Anatomy IV

  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Sawdust-and-glue relief with pigment, on wood, with painted wood frame
29.5 x 25.5 inches
Collection of
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

When James Baldwin referred to various forms of black expression as compulsively symbolic, signifying, and "hieroglyphic" in comparison to the virtual-reality representations of black music, he might well have pointed to works by Archie Byron to illustrate the force of his claim. Byron's "Anatomy" sequence, I, II, III, and IV displays full figures of the nude human body, male and female, on the one hand (the virtually real). On the other hand the works include abstracted versions of body parts—ears, mouth, nose, eyes, hands, and feet—that convey a hieroglyphic effect. The observer's eye is skillfully constrained by the artist to shift back and forth from the virtually real to the hieroglyphic representations, thus correlating the disembodied body parts as hieroglyphs in relation to the more full-bodied forms accompanying them. As a tutorial in abstract expression the works are ingenious: they provide simultaneously both a code, the "glyphs," and the key to that code, the full-bodied figures. A more subtle feature of the artist's craft is the displacement of the head or face of each figure: because the eyes, noses, and ears are represented in glyphs, they are not visible realistically as part of the full-bodied figures, but are abstracted from those figures in order to constitute coded representations elsewhere in the field of the works.

The gendered nature of these anatomies is especially intriguing. The artist visually explores the diversity-in-unity of male and female. Genitalia and breasts are evident but de-emphasized to the point of marginalia. More emphasized, to the point of exaggeration, is the similarity or identicalness of body parts that the male and female share. Indeed, the two genders share features of each other so profoundly that they are represented as virtually one being. Each anatomy is "one being with two natures," to invoke the classical Christological formula of Western theology, in which Christ is simultaneously both God and human, without separation or confusion.