Eugene Wolf's artwork takes you on a spiritual journey
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | May 28, 2014It's all about storytelling with Eugene Wolf, whether he's acting, singing or creating an installation artwork.
"I am a performer, actor and singer, a storyteller," he says. "Usually I interpret someone else's words and music using my body. This piece is just a different way of telling a story."
"My piece is called "I Can See Russia From the Church of Christ (Anchored in Love).' It is an installation that includes video from a concert tour I did to Russia last summer and a representation of some elements that inspired and informed my project. I took old gospel songs to Russia to see if they have any resonance there. And like all my work, it is a tribute to my grandmother.
"I went there for the sacred — in Russia and in me. The way I know to do that is music. Specifically, church music. I learned to connect to the sacred through church music. When I was a child and learning to sing these songs, Russia was our enemy and might drop a "bumb' on us. That's how the word "bomb' was said in my house. And that was part of what we were singing about in church — staying safe. So, when I sing these songs today, there's still a residual notion that Russia might just drop a "bumb' on us.
"But my notions about Russia and the sacred have changed since childhood. I went to Russia to sing the questions: "Now that the walls are down, what connects us spiritually? Is there value for the Russian people in my church songs and their intention? And how has my intention with these songs changed? Can I collaborate with a Russian and create something sacred that serves both of our people?'"
Going to Russia required taking a leave of absence from Barter, but Wolf says, "If it's important enough, you make the time. When I decided to take the trip to Russia, I thought it would be a good idea to stretch myself and try to create something that would celebrate the joy I felt in this whole project." That resulted in this new installation piece.
Visitors to the museum might be surprised to discover that this is Wolf's first encounter with visual/installation art. "I overheard my first grade teacher whisper to my grandmother at a PTA meeting, "He's not very good at art.' Consequently I never tried to draw or paint or even trace – really."
Wolf is inspired by "the capacity we have as humans to realize this existence we find ourselves in. The deeper you dig the more you learn. If you don't invest in the beauty of this plane, you're not going to take very much with you to the next. Curiosity and capacity; Sufism inspires me; the elliptical inspires me; messages that reach the brain and soul indirectly.
"I work in my brain for a long time. I let ideas come and go and ferment there. I clearly know the tools I have at hand, and I consider how to use those to let others see something of what's in my mind and soul. For instance I brought home two music videos that I shot on the Volga River and in the streets of Rybinsk, Russia. I kept wondering what my grandmother might make of my singing gospel music in Russia and realized it might be fun to recreate the initial setting that seemed a jumping point for my thinking about this whole journey to Russia. And that became my living room when I was a child. The old tube television with a newer TV and the Bible resting on top, protecting us from the horrors of the bomb that Russia might drop on us. After all, we learned of this from Walter Cronkite on the good old television.
"Using physical elements from my childhood and my life, I have set up an environment that opens up the questions that live in me. I have given them a room. Come in and see what stirs in you."
Wolf has been a professional actor for 34 years, 17 of those as a member of Barter Theatre's acting company. He has played presidents (Nixon in "Nixon's Nixon"), monsters (The Creature in "Frankenstein"), saviors (Randle McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and musical mystics (A. P. Carter in "Keep on the Sunny Side").
As a musician he has been a member of the New Hillbilly singing duo Brother Boys for 27 years. The group has recorded three albums, and were featured vocalists on Jerry Douglas' Grammy-nominated album, "Slide Rule."
He has appeared in films, such as "Box of Moonlight," "The Curse," "Freedom" and "Civil War Stories." His television credits include "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" for PBS and "Lost Highway" for the BBC.
THERE'S MORE: MILES POLASKI'S ART 'MASHES' MUSIC AND VISUALS
Wolf's installation, "I Can See Russia From the Church of Christ (Anchored in Love)," at William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, Va.