'Orchid Daze' exhibit features sculptures inspired by Alvin Ailey's dance 'Revelations'

Robert Battle was a teenage boy when he saw the Alvin Ailey dancers perform their signature work, “Revelations,” which inspired him to become a professional dancer. Now, he’s celebrating 10 years as Ailey’s artistic director. The award-winning artist and sculptor Kristine Mays was so inspired by the Ailey dance troupe she created a series of figures titled “Rich Soil.” Her metal wire sculptures are on display now at the Atlanta Botanical Garden as part of their “Orchid Daze” exhibition. Mays joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, to talk about the dancer-like expressions of Mays’ artwork among the orchids.

Interview highlights:

Mays’ chosen medium of metal wire:

“I originally stumbled upon the wire in the process of creating works out of glass beads,” said Mays. “Having had a background in artwork in which I experimented quite a bit and explored different mediums when I stumbled upon the wire, I just found myself completely fascinated with it, and I like the feel of it, and it felt like drawing — in the sense of if you see sketches with crosshatching, that has come into play in this building of wire and pieces being overlapped. But in general, I work with wire because … it’s allowed me to create in a way that I think will be long-lasting.”

How Ailey’s “Revelations” speaks through the other artists it inspires:

“I had a friend that I would speak to, probably, once a week, and we would talk about life … and he kept referring to ‘Revelations,’ and I hadn’t seen it at the time,” recalled Mays. “He would always say that what he was speaking about was played out in the dancers. So curiosity overtook me, and I went and watched it … I found myself thinking more and more about it.”

“This series of work is inspired, really, by lots of the emotion, and the response to the messages behind ‘Revelations,’ and the idea of exalting humanity, and just the wrestling that we go through with regard to what’s happening in the world,” said Mays. “While physically, they are pieces that give the same sort of gestures and body movements — and I have created dancers that are on display — my hope is that the emotion behind that powerful dance piece comes through in my work as well.”

As Mays puts it, “breathing life into wire:”

“I always find myself looking at the essence of what comes forth out of people, in the sense of seeing beyond the surface. And so, by creating the actual surface and creating these bodies that are within clothing, you can kind of form your own thoughts. It gives a window for people to reflect, and with the sculptures being created in such a way that figures are moving within their clothing, it often evokes thoughts of various people. [They] will look at something and say, ‘Oh, that’s my best friend,’ or, ‘That’s my aunt.’ They’ll see the person that comes to mind simply through the gestures that are created with the works,” said Mays. 

Visitors to the Atlanta Botanical Garden can see Kristine Mays’ sculpture series “Rich Soil” in the “Orchid Daze” exhibition on view through April 10. More information is available at atlantabg.org/plan-your-visit/atlanta-garden-calendar/orchid-daze.