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Mirrors as Art

When considering Timothy Poe’s work in the medium of mirrored glass we are
confronted with a variety of stimulating challenges that range from the historical to the
philosophical and which include the ever present question, “is it art or is it decorative?” This
abstract, conceptual work demands a high degree of participation from the viewer and requires
consideration of the viewer’s life experiences in order to fully appreciate the finished subject.
Gazing upon one’s own reflection doubtless began in the mists of time with humans viewing
their reflections in water. The deeper meaning of reflection generally would have occurred early
as well when a human would see an entire landscape reflected in a lake. From a philosophical
perspective, considering the meaning of reflection is a provocative pursuit that offers more
questions than answers. What is real? Is something real just because I can see it – or do I need
to be able to touch it as well. The mountain is real because I can climb it but its reflection is a
perfect replica – yet I cannot climb the reflection. Does this mean the reflection is not real?
The desire for a portable reflecting device – what we call a mirror – began early and
consisted largely of highly polished metals. The ability to produce glass was quickly followed
by attempts to coat the backs of pieces of glass with various materials in order to create a clear
reflection. How successful these sorts of early mirrors actually were in creating a perfect, stilllake
type reflection may be judged by the early 17th century King James Version of I Corinthians
13:12 where the translators chose to use the phrase “For now we see through a glass (a mirror)
darkly; but then face to face” thereby suggesting that a mirror image – in the 17th century at least
– is a compromised view when compared to the real thing.
In each of the works, a ghostly image of the viewer is incorporated in the abstract
patterns created by Poe on the glass. The viewer’s image is very much of the “through a glass
darkly” variety, however, and here begins the first question: who among us can really see himself
or herself clearly? Are we just shadows in the large landscape?
Due to the reflective nature of mirrors, the positioning of a Timothy Poe mirror piece has
an enormous impact on the work. Having had the opportunity to view a piece installed in a ninth
floor suite with glass walls on three sides of the room, the installation was capturing muted and
altered reflections of the farther landscape and also included the movement of a flock of geese
flying by. In the midst of this was the subdued silhouette of the viewer – me – as a part of the
scene but not a dominant part – simply one part of a larger whole. One may in infer from this
that, in viewing a Poe piece in place, one is actually reflecting on the meaning of reflection itself.
Then the omnipresent question: is this art, or fine art, or decorative art? It has always
been my contention that this question is answered daily by the viewers of objects all around the
world. It is a question that is answered without much input from the artist or the artist’s original
intent. If a viewer considers Botticelli’s representational The Birth of Venus or Pollack’s abstract
Number 7, 1951 and begins to consider how well those colors or patterns would fill a wall, the
work has just become decorative. Conversely, if a viewer considers either of these works and
finds that he or she is being challenged or uplifted in a way that transcends notions of the effect
of the piece in a given space, the miracle of art is occurring. The artistic merit of a piece truly
lies in the mind of a viewer and whether or not he or she chooses to – or is even equipped to —
participate.
Having said that, the mirrored works by Timothy Poe possess a living quality due to their
ability to incorporate the surrounding environment into the work. They can be forced into
serving a decorative function by emphasizing the dimensions and by using them as an alternative
to a conventional mirror of similar dimensions in a setting where a conventional mirror might be
expected in a décor. In this instance, notions of “au courant” or “edgy” come to mind. While
there is certainly nothing inherently wrong in using these works – or any works of art – as
contributing components of a decorative scheme, the emphasis of the decorative placement
certain dilutes, and sadly so, the artistic side of these pieces. And yet, the compositions are so
strong that they can overcome a decorative placement and still give pause to an intelligent viewer
who looks beyond the idea of whether the colors in the glass are complimenting the color scheme
of the setting. A Poe piece provides an opportunity to grapple for a moment with questions that
have arisen since the earliest humans saw themselves and a mountain reflecting in a lake and
wondered – is it real? Is that me? Who and what am I? And this is a very marvelous challengellenge

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