My interest in religion and anatomy gave birth to this body of work. This symbol is derived from a series of crucified figures, both male and female I had done around 1965. In 1963, I had worked in a liturgical art studio and this influenced me to do a series in reference to the Christ figure on the cross.
These at first were very much a synthesis of Jose Luis Cuevas and William De Kooning but eventually they took a life of their own and gradually they became more symbolic than pictorial. Many of these were obese in character, showing a Botero influence. The end results were abstracted to just a series of lines and the figure eventually wound up being represented by a “w” (W ) sign. This “W ” represented male and female anatomy by incorporating the form of the breasts of the female and the testicles of the male into one shape. In spiritual terms, I was concerned with dealing with the anima, the feminine aspect in males as well as the masculine aspect in females. In essence I wanted to create a symbol for the soul which to me is neither masculine nor feminine, but it encompasses both qualities. This symbol developed between 1966 and 1968.
Another concern I had at this time was to conceive of the colorful lines as ribbons of paint suspended or floating in space. I envisioned doing room environments with juxtaposed lines of color dissecting the space. This idea leads to my actually doing some ribbon installations in 1968.
I left Cal Arts to come to teach at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. At the U of I I started to go back to painting the disintegration of the Mankind Symbol, but I did not feel right about calling it the “mankind” symbol anymore because while at Cal Arts I had became aware of the Feminist Movement initiated there by Judy Chicago, Miriam Shapiro, and Alison Knowles. So I thought of calling it the Humankind symbol. It still was not a proper term for me but that’s what it became after my minimal period and women’s lib. In 1975 and ’76, the well defined “W” started to deconstruct itself to become pure lines and color, but still at times playing with the Eros foundation that created it.