Artworks created in a poetic sense


There is a fabulously interesting Greek word—poema—which means “to make”— with a cascade of nuances, which implies detailed workmanship, a masterpiece or the most special creation of the creator. It is the origin of our English word “poem,” but was used by ancient Greeks to ascribe special status to the work of sculptors, poets and painters with the ability to do more than just describe physiognomy, but who could imbue the spiritual thumbprint of their subjects.

As a lifelong artist, octogenarian Artis Lane’s bronze and painted portraits conflate sculpture and personality in presidents, movie stars and cultural icons. Her installation series titled “Emerging Into Spirit” personifies spiritual development of generic man. After completing a physical representation, Lane lives with her art, continuing to nurture it with minute alterations until she is satisfied that the spirit is expressed. The “poema” of Artis Lane currently can be seen at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale.

The buoyant Lane began her career with a focus on portraiture. She became a thread, running through politics, Hollywood and history. She captured gentle determination in the eyes of Ronald Reagan’s bronze bust. Michelle and Barrack Obama are depicted with the exactitude of ancient Egyptian profiles. Mrs. Obama unveiled Lane’s soulful bronze portrait of emancipation suffragette Sojourner Truth, now part of the collection of the U.S. Capitol.

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery honored the artist for a bronze likeness of her life-long friend and civil rights activist Rosa Parks. And Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx commissioned a portrait painting of entertainment icon and social activist Oprah Winfrey, which was presented on her syndicated variety program (the only piece described that is not in the exhibition). Lane’s work is not superficial and she continues to weave her thread through the world.

In spite of having achieved such success, Lane experienced an emotional fluctuation that exposed deep dissatisfaction. Purpose was missing for her, so she recalibrated her artistic direction and expanded her consciousness to include social injustice and metaphysics. The exhibition showpiece and pinnacle of these layers of consciousness for Lane is an installation titled, “Emerging Into Spirit.” Six individual sculptures ascend a support system that is 12-feet high, which together represent generic man in various stages of awareness and spiritual enlightenment.

The artist titles each stage from the base; “Rebirth,” “Emerging First Man,” “First Man,” “Emerging New Man,” “New Man” and “Spiritual Man.” The base figures are writhing and Rodinesque, each subsequent piece evolves through attitudes of penitence, awareness and balance. By stages, generic man has both feet firmly planted but eventually achieves balance conveyed by a one-legged, yoga-like position.

The artist leaves foundry material on some stages to represent birthing material as the spirit of generic man progresses. The artistic technique also experiences metamorphosis, becoming a Brancusi-like, crystal-clear, highly polished and balanced representation of man without the trappings of mortal matter. Lane adds a layer to emphasize the message; stainless steel prohibition symbols, the circle and slash, are placed in front of each stage of the epiphany series to warn viewers, in the words of the artist, that “what we can see and feel is false. Truth is in the unseen spirit.”

The Lane Exhibition is primarily sculpture, much of which is lined up against the wall, and would have been easier to appreciate if viewers had been able to circulate around more of it. Managing gallery space so that artists can bring more of their best is always a challenge for curators. However, Lane’s message and technical transitions are seamless. She speaks through her art and her voice lovingly releases the spirit of those she chooses to explore. She is poema.

Terri Martin is an art critic, artist and art historian.


What: The Art of Artis Lane

Where: Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale

When: Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until July 31

Contact: (800) 204-3131 or