James Lee Byars, an American conceptual artist and performer, who carried gold very high !
James Lee Byars (b.1932, Detroit, Michigan, d.1997, Cairo, Egypt) was an American conceptual artist and performer, specializing in installations and sculpture.
He began studying psychology and aesthetics and then, between 1958 and 1967, made frequent trips to Japan. There he studied traditional Japanese culture, pottery, papermaking, etc. He wonders about the relationship between Western rationalism and Eastern mysticism. Indeed, fascinated by the Noh theater and by the Shinto rituals, he will always mix in his works, the sensitive, abstract and symbolic elements of Eastern culture, with the artistic and philosophical knowledge of Europe and America. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp, minimal art and Fluxus, Byars multiplied, from the 1970s, performances in public, or institutional, European and American places.
His interest in the fragile, the ephemeral, the perishable, the invisible, death (notably in one of his most famous installations "The Death of James Lee Byars") and language is evident there.
He gives a poetic and mystical dimension to his creations, turned towards the quest for the sublime and for perfection.
Almost acting like a priest, Byars often took part in his own exhibitions, wearing a hat and black, red, or gold costumes, discussing the work with visitors or standing still as if he were part of a living sculpture. In these experiences, Byars not only questioned his role as an artist, which he staged (until that of his own demise), but also gave symbolic value to his objects by emphasizing the inherent beauty of the materials that he employs.
Throughout his career, James Lee Byars thus combines :
perfect geometric shapes borrowed from a classic formal repertoire (spheres, circles, columns, plinths ...)
favorite colors (yellow gold, red, pink, black and white)
and luxurious materials such as marble, handcrafted papers, precious woods, silk, bronze and above all gold leaf, which for him symbolizes eternity, mystique, beauty and perfection. He even wrote with golden pencils - on gold or red paper (Letter to Roland Barthes) and often wore a golden costume.
For Byars, gold is synonymous with "the" manifestation of the sublime. "Gold," he wrote, "is such a level of abstraction that - if you use it in art - you are already going to meet the sublime."
It is also the reflection of the sun and the ultimate light. However, if you want to be fussy, it is not always a question of pure gold. Even if the gold leaf is mainly present and covering already noble materials (bronze, marble ...) that it helps to sanctify, all that is "golden" is also used (fabric, silk, paper ... ).
[Photos of James Lee Byars works are also on Pinterest].