenetrable. In this regard Griffin's wizards more obviously resonate with spiritual power to bless or curse, but tricksters can be healers/harmers, too, like the trickster orisha of the Yoruba, Eshu, or the African American folk trickster, High John the Conqueror.

Sam Doyle’s Rocking Mary, a bare-breasted and pipe-smoking female figure, is another playful specimen in the same tradition. Of course, the trickster can be manipulative and deceptive, too. Our experience of such duplicity is precisely why Sudduth's spirit figure is more than amusing: if we have experienced enough, we suspect that more than whimsy is signified in the agile twist of its torso and limbs.