This Occurring World

"Sky" by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)
“Primordial” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)

(Ed. Note: Today’s article is by guest writer Luke Frazier. Luke is relatively new to Knoxville and offers a fresh perspective on features of the city we sometimes tend to look past.)

The first time I encountered Richard Jolley’s installation Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity we hadn’t yet moved to Knoxville. It was last summer, and my wife, Allison, and I were discontent. We were looking for a place to live after Allison got a great job offer and we decided to say goodbye to the snows and cold of Cleveland. The problem was there was a severe rental housing shortage and we were in full scramble mode. 

“Desire, Tree of Life” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)
“Tree” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)

Deciding to take a break one afternoon from the stress of looking and catch come culture, we visited the Knoxville Museum of Art. Outstanding: great design, gallery spaces well-lit, warm, and inviting, everybody friendly. Wandered through a regional Tennessee-oriented exhibit (including some rare Ansel Adams pictures of the Smokies) and a quite engaging women artists’ showcase. Then I walked toward the north stairs on the first floor and gazed at what I found out was the Sky portion of the Cycle of Life installation. 

Since I hadn’t reviewed any museum lit yet I had no idea what I was walking into as I descended the stairs to the atrium. Once I hit the floor, backed up, and tried to take the piece in it became clear that this was the best kind of trouble: art that bashes your brain, heart and body all at once and tilts your kilter.

“Desire, Tree of Life” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)
“Flight” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)

I found out a lot more about the installation later, after watching the short documentary and reading the brochure. But the technical information just gives you an in to simply begin an encounter with this beautifully overwhelming work of steel and glass. And though it speaks and expresses stages of life from Primordial to our release into the infinite sky, it presents itself in a dimension that is beyond linear time. Instead, we are looking at the past, present and future all at once and right now, as it occurs. In that way of looking, we can ponder and make our way through it with humble appreciation.

And certainly I was keen on the words identifying the seven stages: Primordial, Emergence, Flight, Desire, Tree of Life, Contemplation, and Sky. And the notes about each are crisp, their reference to the “signals” the work contains is sharp, with minimal art-speak. But words, ultimately, fail and yield to the tingling rush of the visual swing across the 7-part span. The moonlit poplars, the rising of the man and woman, 130 blown glass birds, the man and the woman about to embrace, a 22-foot-high tree, an internally focused face, and then the sky—”multi-colored orbs of silvered glass, flanked by ‘Metaphysical’ serpentine strands of blue spheres.” Yea, all that and more.

“Sky” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)
“Sky” by Richard Jolley (Photo by Luke Frazier)

Now I’ve been back a few times and am still taken aback by the force of the vision. For the KMA to house this incredible work speaks volumes to the museum world at large. I gotta believe that many Knoxvillians are pleased as punch and proud to know it’s here. I’ve taken a couple of people to see it, including my son who studies art history, and loved how the piece worked its magic.  

Because that’s what this installation is: a rich experience of blazing magic in this occurring world. I stood there at KMA, grateful and inspired. Richard Jolley’s Cycle of Life installation is a true amazary, a place of joyful wonder.