Archive for September, 2011

Hard to believe a week has passed since this exhibition opened and summer has made room for autumn as well.  Such is the passing of time.  As promised here are a few views of the show my work is in which opened at Bellarmine University’s McGrath Gallery on September 16.  The exhibit is entitled “Outcasts and Artifacts, artwork from a disposable world”, “Al Gorman and Scott Scarboro”.  I snapped a few installation views before people arrived for the opening.  Thanks to friends and family as well as a well-timed snippet in the local paper… a good mix of folks came out to see our work.

I have a lot of stuff I’ve gathered and made to select from over the years and I decided now was a good time to see my sign collection hanging on a wall.  I found that I still enjoy looking at these artifacts.  I like hand painted signs and one of my very first jobs was working in a sign shop.  I have this idea about history being interpreted from examining the existing fragments and this collection fits.  I also like finding the occasional sign where the universe is seemingly “speaking” to you by providing enigmatic clues.

My “Fake Food Collection” was another one of my various collections I put on display.  I have shown this before, however, it seems each time I go to the river I find another piece or two for it.  As a result, this collection keeps getting bigger and bigger and no longer  fits in the Styrofoam box I use to store it.  I found every piece at the Falls of the Ohio courtesy of the Ohio River beginning eight years a go.  These are the pieces I did find and I often wonder about the ones that got away!  To me, all the predominantly plastic representations of food are another signal of our disconnect from nature.  The smell of the plastic is really noticeable.  I think this collection presents initially as something humorous until the reality of it sets in.  This seems to be a part of my art’s modus operandi.

Among the sculptures I displayed are a couple of early pieces that I have never exhibited before.  Such is the case with “Fang” on the right and my version of the meeting of the explorers “Lewis and Clark”.  “Fang” still has its original dirt on it.  Also in this shot are my “Squirt Gun Collection” and a small predatory animal I called the “River Ghost” which I featured in a blog post last year.  Most of these Styrofoam sculptures I consider to be “relics” of a larger process I engage in and weren’t originally intended to be stand alone objects.  Although I have saved many works over time, the vast majority of them were left behind to await their fates in the park.

Scott Scarboro is an interesting artist who lives in New Albany, Indiana that also works with found objects and materials.  His stuff is more “urban” than mine and he makes use of old toys and yard sale and flea market finds.  He likes to tinker with the mechanical and electrical workings in these toys so they neither move nor sound as originally intended.  Of late, Scott has been exploring the uses of sound in sculpture in public art settings.  The paintings began life as wall paper remnants that then became drop cloths that Scott worked back into. Scott and I have been friends for many years and our artistic paths seem to intersect frequently.

Another view from the gallery.  Scott made the robot painting as well as the lamp.  The two of us spoke to an evening art appreciation class at the university that went really well.  We were able to engage the class with our art and ideas and I believe most of the students were not art majors? As a result of our talk many of these students came out for the opening reception.

Two “devilish” works by me and Scott.  The Styrofoam sculpture I entitled “Faun or Blue-tongued Devil” and the wall piece  Scott made using a toy jet fighter plane.  One idea that both of us like working with is “repurposing”  existing objects and making new statements from them.  The world is after all already filled with a multitude of objects that can be reinterpreted without using freshly extracted resources from nature.

Also in the show were two Styro-turtles I’ve made.  The white one was featured in one of my recent posts as the “Cottonwood Turtle”.  I was pleased by how that story and images turned out.  Both turtles include old bicycle helmets in their making.  The black one’s body under the helmet is actually a foam wig stand in the shape of a human head.  For many of the works I presented, I also included laminated hard copies from my blog posts that showcase the sculpture on exhibit.  I have to say that I still prefer seeing my works in the contexts of where they were created and as a result I probably don’t pursue the exhibition opportunities available to me.  In closing, here is one final shot featuring three of my pieces and a shameless sign I painted to get gallery visitors to also visit my riverblog!  I still feel that this is the best place to get a fuller sense of what I’m doing at the Falls of the Ohio.  All the rest is fragmentary and tells a smaller part of the story.  My thanks go out to Bellarmine University and Caren Cunningham for the invitation to exhibit and Laura Hartford for all her hard work in preparing for this show.

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I was looking for materials for a new project I’m working on and came upon this event on the driftwood pile at the Falls of the Ohio.  There is so much wood massed and interlocked with itself that I wondered if fire could be a possibility here?  The answer to that question is obviously yes.

I don’t know what started the fire…it could have been set by man or it could have been a lightning strike.  The latter part of our summer has been dry. The fire was quick and essentially burned the surface of most of the larger logs out here as black as coal. I noticed that part of this raft of wood snagged next to this brick foundation of a building that has been a wreck as long as I have been coming out here which is over twenty years now.  I don’t know what this building was originally used for and I wonder if this could have been some person’s house once upon a time?  That might not be right since this area is prone to flooding nearly every year.

One thing I know was that someone tried to put this fire out.  I came across quite a length of fire hose that had been cut.  The canvas and rubber hose bore a stamp that said it was made in Canada.  Perhaps the hose was severed because the fire swirled quickly becoming unpredictable and all this wood presented many opportunities for hang ups and snags. It would be hard to maneuver over it.  Seems there was a cut and run moment and the hose was left behind.  A sculptor friend of mine, Don Lawler, said that cut lengths of fire hose are perfect for protecting the edges of his limestone sculptures when he hoists them into to position with his ropes and crane.  I think I will salvage some of this hose for my sculptor friends.

One reason I was on the driftwood pile was to look for empty booze bottles.  I collected a variety of them in different sizes and made from both glass and plastic.  They had to have their caps still on them and I preferred that their labels were soaked off by the river.  A found quite a few today to go with the ones I have been collecting over the summer.  I’m participating in a group exhibit where the artists address in some way the issues of mountain top removal and our need for coal.  I have been filling up both bottles and discarded tires with the coal chunks and  gravel that washed into here during the last flooding which also brought in all the driftwood that recently carbonized.  Searching under the vines I did find pockets of coal gravel that were several inches deep in places.  When I open up each empty bottle there is this heavy malted alcohol aroma that get neutralized by the coal.  I’m still working on my coal piece and in the meantime…my exhibit at Bellarmine University with Scott Scarboro opened a couple of nights a go.  I’ll post a few shots of the installation in my next post, but in closing here is one view of materials in my church studio room on Barrett Avenue.  See you soon.

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It’s the Falls of the Ohio State Park in late summer.  We haven’t had any significant rain in a few weeks and the fossil beds are exposed as the river has retreated away.  This isn’t a permanent condition…just the way it is during this season. Visitors are walking over the rocks and admiring the many ancient fossil corals that during the rest of the year are under water.

The best time to get a sense of the extent of the fossil beds is during summer.  From the top of the riverbank you can get a good overview of the area.  You can see across the fossil beds to the high wall that keeps the Ohio River at bay. Bird watchers are scoping the rocks and the top of that wall on the look out for seasonal birds or that once in a lifetime rarity.  Well today was their and my lucky day!  I was sitting by the picnic table when in the far distance I noticed something large and white winging its way across the ancient limestone terrain.  At first I thought it was a pelican, but it clearly wasn’t big enough.  That’s when I heard one of the bird watching flock who also spotted it say that he thought it was a heron or egret of some kind.  I grabbed my camera and hustled down to the river.

I watched the white bird circle the area by the lower tainter gates and I anticipated its possible landing spot.  As I approached the area my mental field guide was going through all the possible species.  Great Egrets are seasonally common here and while they are white…they do not possess a black bill.  One white wader that does have a black bill is the Snowy Egret, however, it is smaller and has black legs with yellow feet.  Snowy Egrets come to the Falls but they are less common.  It couldn’t be a Whooping Crane because I couldn’t see any black tips on the wings.  For a moment, I even thought this bird might even be an albino.  Nevertheless, it was shaping up to be a mystery which are among the most fun birds of all.

I saw the bird alight in the sedges and grasses near the river which is where I took these photographs.  This beautiful bird was distinctive with its black bill and white head crest.  It’s tail feathers were also tipped in black.  I watched it catch and eat grasshoppers that were numerous in the weeds.  For the moment, I would concentrate on taking pictures and being discreet.  I could always identify it later in the comfort of my home, but already I knew it wasn’t a bird normally found here or in our country.  This bird’s beauty was enough and knowing its name wouldn’t make it more beautiful.  Time stood still until the bird spooked or just decided to fly off.  Later that day I saw the heron return to the river and I hung around hoping for just this opportunity.

I was struck by the great contrast between the snow whiteness of the bird and the dingy black of the tire resting in the water.  I thought the heron was exhibiting signs of distress or anxiety, but I was surely projecting my own feelings onto this animal…or maybe not!

In one of the most curious bird behavior moments I have ever observed, the heron walked over to a group of discarded plastic bottles and started hitting them with its bill.  I guess it was just checking them out?  A passing fisherman came too close and the bird was gone for good.  I took a deep breath and hoped that I had a few good images and turned for home.  The bird turned out to be the Black-billed Heron which is more accustomed to being found around the heat of the equator.  Few confirmed records exist of this species being seen this far north. But since it’s been hot just about everywhere this year, the right conditions were present for it to make this appearance.  This same individual would create quite a bird watching stir wherever it was sighted in the United States and even made the cover of several bird watching magazines.  The Falls of the Ohio was as far north as this bird was seen and for me it was a happy privilege to see a bird that even John James Audubon never saw.

Postscript:  Readers familiar with the riverblog know that the Black-billed Heron was made with materials deposited at the Falls of the Ohio.  These found materials include:  River polished Styrofoam, plastic, sticks, river tumbled coal, the black tail feathers were cut from the soles of cast off shoes.  Thanks for tagging along on this avian adventure!

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