Archive for June, 2009

Audubon's Apotheosis, 6/09

John James Audubon is one luminary that the Commonwealth of Kentucky claims as one of it’s own.  Like Daniel Boone before him and Abraham Lincoln after…Audubon did live in the state before moving on to other locations.  At least the wandering Audubon considered himself a lifelong Kentuckian.  Currently, we are “celebrating” the bicentennial of Audubon in Louisville.  The connection that the famous naturalist has to this area and to the Falls of the Ohio in particular is a linkage I enjoy.  I have created several “Audubons” since I began this project…here’s the latest.

Audubon, bird detail, 6/09

When Audubon lived here, Louisville was a frontier town.  The landscape then is completely different than it is now.  The trees have changed, many of the animals are gone including the famous passenger pigeon that Audubon first drew at the Falls.  Much of my project stands in contrast to what Audubon knew…and is one reason I use the materials I do to construct these little figures.  Reading Audubon’s journals makes me hungry for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.  The challenge is to keep it from degrading further.  Materials I used for this piece include:  various polystyrene foams, wood, plastic, coal, and nuts.  I made this sculpture early in the day, but the light was so bright and harsh, I re-photographed it before sundown.  I still think I can work on this image more.

Audubon's head, detail, 6/09

I found this little hickory nut and split it in half to form the eyes.  The mouth is part of a walnut husk.  Over the years I have portrayed Audubon in various guises.  This one is by far the most “romantic” of the lot, but that’s okay.  My friend Raymond Graf created an official life-size bronze Audubon for the City of Henderson in western Kentucky.  In Audubon’s time the town was known as Red Banks.  Today, there is a state park there that has one of Kentucky’s crown jewels…a museum preserving the largest collection of Audubon art and family heirlooms and worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.  Audubon now lends his name for conservation purposes…hence the apotheosis.  So, let’s look at a few birds I saw today worth protecting…

Rough-winged Swallow, 6/09

This Rough-winged Swallow is far from the most colorful bird, however, it is still interesting.  At the Falls, small groups of these birds build their nests in holes dug into the sides of the riverbank.  Even the most ordinary animals are worthy of consideration and not just the spectacular ones.

Black Vulture, 6/09

We have two vulture species at the Falls.  This one is the Black Vulture…we also have Turkey Vultures.  I have photographed both species many times over the years.  The Black Vultures in particular like to hang out in bigger flocks.  I have seen both species feeding side by side on dead fish.  It is intriguing for me to think that some of the birds I have seen here may be descendents from the species that Audubon saw, recorded, and drew.  I’ll end with two last images.  One is the makeshift studio where I’ve been working and made today’s sculpture.  The other is one of many variations I tried today of placing the figure in some kind of context.

outdoor studio, 6/09

Audubon's Apotheosis, variation, 6/09

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Eight tires, 6/09

The river clean-up has come and gone.  Around the park are clear plastic bags pregnant with rubbish.  In a way, the garbage hasn’t gone anywhere…it’s still waiting to be taken out.  All my sculptures are where I left them as are my caches of branches and Styrofoam.  Time to make a figure from this day’s experiences! 

The Inhaler, 6/09

The Inhaler, detail, 6/09

As alarmed as I am about the water, the quality of the air is also a matter of concern.  We live in the bottom of the Ohio Valley and during the summer the air can get quite thick with the residues of burning coal, ozone, and pollen.  At the coroner’s office, they can tell if you lived in this valley just by the types of fungi found in your lung tissue.  The river is getting cleaner…believe it or not, but the air we breathe needs help too!

The Inhaler, 6/09

People believe the atmosphere, like the ocean, is limitless.  If you were to walk in a straight line for two miles and wrap that distance around the globe…well, that’s all the air there is to breathe.  From space, the atmosphere is so thin you can barely make it out.  It’s a bubble enclosing a rock.  This figure began with finding the inhaler.  More and more people are being affected by breathing issues like asthma.  Oxygen bars are popular in other places in the world.  I wonder if that would work here?  The body of this figure is made from what I call “large curd” polystyrene…I don’t run into this stuff that often.  Time for another puff.

A Trio of Figures, 6/09

Someone placed the brush in the hand of the figure wearing the clock.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to tell if anyone has been by recently.  I really enjoy it when other people play along.  It adds another dimension to my river project.  I did have a family with four kids watch me work on this today.  The children loved what I was doing, but the parents….?

Found cartoon dog face, 6/09

Tomorrow is shaping up to be another nice weather day.  I will try to make and post something else.  This little dog face I found today makes me smile.

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From the archives come these images of faux-birds made at the Falls of the Ohio.  In an earlier post, I had mentioned suspending my birds from waste fishing line to try to create the illusion of a flying bird.  Here are images from one day’s experiment when the wind was blowing a bit more than usual.  I also used a piece of aluminum wire and fashioned eyehooks and s-hooks to do the hanging.  In most of them, the fishing line is really obvious and to my mind…kind of funny in a no-tech sort of way.

Flying Kingfisher

I call this one the “Flying Kingfisher”.  It’s made from Styrofoam, driftwood, coal, and plastic.  The wings are fragments from the lids of minnow buckets used to carry live bait.  The next bird is a Chickadee or something!

Head-on Styro-chickadee

Flying Styro-chickadee

This “Flying Styro-chickadee” was made with my son, Adam’s help.  It now flies from the dining room’s chandelier in a small flock of other birds.

Three Flying Styro-birds

As a boy, I made many plastic model airplanes that are out of fashion now.  You know…the ones where you had to read the instructions and carefully glue the pieces together.  The Styro-birds have the same feel to me as when I made those plastic models.  I bet I made at least one kit representing just about every type of aircraft flown in both the world wars.  I also remember painting them to look as authentic as possible.   These birds, however, are as is and made from junk I collected along the Ohio River.

Styro-birds on the sand

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Floating tire

What would a river clean-up be without discarded automotive tires?  They seem as ubiquitous as the driftwood in the water.  You get so used to seeing them that in effect…you don’t see them anymore. 

Tire and driftwood

That’s where having a camera can be of assistance…it breaks that circuit that prevents us from remembering that these objects should never find a home here. 

Circle in the water

Finding a floating circle in the water always grabs my attention.  It’s no longer just a tire, but the pattern of perfection, the symbol of civilization.

Beached tire

How did we become so indifferent towards them?  Isn’t the wheel the same great device it was when it was first invented?  It was once a big deal…is it no less marvelous and worthy of being disposed of properly?

Discarded tire

One of the nice things about being a parent of young children is that you can remember some of the wonder of the world through their experiences.

Sinking tire

I guess that’s also what makes photography so effective a medium…it gives the viewer an opportunity in a split second, to experience vicariously, what the photographer saw.

Sunken tire in the sand

I worry as a parent that we won’t leave this place in as good a shape as we found it.  It’s become a vicious cycle that needs fixing.

Tire Drawing

I don’t know if “art” can be the tool to make the repair?  But if we can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, which art can do, we might just recapture some of the lost wonder in the world.

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