Adrian Arleo is a sculptor living near Missoula, Montana whose ceramic works hybridize the human figure with animal and environmental imagery. Among her creations are bodies pock-marked with honeycomb formations, people birthed from wasp nests, and animals whose skin ripple with human eyes. While there is a sadness and mystical darkness in some of her sculptures — the “Swallow Bust” hybrid, for example, seems suspended between life and death as birds inhabit her hollowed body — they also exhibit agelessness and awareness. Part of this can be attributed to the classical style of the sculptures, which is reminiscent of ancient Greek and Italian art. As Arleo writes on her About page: “By focussing on older, more mysterious ways of seeing the world, edges of consciousness and deeper levels of awareness suggest themselves” (Source).
Thematically, however, Arleo’s works draw their strength and knowledge from the cycles intrinsic to the natural world. As she explained in a 2012 chat with Ceramic Arts Daily:
“[M]y ideas come mainly through observation and curiosity, taking note of what’s around me: wasp nests, bird tracks in snow, the eyes in aspen tree bark, the limbs of trees, deer grazing in the fields, all these things are analogous to our own experiences with life cycles of birth and growth, reproduction and nurturing impulses, defense mechanisms, aging, death, decay. […] With the changing state of the world, I feel a greater and greater urgency to remember and express how we are all connected, all dependent on the same air, water, soil.” (Source).
As hybrids, the sculptures’ awareness of life, death, and the interconnectedness of all things is fused into their bodies. There is no distinction between what is solely “human” and “animal”; all worlds are represented in one. They remind us of our own material connections to the natural world, and how — through their sad, ancient expressions — the world is changing.
Not all of Arleo’s creations foretell this change passively, however. She expresses how her newer works are quietly unwilling to be reduced to extinction:
“[W]hen I ﬁnished this most recent body of work and looked for a feeling that encompassed it as a whole, I was struck by the concept of a harbinger: a dream, sign, or omen foreshadowing things to come. There is a quiet resistance, in this work, to the cultural and biological losses of our time” (Source).
In this way, we can read the sculptures as defiant, with their bodily hybridity signifying a memory of and connection to the natural world that will never be completely wiped away.