Thursday night, New York artist Jamison Ernest made the surprise announcement that he would be extending his gallery show an additional week so that he could give a gift to seven lucky visitors: $77,777 worth of diamonds. Starting on Saturday, he'll hide a single 177-faceted stone each day in a candlelit maze. "I hope a man who wants to get engaged but can't afford a diamond finds one," he tells Yahoo! Shine, "or a person who doesn't have enough money to get their family food and gifts for the holidays." He adds, "A lot of people have been beaten down so badly by life but just need a little bit of hope to believe in themselves again." The diamonds were purchased with proceeds from sales of his work so far, and he had no idea until a couple of weeks ago whether he could pull off adding the jewels or if last night would be his closing party.
Ernest knows from experience what it means to be given a second chance. Six months ago, he had a vision but no money to create his work. He launched a Kickstarter campaign for $2,500, which ballooned into about $65,000 of donations. Another campaign brought the total to over $120,000. He poured the money into creating his paintings and sculptures and building out the raw space for his exhibition, Bouncing Cars, which opened on Nov. 8 in a former meatpacking warehouse.
"The meaning of the work is open to the viewers, but my personal take on it is that life is not about the dead ends we hit, but our ability to see past them and overcome them," Ernest says. The show was inspired by a shocking event that could have been tragic but instead provided an extraordinary message of redemption. Fifteen years ago, he was driving on the Belt Parkway near his home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NYC, when the car in front of him began to swerve out of control. It smashed into a guardrail and flipped through the air, ejecting the couple inside. He pulled over to help, and, miraculously, both the man and woman were still alive. After an ambulance arrived, he never saw them again, but the vision of the near-catastrophe has haunted him ever since.
About 5,000 people have attended the show so far, and the valuable jewels are sure to attract many more. Only seven people will be allowed into the maze at a time, for seven minutes. Ernest uses the number seven because, as he explains, the number is the foundation for many systems, "seven phases of man's life, according to Shakespeare, seven days of the week, seven vertebrae [in the neck]." Inside the maze, which also contains seven passages, visitors will encounter messages to persevere, such as "In the Dark Is When Our Visions Become Clear." Ernest says he hopes people will exit the maze and reenter the light with a renewed sense of possibility. Bouncing Cars will be open every day but Thanksgiving until Nov. 30 at the Ambassador Gallery at 450 West 14th St. in New York City.
— Sarah B. Weir
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