Archive for July, 2009

Styro-swift, 7/09Styro-swift, closer view, 7/09

When I’m out by the river I’m also thinking about what birds I might see.  That’s especially true during the Spring Migration when there’s a good chance I will run across a species I’ve never seen before.  In the advent that nothing new comes along…I’m not adverse to making a bird myself!  Above is a quickie that I made recently.  I call it a “Styro-swift”.  The materials are essentially the same as before, polystyrene, wood, plastic, and coal for the eyes.  The bill is made with the broken teeth of an old comb.  With more time, I think I could have photographed this better.

Indigo Bunting, male, 7/09

Here are three recent and very real birds.  The first is a male Indigo Bunting and he’s puffing his feathers out displaying to the unseen female in the bush above him.  Perhaps it is a trick of memory, but the Indigo Buntings I remember in western Kentucky were darker and more iridescently blue.  The Falls birds seem much lighter in color.

Bathing male American Goldfinch, 7/09

I can always count on seeing American Goldfinches.  This male is obviously taking a bath, but this area on the beach seems special to them. Perhaps there is something in the water and grit here that benefits them?  It’s a kind of goldfinch lick.  I love watching their singing, rolling courtship flights.

young Bluejay, 7/09

This young Blue jay was so focused on the beetle he was trying to eat that he almost got run over by a truck.  I had to shoo him away from the danger on the road.  When I’m walking through the woods, I try to avoid jays and the alarm they can ring out to every other living thing in the area.  I have other bird images, but will wait to post them at a later date.

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Collecting Bag contents, 7/09

I have been carrying this Lewis and Clark Bicentennial light canvas bag to the Falls since the beginning of this project.  Considering the years of use, its held up pretty well.  For me, this is one of the key artifacts from this experience.  Since 2003, I have filled and them emptied this bag several times with my river finds.  This is what’s currently in the bag.  Laid out… I was surprised how much plastic I gravitated towards in this batch.  The Donald Duck image was found last week.  The Rock-em Sock-em Robot head is from this year.  This is one of two seahorses I’ve found and this one is green.  Much of the rest is potential eyeballs, noses, or whatever part needed to embellish the foam and driftwood sculptures.  I’m about to make a major purge to lighten the bag.  I don’t want to carry anymore with me than I need to and besides…I will just keep finding more river treasure.

Lewis and Clark Collecting bag and contents, 7/09

Machine and Operator, 7/09

Here’s a good contrast in before and after pictures for you.  The machine and operator was made just a couple posts ago.  This is what it looks like now.  It exploded back into the parts from which it came…sort of.  The wreckage extended over a wide area.

Destroyed machine and operator, 7/09

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deer materials, 7/09

I got soaked to the bone on this day.  A realization I had in the middle of the downpour was that I couldn’t get any wetter than this and so I just relaxed.  I had the whole place to myself, since people smart enough to get out of the rain had done so!  The above image are the materials I laid out for the piece I wanted to make…although I did change this in mid process.

Rain Deer, 7/09

I put the finishing touches on this “Rain Deer” right as the wind picked up and the rain came down in earnest.  All day long I had been dodging small showers and the willow leaves and branches were a good enough umbrella…until then.  Once I located what would become the head, I realized that the Styrofoam “body” I had picked out for it was too small.  I instead used this larger piece of “blue foam”…I’m not sure what exactly it is, but I find enough of it.  It doesn’t seem like polystyrene and has a stiffer texture.  I think I have seen this material used for bow-hunting targets before.  It’s dense enough to stop an arrow.  While I was making this sculpture, a Cooper’s Hawk glided through the trees doing some silent hunting of its own.  I saw the barred-tail fan out as it took a left turn out of view.

Running Rain Deer, 7/09

I guess I have been thinking of deer lately.  More and more, I come across their tracks in the sand and mud.  I haven’t seen a live one within the park’s limits, but over the years, I have found plenty of dead ones.  The most memorable experience occurred early on…really years before I started this project in earnest.  A friend and I were hiking around the willow habitat and we could smell something dead nearby.  Searching around we couldn’t locate the source.  For whatever reason, I remember looking up and seeing a dead deer about 10 or 12 feet up lodged in the tree branches.  A  recent flood had deposited the deer there and receded.  At the time, it was a good ground eyes’ view of how high the river could get.

Rain Deer at water hole, 7/09

The passing shower left lots of opportunities to play with reflections and the idea of wildlife coming down to waterholes…which is a staple shot in nature films.  The way this piece is standing, it appears like it has three front legs or is in motion!  I made the head so that the Rain Deer can either look  forward or over its shoulder.  The nose is a split butternut and the eyes are old buckeyes.

Rain Deer at waterhole, 7/09

Rain Deer looking back, 7/09

Our white-tailed deer population is exploding with dramatic consequences.  The number of human injuries from deer collisions with  motorists is up.  More and more deer are appearing in the outlying neighborhoods were they feast on the various gardens and make nuisances of themselves.  Deer are literally eating themselves out of their habitat and damaging the ecosystems other animals rely upon.  For the first time, I’m coming across ticks and I’m attributing their appearance here with the deer they parasitize.

Rain Deer at Waterhole, 7/09

Deer are a good indicator species for the health of the ecosystem.  As we open up the forests we create the kind of habitat deer thrive in.  Deer have taken advantage of this…deer population is much higher now than when the Pilgrims first arrived here.  Although I couldn’t do it, I can see why hunting  them is necessary to control their populations.  Too many deer in one place degrades the habitat also needed by other ground dwelling animals.  But then again, why should we hold the deer accountable for the conditions we created and promoted? The deer is just being true to its nature…can the same be said of us?

Rain Deer head, 7/09

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Soul-sucking Machine parts, 7/09

Two hundred years later, I’m walking the very ground that Lewis and Clark walked in their exploration of this great land.  Our intrepid explorers and their men began and ended their voyage at the Falls of the Ohio.  Although my journey isn’t as grand, nevertheless it has been a process of discovery.  For six years now, I have been walking the length and breath of this park recording what I see, feel, find, and make.  If places have spirits (and I believe they do) I hope this project has been a worthy conduit.  The planet is speaking to us…it’s in our own interests to listen now.

The first image in this story, are some of the “raw materials” I found on my latest outing to the river.  Among the many parts are a Styrofoam cooler, a discarded vacuum cleaner hose, various plastic toy wheels, soda bottles, and well…just plain crap.  This is the stuff that I make my art from.

Motor-head operator, 7/09

You can pick up at any point in this blog and see that I use these poor materials to create my own brand of figurative art.  The basic idea is to create a compelling image that speaks to that sense of place as I interpreted that day from means found entirely within the park.  This project involves figuration because I want “people” (our species that includes and is not necessarily limited to the art-interested public) to relate to the work in a basic way.

The second image I’ve identified as being the “Operator” of a device that I’ve constructed from the other found objects.  With a bit of fishing line, I’ve tied a plastic toy engine part to the figure’s head.  Primarily, the figure is Styrofoam, bits of driftwood, plastic, and the eyes are coal.  It’s tough work dragging that hose across the sand, but what is it connected to?

Soul-sucking machine in landscape, 7/09

Soul-sucking Machine, 7/09

The hose is attached to a machine that extracts more from the planet than it gives back in return.  The Operator is always on the move looking for more resources to turn ultimately back into waste.  This is the second such machine I’ve constructed from debris.  The first was made at the tail-end of my analog days and exits only on print film and color negatives.  I called the first piece the “Nature Extracting Crap Making Machine” and it too had an operator.  In that device, the operator filled a funnel with fresh flowers which were converted into a polystyrene-like substance within the machine’s inner workings.  This is an improved version.

Soul-sucking Machine Product, 7/09

Reverse image of machine, 7/09

Here are two details.  One shows “product” being created and collected for… who knows what?  No doubt, it will be something we can’t live without.  The lower image is a look at the machine from the opposite side.  It sports some type of radiator to dissipate heat and unseen greenhouse emissions.  This is also the 40Th anniversary of the first moon landing and the machine has a little plastic astronaut on top of it as a tribute.  There were stories in the newspaper this week on how we are now able to see the junk more clearly that we discarded on the moon.  We can send a man to the moon and back, but we can’t….you complete the sentence with the challenge of your choice.

s.s.machine with landfill, 7/09

Every once in awhile, you produce too much product or need to clean the machine out.  Fortunately, there are enough holes around that need filling.  It’s a 24/7 job, but somebody has got to do it!

Soul-sucking Machine, 7/09

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Face of Abstract man, 7/09

There’s a spicy, herbal scent coming from the plants and a small garter snake crosses in front of me on the sandy path.  You can hear both the river and several songs from a variety of birds in the willow habitat.  It’s a cool day for July and relatively overcast.  Despite my little treasury of Styrofoam and sticks under the trees, I still walk my route collecting what I missed before and now find compelling and useful.  The “Abstract Man” I made just a couple days ago was started in this manner.  First, I found the little piece of foam with holes in it that was probably used to hold bullets in a box.  That goes into the collecting bag.  Later I find what would become the head.  Part of it is missing, but the bump that looks like a nose, more than makes up for what is lacking.  A bright yellow spray bottle without its label catches my eye and using what I already have on hand…is enough for a figure. 

Abstract man in studio, 7/09

This is the Styrofoam nursery where this sculpture came together.  I have been using this spot for weeks now and I’m really surprised that no one has messed with this site yet.  It’s shady here and there is the occasional mosquito to deal with, but overall, it’s a fairly private area.  There are, however, signs in the nearby driftwood that homeless people may have rested here before moving on.  I found an old towel and the remains of food packaging next to the ashes of their fire.

abstract man, 7/09

I found the quizical expression on this figure provoking and the bright yellow spray bottle lent a formal note.  I decided to photograph this piece in different contexts.  This image was taken not thirty feet away from where the figure was assembled.  Each image takes advantage of the attribute in the immediate area.Abstract man posed in the willows, 7/09


Abstract Man strikes me as being more formal and so I find myself looking for places that have a graphic appeal as seen through the camera.  In this image, it’s the diagonals of the trees leading to the spray bottle that are the key elements in this composition. 

Abstract Man by log, 7/09

Here, I like the way the curving wood of the willow tree behind the figure seems to frame and call attention to the head.  The yellow of the spray bottle holds its position in space and adds that extra artificial note.

Abstract Man with Liatris, 7/09

This image has the diagonal structure of the logs resting on the ground to lead your eye back to the figure.  The purple liatris plant lends yet another color note.  This plant only grows where it is wet and butterflies do seem to like it.  It’s not until I download my images onto my computer that I get to see the full effect of what I shot at the Falls.  With this figure, I can’t say which image and environment I prefer.  Do you have a favorite?

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Falls of the Ohio, 7/09

The river is low and the fossil beds are exposed.  I still can’t get over how this is the bedrock of the river.  Bowls of water pockmark the scalloped surface as the retreating liquid pools where it can.  It will take a good rain to wash the dirt away revealing details from Devonian times.  Still, some people are disappointed because you can’t find dinosaurs here.  The terrible lizards are still millions and millions of years into the future.

Black vultures, 7/09

Today the fishing was good if you are a Black vulture.  For us it’s a different story.  Although there were lots of people trying, I didn’t see anyone catching anything.  The weather has been odd for July.  It’s so cool outside you would think you were in Michigan instead of Kentuckiana.  The television says it has something to do with high pressure coming down from the north.

shelf fungus with chains, 7/09

I took a longer walk today than usual before making something.  Along the way I came across a decaying log with an old chain embedded in it.  Wood and bark grew over this wound when the tree was alive.   Now it’s at the Falls turning into humus as the fungi break down the wood.  I’m keeping an eye out for how long it will take to free this chain from it’s matrix of cellulose. 

"treehog", 7/09

Ever see a “treehog” before?  Today I came across this guy sitting on top of a tree that snapped in two during a thunder storm.  I’m looking downhill and the woodchuck is about eight or nine feet above the ground.  On a number of occasions I’ve watched them climb trees to obtain tender leaves to eat.  This one appeared to be just hanging out, watching life go by.  Once it spotted me, it ran down the tree and into the brush.

driftwood and inridescent water, 7/09

In the driftwood zone are small rivulets where the water trickles over the sand and under the silvery wood.  An iridescent sheen from minerals leached underground creates an oily rainbow slick.  I’ve begun to pay attention to this prismatic effect by photographing it several times.  The colors move with the water and contrast with the solidity of the driftwood.

Abstract man w/yellow sprayer, 7/09

I made this figure today.  I call him “Abstract Man with Spray Bottle” which is not an imaginative title, but a descriptive one.  Because of the profile view, this was the most different of the lot.  This piece seemed to work in multiple environments.  In my next post, I will show you images of this figure shot at various locations around the park.  I waited for the sunshine to burn off the cloud cover before I went home, but that didn’t happen while I was there.  I stopped by the lilies again and shot this view with the fossil beds in the distance.  There is a lot of compressed time here.

Day lilies and fossil beds, 7/09

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Day Lilies blooming,7/09

For many years I have admired the gardening efforts by the staff and park volunteers to beautify the area around the Interpretive Center.  I don’t know if these fine folks get the credit they deserve, but I thought I could devote a post to sing their praises and say thank you.  I would be remiss if I didn’t also notice the man-made loveliness to go with all the man-made rubbish deposited by the river and frequently cited by me in my art.

Day lilies, 7/09

The Day Lily Collection at the Interpretive Center is particularly nice and I have been enjoying the blooms for the past couple of weeks.  Dozens of varieties are represented and each is labelled.  Our area has a very active day lily society and their plant sales are avidly attended.  I have heard people refer to gardening as an “art”, but what about the flowers themselves.  Can a real flower be a work of art?

Yellow spider-lilies, 7/09

Many years ago, (the early 1990’s) I organized an art exhibition entitled “Green” for the Louisville Visual Art Association.  I chose the show’s title before the whole “green” consciousness became so prevalent.  In that show, I had a selective representation of artists  that expressed a concern for the environment.  By far, the artist whose work and ideas I found the most interesting belonged to George Gessert of Eugene, Oregon. 

Day lily, 7/09

red and yellow daylilies, 7/09

pink and yellow, daylilies, 7/09

Gessert considers himself to be a “genetic artist” and his medium are the wild iris varieties he finds in the Pacific northwest.  His basic idea is that the plants and animals we surround ourselves with would not exist in nature without our selectively choosing which characteristics of a given species we find attractive or useful.  He believes what we find attractive in flower blooms is a kind of cultural preference and conditioning and in his own iris works, likes to show what other forms are possible.

deep red daylilies, 7/09

Gessert’s ideas and work raises many possibilities which he has made clear in several articles in the Science/Art journal “Leonardo”.  If we think artists are people who create beauty by manipulating inert materials what do you call it when living materials are used?  Could a dog or horse be considered a living sculpture because they wouldn’t exist in their present forms without our intervention?  Just as interesting is the observation that we are surrounding ourselves with plants and animals that are hybrids or cultivars.  Look around you, how many of the plants do you see in your yard that are wild and native?  It’s fewer than you think.

Falls view with daylilies, 7/09

With genetics, the intersection of art and life is about to get really blurry.  As we learn more about the molecular codes that program life, the more tempted we are to experiment.  There is always the specter of eugenics as well and the quest to make people not just better, but superior.  Another possibility is that we may make new varieties of food plants that could feed an overcrowded and starving planet.  As for the question about the flower being a work of art in itself…I’m going to say yes.  I like that art can push the boundaries of what is considered the norm and in the process alert us to  and prepare us for the future.  After Gessert, I can’t look at a typical garden in the same way as I once did without thinking about the issues he raises.

daylilies at the Falls, 7/09

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Figure with Pink Ribbon, 7/09

After my adventure with the Giant Blue Ant (previous post), I went back to my studio spot and created this figure.  I recently found this thick pink ribbon form and attached it to the piece.  It looks like something intended to create awareness of breast cancer and so I wanted to place him where he was sure to be seen.  In the end I decided to place this figure along the trail marked by yellow and green  plastic streamers and it was a short leap to merge the trail markers with the piece.  This is where I left it and the next day it was gone.  I hope it went to a new home that appreciates it.

Pink ribbon trail marker, 7/09

Pink ribbon trail marker, 7/09

At the moment, there are large morning glory flowers blooming at the Falls and I thought this would be a nice way to end this post.  Until next time.Morning Glories, 7/09

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Giant Blue Ant surveying river, 7/09

Investing time intensively exploring one little patch of the earth can on occasion lead to some big discoveries.  Such has been my experience following life at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Today’s post is about a recent discovery that has so far been kept very quiet.  How renowned myrmecologists E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler missed this species for their book “Journey to the Ants:  A Story of Scientific Exploration” will have to be answered by the authors.  The news is all the more compelling in light of a passage in Wilson’s autobiography entitled “Naturalist” where on page 128 he says that each September from his early teens until he graduated from college that he spent time with his mother first in Louisville  and then across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville.  It would be interesting to know what if any formative influence the Falls of the Ohio played on the early Wilson?  Wilson does recount a visit to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, but doesn’t mention the Falls which are right in his mother’s former backyard.  But I digress…this story is about the Giant Blue Ant.

Giant Blue Ant, 7/09

I came across this remarkable insect in a section of the park that receives few visitors.  In my efforts to leave no stone unturned I braved many mosquito bites and brushes with poison ivy in an effort to learn what I could about the world’s largest ant.  In words and images here is the story thus far.  I was gathering art making materials deposited by the river after a recent flood when I observed a single individual moving through the plastic, Styrofoam, and driftwood.  So well adapted is the Giant Blue Ant to this environment, that to evade detection, all it has to do is remain motionless.  It’s an effective strategy since our kind are loath to notice the debris in the first place.  Over the course of several days I was able observe aspects of its behavior and I think, gain it’s partial trust.

Head of Giant Blue Ant w/egg?, 7/09

Ants are social animals, but I was only able to confirm this lone specimen.  From what I understand about ant morphology it appears to be primitive and may account for why it isn’t more socially evolved.  The most remarkable aspect of its behavior that I was able to watch centered around this honey-brown orb it carried around in its mandibles on the last day I saw it.  My first reaction was that this was some aspect of its food.  Like leaf-cutter ants, I thought this was some kind of fungus that it cultivated from organic matter scavenged at the Falls…but I now think I was in error.

blue ant and willow roots, 7/09

I now believe the orb was in fact an “egg”.  I observed the Giant Blue Ant wandering around the park looking for a place to deposit its treasure.  Above is an image of the ant “considering” this willow tree with exposed roots, but in fact I don’t know where “she” eventually hid it.  I’m sure I don’t want to know because it’s too important a secret.  What if this is the last of its kind?  The responsibility would be too much for me to bear.  I’m not sure of this specimen’s gender and since I haven’t seen others of its kind…now wonder if in fact it reproduces parthenogenetically like aphids do?

Giant Blue Ant w/egg, 7/09

Two images of the Giant Blue Ant walking along the river’s shoreline and showing both sides of its body.  I did observe that one of the two holes on the right side of its abdomen held an active spider web.  Is this an example of some unknown symbiotic relationship between the ant and spider?

Blue ant facing left, 7/09

Blue Ant with bug spray can, 7/09

The very last time I saw the Giant Blue Ant I took the above image.  I don’t really know what to make of it?  Why is it carrying this old discarded can of insecticide?  Did I get too close and it was warning me to back off?  Was it asking me to put it out of it misery?  Was it trying to communicate the eternal question of Why?  Perhaps if that egg hatches and the new ant thrives I can eventually learn the answer to these and other questions.

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Micro Styro-bird, 7/09

The hard hot days of summer are just around the corner, but for now the living is easy.  This time last year the water level at the Falls was low enough that you could safely wade across the river to explore the Kentucky fossil beds.  For now, I will have to be patient and wait for the river to drop some more.  Sometimes when I visit the park I don’t have the luxury of being on site all day.  On those days when I know I only have a couple of hours to make something, I get down to serious play and challenge myself to work quickly.  That’s what happened on this day.  I made this tiny bird from found materials and photographed it near my outdoor studio under the willow trees.  I don’t carve or alter the Styrofoam pieces to any great degree.  I still feel like the shapes the river gives me are important as is.  I certainly could alter these forms more, but this is a collaboration between the river and me and I don’t want to impose my will on these materials any more than I have to.  I accept the abstraction and openness.  The results are perhaps hit and miss, but when it works if feels natural and full of spirit.

Studio site, 7/09

Here’s another view of my temporary studio with materials.  I have lots of found and river-polished Styrofoam on hand as well as curving, gesture-filled sticks to use for limbs.  A couple of recent figures watch over things for me.  Each time I return here I wonder what I will find?  Will it be as I left it or will it be disturbed?

some one else's sand drawing, 7/09

I found this sand drawing made by a park visitor near my studio spot.  For me, this works as a definition of what a drawing is… that is a mark made upon a surface with some intention behind it.  It doesn’t get more basic than this as an example of eye, hand, brain coordination.

Horse nettle flowering, 7/09

Came across this patch of Horse nettles and thought the flowers were beautiful and delicate.  The thorns are a warning that this plant can hurt you and in more ways than one.  Later, the pollinated flowers will become yellow berries that are very poisonous.

Viceroy butterfly, 7/09

Saw the first Viceroy butterfly of the season.  I associate this butterfly with the Falls more than any other.  Although it looks like a Monarch, the horizontal line crossing over the vertical ones on the hind wings give it away.

Styro Microbird, 7/09

This is how I left the Microbird with its legs held fast in the cracks of this shattered tree limb.  The weekend is coming and I’m looking forward to my next adventure on the river.

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