It’s an imposing sculpture, battleship grey—something that could have stopped a German Panther tank dead in its tracks. In the peacetime artistic interpretation of Richmond sculptor Darry Starr, this unique three-dimensional object is tasked with preventing everything from anti-Semitism to white supremacy, and so many of the other odious affronts to freedom unleashed by a sitting president who equivocated about Nazis and neo-Confederates when in August of 2017 they descended on Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring many other people. The night before, they paraded through the streets with torches, as they yelled bigoted epithets reminiscent of Kristallnacht.
This installation is part of an exhibition at Black Iris Gallery called “Under My Skin”. Curated by artist Diane Clement, the exhibit explores how the exterior world inspires artists to create. Along with the works of Diane and Darryl there are also pieces by Wolfgang Jasper, William Parrish and Helene Roberts.
“The title is no words,” Darryl Starr told me earlier this month at the art opening. He pointed to a sheet of white paper taped to the wall behind his sculpture. Next to the word “TITLE”, there is a blank, but beneath it is a photo of the mayhem in Charlottesville taken shortly after Heather Heyer was killed by a Nazi, and more than 19 others were seriously wounded by other fascists.
“A picture says a thousand words,” Darryl said. “That’s what motivated me to make this. It’s a response to that white, right-wing craziness, and it’s based on a historic defensive obstacle created by the Czechoslovakians to stop tanks.” He lowered his palm to one of the sides of the metal sculpture, and patted it.
“It’s called a Czech Hedgehog,” he said. “It’s ominous, it’s the most aggressive thing I’ve ever made.”
Czech hedgehogs were invented by Czechoslovakians to repulse invading Nazis. They’re remarkable defenses, both for their simplicity of design and their indomitable nature. Regardless how they are upset, they always return to their strong defensive position.
Darryl invited me to consider the game of ball and jacks, which was originally known as knucklebones, and was played with knucklebones extracted from sheep. A jack, generally made of metal, consists of six knobs radiating off a common base.
“They were kind of like those jacks, they would always land in the same position,” Darryl explained. “When this hedgehog is displaced, or blown up, or moved in any way, it always lands in a perfect defensive position. Always ready to go. I view this as a first line of resistance.”
There is a harsh elegance in the angular design of the piece. “Human eyes are automatically drawn to geometric forms,” said Darryl. “And people love the triangles.” He slowly moved around the sculpture. “As you can see, it’s made up of triangles,” he said.
Darryl considered another symbol that is weak by comparison. “In my crazy world, I’d like to replace the Nazi symbol of the swastika with this, which is the swastika’s antithesis,” he said. “The swastika was two-dimensional and square, this is three-dimensional and triangular.”
Darryl hopes to take his sculpture to a number of locations to emphasize the need for resistance against Nazis and other American bigots. “This is just a symbol for all those conflicts and all that resistance,” he said. “I’m applying for a special events permit to shoot in Charlottesville. I’d love to shoot this in Hollywood Cemetery near the Confederate pyramid. I’ve contacted the Jewish Community Center. All these things that need to be addressed, these things we must resist.”
On display through February at Black Iris Gallery, 321 West Broad Street, 804-620-7321.