Posts Tagged ‘absurd art’

wooden cable spool and willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 22, 2014

It’s a sunny Saturday and warm for this time of year.  One of those days I can’t wait to get to the river.  Spring is still slow in developing, but it can’t be much longer now.  I spent a good part of the day just filling up my canvas collecting bag with all types of odds and ends both man-made and natural that have washed up on these fabled shores.  I’m finding so much stuff that for practical reasons I decide to see if I can find a spot up the bank and under the willows that might make a good location for a temporary outdoor art studio.  I can offload some of my larder for future use while continuing to walk the edge of the river.  I’m enjoying the sunshine and taking deep breaths of the fresh air.

U.F.O. studio...Unidentified Floating Object studio, March 2014

U.F.O. studio, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I chose a spot bordered by a large log that keeps most of the driftwood at bay and what I call the U.F.O. or Unidentified Floating Object which is circular metal platform that was once painted white with blue trim.  It’s starting to show some rust now.  This large object washed over the dam during a high water moment three or four years a go.  Since then it’s changed positions with the rising and falling river levels and was once completely buried under driftwood.  The U.F.O. is a platform that normally would be anchored out on  the river.  Barges and other water craft can tie on to it if necessary.  Some how this one got loose and relocated to the park.  When I first discovered it here I also imagined that it was a giant bathtub plug that helped keep the water in the river.   I was lucky that I had the same outdoor studio for many years before this winter’s high water rearranged the landscape again and floated all my collected materials away.  I spent a few hours walking the river collecting Styrofoam and sticks and can’t wait to make something new.

Mega Spool figure in progress, March 2014

Completed figure at the U.F.O. studio, March 2014

The first figure I make here is from the largest chunks of polystyrene I had found on this excursion.  I used two fishing floats (one larger than the other for expressive effect) for the eyes.  The nose is a plastic piece from a fooseball table.  The mouth is a red reflector.  My figure has ears, arms, and legs that are pieces of driftwood.  The figure has a benevolent feeling to it and I can’t wait to photograph it by the river.  I did run into a young sculptor attending the Kentucky School of Art who was collecting driftwood for her own project.  Her name is Jenn and she approached me asking if I was the person with the show at the Carnegie Center for Art and History?  She and her classmates had seen the exhibition.  Jenn is building an installation at the school and promised to let me know when she completed it.  It will be fun to see art made by someone else from materials collected within the park.

Large Styro-figure on a tiny willow island, March 2014

Styro-figure on tiny willow island, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

When I first meet the river, I spend a little time looking around and scouting out potential locations to create the photographs that will represent this day in my project.  I decide that I like this tiny “willow island” which consists of clay and sand bound together by the living roots of this tree.  Waves and water wash all around it and at times it does look like an island.  As the river recedes to its normal pool, this tree will be high and dry at last.  It’s amazing what it takes to keep this tree in place with such a dynamic river always testing its resolve to survive.  During the highest river levels, this tree would be completely submerged underwater.  Many of the willows along this stretch of the river bear scars and wounds from large logs battering them, breaking branches, and grinding bark away.  I pose the figure on the root mass and move to the next shot which isn’t too far away.

Styro-figure and large, wooden cable spool, March 2014

Styro-figure and wireline spool, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

Near tiny willow island is a large wooden “spool” for wire line or cable.  I’m amazed by this object’s heavy-duty construction.  This spool floated into here and is now partially sunk into the sand.  Small waves lap the shoreline and you can also see black coal dust swirling around the water’s edge.  Later when I see my pictures I’m struck by how similar this spool is to the circular platform that now forms part of my latest outdoor studio.  This new area to cache my materials is very visible and hence ultra public, however, if we have heavy spring rains…it’s very possible that all this will be washed away and rearranged again.  I often wonder what might go through people’s minds when they stumble upon my outdoor atelier?  It’s an odd archeological site of Styrofoam boulders, small piles of plastic toys, and a tangle of found roots and driftwood.  All the stuff you need to make an absurd figure!  I left my latest Styro-creation next to the spool.  I will go a head and tell you…I returned a week later and all I could find of him was his body and legs.  There must be headhunters out here?  I searched the area, but found no further trace of my figure.  As with most of my Falls projects, they continue to “exist” as images.  The exhibition that Michael Wimmer and I are participating in at the Carnegie Center of Art and History is entering its last week.  I’m so appreciative of the positive response I’ve received for my work.  The show will end with a tea and cookies closing.  If you are in the area, please stop by.

Final shot from the big spool and tiny willow island, March 2014, Falls of the Ohio

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Jug Man, 6/08

We are going back in time now to June of 2008.  It’s this time…last year.  The Ohio River had just gone through a cycle of high water and there was lots of junk everywhere.  If one can be inspired by plastic containers and Styrofoam what would you make? 

Jug Man, 1st phase, 6/08

Here’s one potential response…make the world a “Jug Man”.  This was one of the larger figures I made that year.  Just a little shorter than me, still the body was a large hunk of polystyrene foam.  Talking with other river folk, there is agreement that these larger pieces are broken away from temporary boat docks.  I found all the colorful plastic containers in the immediate area of where this figure was constructed.  The big news going on in the world at this time was the rising cost of gasoline and how everybody was freaking out over it.  We knew it was “bound to happen” sometime soon didn’t we?  This is the figure during Phase I.

Fallen Jug Man, 6/08

I came back a few days later and discovered that “Jug Man” had either fallen over or was knocked over.  I noticed that the shoe prints in the sand didn’t match my own.  Since all the pieces were there, I decided to move the sculpture to another location closer to the river.

Jug Man, 2nd Phase, 6/08

I’m guessing that the wooden structure was part of some train trestle, anyway it was left here by the river and I liked its form.  It had a nice way of defining a space that seemed particularly sculptural and graphic enough for a photographic image.  I carried the body of  “Jug Man” across the sand and moved the plastic containers with it.  The yellow barge rope was an added bonus of this site.  I set everything up and walked away…Phase II

Falls of the Ohio, 6/08

A few more days passed and I returned to see if “Jug Man” was still standing.  He was there, but a bit battered.  Granted he wasn’t the most handsome guy, but he was jaunty in his own way.  The clown-like bingo dauber nose was snapped off, an eye was missing, the smile on his face and his blue vest were missing.

Jug Man damaged, 6/08

As long as most of him was here, I was committed to setting him back up.  I found another fishing bobber as a replacement eye, but the blue vest was gone for good.  The next images are of the last shots I have of him.

Jug Man, Phase III, 6/08

Phase III was relatively short lived.  Eventually, everything including the wooden structure was reclaimed by the river.  From beginning to end, the whole process took nine days.  Here’s one last look of last year’s gas-crisis messenger as he faces the river music…gone but not forgottan.

Jug Man, back view, Phase III, 6/08

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Kingsolver's Crocodile

I was going through my digital files and was reminded of this piece that I made for a show at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Crafts.  The exhibition was entitled “Visions from Voices” which featured visual art inspired by Kentucky writers and musicians.  In other words, art inspired by other art.  I had just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s great novel, “The Poisonwood Bible” and the idea for this piece came to me.

Kingsolver's Crocodile, detail

Much of my Falls project, occurs on-site, however, I do remove a lot of rubbish and haul it home where I make things in my basement.  Once in awhile, I do find an object that is so complete by itself, that it requires the right moment to activate any additional meanings.  Such was the case with the Styrofoam piece that had the word “Bible” embossed onto it.  I came across this at the river years ago and wondered what I could do with this that would be interesting and do justice to it.  I can only guess what this was originally a part of…perhaps some funerary decoration or maybe it was the cover of some inexpensive, cloth covered book?  Anyway, I saved it hoping a good opportunity would present itself.

Kingsolver's Crocodile, topview

The Kingsolver novel came at the right time in more ways than one.  If you are unfamiliar with the story (and by all means..read this book) it is set in the former Belgian Congo in the early 1960’s on the cusp of  their independence.  An evangelical Christian family moves to a remote village and sets up a mission.  The minister-father of the family tries his best to “civilize”  the local people and of course all kinds of misunderstandings occur.  The minister can’t understand why he can’t get the people into the river for their full immersion baptism and the locals can’t understand why he is trying to kill them.  Afterall, the river is full of man-eating crocodiles!  It’s the classic clash of cultures.  Although Kingsolver’s novel pre-dates the current Iraq War, our campaign there always smacked to me as an example of “evangelical democracy”… just because we believe this is right doesn’t mean it will be accepted, especially if we don’t respect the traditions that are already in place.  This is one of the lessons in history that doesn’t seem to get learned.

Kingsolver's Crocodile, on exhibit

I don’t have many shots of this piece, but here is one while it was on exhibit.  It was purchased by a local artist/collector and now has a good home.  Roughly, the piece was about six feet long and made mostly of Styrofoam, plastic, and driftwood.  I did use a few reflectors, a couple of lathe-turned spindles, one of the eyes is rubber…the other is a buckeye.  All the material elements traveled down the Ohio River (a baptism of their own) and washed up at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

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