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Ollie Theisen, one of the contributors to The Web of Life,
recently went to see the artist and gave me the following to
share with you:
Interview with John Biggers - February 20, 1998
O: What is the most important theme in your work?
B. I have tried to illustrate the survival of the family, and the
relationships of the family and the dynamic of man's
interrelationships. I hope to say something about this quality
O. How important is it to you that the viewers understand the
meanings of your symbols?
B. It's important to me that they find meaning in the symbols. It
does not matter if they do not see the symbols as I do. Every
word that we speak probably has a different meaning for each of
us. It'd be the same with the symbols.
O. How do you think students or other artists can develop their own
B. Through their love for nature, including vegetable, mineral,
human, animal. It has to do with one's love for the environment
and that marvelous individual seeking in that environment. That
which only you can find, that which defines your individuality.
That's what it is.
O. Both The Upper Room and Four Seasons are lithographs. Are there
reasons why you chose to reproduce these as lithography instead
I have done paintings of both. The Upper Room is done in the
Texas Southern University dining room, in the mural Family Unity
on the left side. And the Four Seasons in the same subject
matter and the same composition as in several of my Shotgun
series. I've done both.
O. What is the most important message that you convey in The Upper
B. In The Upper Room, I'm attempting to speak of values with the
family. On the porch there are two figures that symbolize the
foreparents or the grandparents. Inside is the table, and I
think of the idea of The Last Supper, that supper of communion
with the family beyond the table is the bedroom. That is the
birthing place, that's where life began. Out of the window, the
light comes through. I'm talking about the light - did you
notice there is a cross in the light? So there are a number of
things that we are trying so say something about.
Four Seasons represents four individual families. Those women on
each porch are the head of a household. I'm trying to show
similarities in the extended family. Similarity in the nature of
their architecture, similarity even in the way that the fences
are made between the houses. And if we had really made the
garden grow, that would have been a similarity there. These
houses with these people had many things in common and that's why
they were much like a family, an extended family. If you look at
each person, I hope there's an individuality there that makes
each person and individual. We have attempted to de-emphasize
the individuality of the houses into patterns, triangular
patterns that our mothers and grandmothers made into quilts to
cover us. We want you to feel the quilt, that kind of texture
that comes from sewing things together, and how that relates to
our everyday life so we see the work of these women who stand on
these porches. Intentionally we made them a little larger than
life . . . they can hardly get in. We also see that the house is
very small too. There was no grand space in those houses. How
there was a homemade library, made up of newspapers, magazines
pasted directly on the wall. Many times when I was a kid, they'd
say, "You know so and so?" I'd say, no, they'd say, "you go on
in the other room and read about him. They'd say, "read that out
loud to me, I never learned to read . . ."
O. Some people are puzzled about Four Seasons, looking for signs of
the change of the seasons.
B. In those women, there are all the different seasons of life.
That's what we are talking about.
O. Now that you have completed Salt March, what is your next
B. Well, I have a superstition. It would be wrong to discuss the
next project; it's dealing again with aspects of African American
life that we don't know very much about.
Note: The artworks discussed are available on ArtsEdNet.
Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 305100, University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203
940/565-3986 FAX 940/565-4867