Posts Tagged ‘art studio’

debris field, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

April’s tale was of a high Ohio River and rain fall for the record books. Twice the river rose to flood stage before subsiding back into its muddy banks.  Left in its now drying wake are trash mounds and islands of wood and debris that were pushed and floated upon the water’s surface by wind and current.  In this mish mash of culture and nature I carefully pick my way over and through the debris fields at the Falls of the Ohio.  All along the riverbank, the dull and muddy colored wood contrasts with the reflected light from hundreds of plastic bottles and chunks of bright white Styrofoam.

Large blue plastic egg among other river debris, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

I picked a great day to visit the river.  As soon as I arrived in the park, I could hear several newly arrived male Northern Orioles calling back and forth through the tall cottonwood trees.  I even found several eggs.  Here is a large blue plastic egg nestled in shredded tree bark and plastic bottles.  I also found a muddy, but real Canada goose egg now too cool to incubate. There was an adult goose hanging out near me and I suspect some early nesters had their clutch washed away by the second flood.  I decided with so much brightly colored plastic scattered all over this woody mound…I wondered if I could put any of it to use?

detail, yellow plastic trash, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As you can see in this detail image…I decided to concentrate on the color yellow.  I stayed within a certain area and collected all the yellow objects on this driftwood mound.  It was tricky work because the footing was not good.  Several times I sank to my hip as my leg would go through the loosely tangled branches, dirt, and logs.

I call this piece “Yellow Concentrate”.  It consists of mostly plastic, quart-sized oil containers along with a few larger laundry detergent jugs.  There are a few odd items as well.  I found three rubber ducks on today’s adventure and used two of them here.  I used a bowl-like depression in the driftwood as my setting to assemble and sort through the junk.  I was glad to have the wooden platform in the foreground because it was also easy on the feet.

Landscape view with "Yellow Concentrate" facing railroad bridge, April 2015

 This site gave me potential for a few good views.  Here is “Yellow Concentrate” with the railroad bridge in the background.

"Yellow Concentrate" with the City of Louisville across the river. April 2015

Now here’s the same piece with the skyline of the City of Louisville on the southern shore.  All that massed yellow really pops you in the eye.  Individually, all these yellow plastic containers barely registered scattered across the debris field, but it’s a different story when you bring them together.  Feeling pretty good about yellow…I decided to next try a different color.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

As I was collecting all the yellow containers…I was also sorting out the blue ones and throwing them in the driftwood bowl.  On a nearby fallen, diagonally leaning tree trunk…I arranged my collection.  The big blue Easter egg is near the center.  As I worked on “Blue Extract”, the hole I was standing in kept getting wider and deeper.

"Blue Extract", Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Most of these containers are plastic oil and liquid detergent bottles, but I mixed a few aerosol cans in as well.  In this line are seven plastic and rubber balls.  One last project before calling it a day.  I stayed in the same area and pulled aside all the lost flip-flops I encountered.  I laid them all out on the white surface of a metal refrigerator that had floated in here with the last flood.  It looked like the Shoe Shaman had been this way too.

lost flip-flops on the side of a refridgerator, April 2015

Sandal Arc, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

The stark whiteness of the fallen refrigerator reminded me of the white pedestals that you would find in an official gallery.  I organized the lost foot wear from smallest to largest, left to right.  I soon left for home with a hefty collecting bag full of “river treasure” and a camera loaded with images.  Every thing else was left in place.  I will come back when the river level drops a little bit more and the fudge-like mud has had the chance to harden in the sun.  There is still so much more to explore in the park and can see myself keeping busy for the rest of the year.  Here’s one last look over the shoulder at today’s location at the Falls of the Ohio.  I realized after the fact, that the found milk crate I used to move materials around was so bright red that it holds its place among the yellow and blue.  Until next time!

Site of this day's activity, Falls of the Ohio, April 2015

Read Full Post »

Found Plastic Heart, Falls of the Ohio across from Louisville, Jan. 2015

Happy 2015 to all from the Falls of the Ohio State Park!  This is my first post of the new year which has started auspiciously for me.  I am happy to report that I found a new day job!  I am the new Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  About this time last year I was showing my own river art at this organization.  It’s funny how things worked out…I had a feeling that my opportunities were leading me to the north bank of the Ohio River and that’s what happened.  I found this plastic heart in the mud of the Indiana riverbank about a week before I was offered the job.  I wonder if it has significance?

Carnegie Center for Art and History, New Albany, IN, Nov. 2012

My relationship with the Carnegie Center for Art and History goes back to the early 1990’s when as a staff member at the Louisville Visual Art Association I helped to install the Indiana version of the Children’s Free Art Classes on the Carnegie Center’s gallery walls.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have exhibited my own work here with the latest being the Potential in Everything show with Michael Wimmer that was up this time last year! There has to be a lot of serendipity in play here for all the stars to line up as they did and so I am feeling it was meant to be.  I will be creating new workshop opportunities and other programming to help the center with its community-minded mission.  It’s a new challenge for a new year!

plastic liquor bottle filled with quartz pebbles, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

With the new job and a recent cold spell I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the river until this three-day weekend.  I heard that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded across the globe.  Today our temps are in the low 50’s which is quite a change from the teens we just experienced.  I grabbed my walking stick and collecting bag and made a day at the river.  I have been doing various bottle projects and here is a new one.  I found a plastic liquor bottle that still had its cap on it.  It’s interesting to note that most bottles I find with screw-top bottle caps are discarded with their caps on.  By a deposit of Ice Age gravel, I was able to fill the bottle with river-tumbled white and pale yellow quartz pebbles.  Not sure how I will use this, but will probably factor into a new artwork soon.  Being outside on such a fine day is something else I wish I could bottle for future use when the cold, damp, and gray returns.  For now I place the bottle in my collecting bag and move on.  There are other things to find and discover.

jaw bone and aluminum can top, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Next to the flattened top of an aluminum can I found this small, partial jaw bone.  I think it’s from a skunk or some other small carnivore, but will need to check the dentition more carefully.  After taking this picture, I picked the mandible up and placed it into my bag.  This find will factor into something else I put together before day’s end.

Circular platform at my outdoor studio, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The mud and melting ice made checking out the river’s edge problematical and so I headed up the riverbank and into the willow trees.  I visited my outdoor atelier and decided to do a little “house cleaning”.  I swept the leaves and dirt off of the circular metal platform that has been here for several years.  If I could have figured out how to get this object home, I probably would have done so by now.  As it is, I like using it as a work surface and place to sit.  My other stashed materials are nearby.  To me, the platform is still a “U.F.O.”…which stands for “Unknown Floating Object”.  I think it has something to do with mooring barges, but could be wrong about that.  I also like that it adds a stage-like presence and helps define one small area at the Falls.

Louisville and Indiana railroad cars, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Huge downed log near the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Standing on the platform and facing the river, if I look to my left I see the old railroad bridge.  There were several trains that went back and forth while I was occupied.  The railroad is part of the atmosphere of the place.  A large and partially burned log occupies the space between the platform and the bridge.  I straightened out my stick and root collection and sorted them on the platform.  I then rediscovered my Styrofoam collection.  Every time I walk the river, I find new river-polished pieces and add them to this assemblage.  There is simply more here than I can use at a time and so anyone is welcome to try making something from what has been gathered.

Styrofoam larder at the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Detail, Styrofoam pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I grab a few rounded pieces from the collection and decide to construct a figure from what I have here and in the bag.  I decide which shapes and forms would make good heads and bodies and set them aside.  Once in a great while, some other creative souls find my larder and make something of their own from this junk.  I like it when people see the opportunity here.

Outdoor studio view, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Materials for a figure, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I usually like starting with the head first.  It’s where the most information is focused and my Styro-figures share this with archaic works and folk art.  In the case of this figure, I decided on another shape for the head.  Collected bits of plastic and potential facial elements are placed into a found plastic bowl.  I will decide the features of today’s figure from what I’ve gathered today.  Here’s a sequence showing the progression of how the head evolved including what already looks like a found face in the bowl.

Plastic bowl with potential "facial features", Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

January Styro-figure head in progress, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Finished head, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

The found mandible has a new home on this piece.  I split the bottom from an aluminum can to make the ears which does give this figure a monkey-like quality to it.  The eyes are a white, plastic bottle cap and the green, plastic bead from a child’s toy.  I found two expressive sticks for arms and set the figure up as though it were sitting down with crossed legs.  Here are images of this piece finished on site.

First Man of January, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

Figure at my outdoor art site, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015

I had the best time today.  There is still lots of winter before us, but this weekend’s respite helped connect me to the river for the first time this year. I will be curious to see if we even have one decent snow fall this season?  Whatever happens during 2015, I will take it all in stride. The year is already off to a positive start!  I think I will leave it at that and sign off until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville from the Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 2015


Read Full Post »

I debated with myself about going down this road in this post and decided it would be okay.  I did solicit opinions from fellow artist friends on the topic of obsessive compulsions and hoarding in an attempt to come up with a self-diagnosis.  Opinions varied.  Since photographs do a good job of describing things… I will start with images from the basement of my house and my dilemma (and subject of this post) will become clearer.

I have been doing my Falls of the Ohio project since 2003.  During this time, I have made many sculptures from the materials I found deposited in the park by the Ohio River.  Most of those materials and sculptures were left on site, but not all.  I do have a desire to remove the trash I find from this environment even if I realize I can’t get it all.  The result is that I have brought a lot of it home with the notion of using it in my art, sometime in the near future.

I “maintain” a small studio space in my basement where I store materials with the aim of making something from them.  One issue I have is that I see “potential” in so many things and I’m reluctant to give up on materials that could become art.  I am plagued by seeing all the possibilities which on occasion out strips my ability to realize all this “potential”.  Part of this is economic in nature.  I have never ever had any money and as many of you know, art materials can be very costly.  With this Falls project, I have spent the bare minimum since what I’ve been picking up is free.

These are my “rainy day” materials from which I’ve made many birthday gifts, Christmas presents, and donations for not for profit fund-raising events.  Over the years all this material culture has built up and it’s getting hard to move around my basement!  So, I ask myself…am I a hoarder?

I have to admit looking at this image…things look bad!  It’s nearly the classic picture of the hoarder house that has paths of stacked newspapers and magazines with little paths running through the spaces.  I assure you that the rest of my house is quite normal…for the most part.  We have what seems like thousands of books and I have more art hanging around than the “average” home.  The men of my family have always been drawn to collecting things (coins, medals, old photographs, etc…), but I think I came down with a more serious case than most.  I will say the books are in their cases and the art is hung on the walls with some care.  I try to take care of the objects I seriously collect, but not with the art materials and their as yet unrealized potentials.

There has never been a time that I wasn’t making something.  That sense of thrift and trying to recycle and reuse I see as being virtues of my creative process.  Years a go,  I once found employment as a picture framer and I was disturbed by all the waste in that profession.  I couldn’t see throwing away perfectly good picture frames because they were old.  And, all those scraps of 100% cotton rag matboard…are too hard-won to be thrown in the dumpster with impunity.  So, naturally much of these materials also found their way into the basement.  In my defense, I will tell you that this stuff does eventually get used.  For many years, I supplied all the neighborhood kids with all the free matboard they could draw and paint upon.  Because the matboard in particular was quality material, there are many childhood drawings and artworks that might actually survive to say something about the ephemeral experiences of being children.  Although I have vivid recollections of the art I made as a kid…nothing from my childhood survives and that does bother me a bit.  I have saved most of my sons’ childhood art.  Perhaps that’s another sign of a hoarder!

So, what am I going to do with all this “river treasure”?  I have resolved to use it this year and get it out of the basement!  I have a few upcoming exhibition opportunities and may pursue more.  To help with this goal, I have rented an additional studio space in a local church where several other artists keep spaces.  The enigmatic image I began this post with is from that church and it’s from a small library/study area used by the congregation.  Here is a partial view of my new studio room in this church with the beginnings of me moving materials out of my basement.

The church (whose name I will keep private) dates from the turn of the 20th century.  The current congregation is small and aging and I wonder how long it will remain a viable church?  To help bring in income, the vacant spaces are rented out.  I’m sharing my space with two good friends of mine both of whom are primarily painters.

Although I do think of myself as a spiritual person, I wouldn’t describe myself as being traditionally religious.  My sacrament is my creativity.  I do, however, find the idea of redemption interesting.  With my project, I am trying to redeem these poor materials I find by our river and maybe point to something that is within all of us…a univeral creativity that I feel is the hope for our planet. 

Read Full Post »

Since the river washed away my old studio site, I have started two fresh ones.  The studio situated by the roots of a fantastic cottonwood tree is in the park’s western section and is pictured above.  I will show you the second site in a future post.  My studios are very informal affairs and have more to do with stockpiling materials for future use.  Try as I might, I can’t carry this junk everywhere I go and so I need places to park it.  Of course, anybody is free to use whatever I place there and sometimes people take me up on it.  This western studio is where I made the figure with the gavel in my last post.

To reach the western studio is a longer walk from the Interpretive Center’s parking lot and receives fewer people.  That, however, doesn’t make it immune from the visits from the “Smashers”.  Years ago, that was the name my son Michael came up with for the kids that feel compelled to break every glass bottle they find in the park.  On more than one occasion, they also destroy my sculptures.  Such was the fate of the subject in my last post…the “Smashers” got’em.  That figure was so utterly destroyed that all I found were a few scraps of polystyrene and the toy hammer it was carrying.  I try not to dwell on it too much.  There’s always the next piece to make and the sun is shining today and spring is near and life is good.

The birds are feeling it and soon the migrants will be winging it this way from points deep south.  Today I was serenaded by Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals.  I saw my first Red-winged Blackbird of the new year and a Belted Kingfisher flew by my studio.  The trees are beginning to show the buds that will lead to blossoms and leaves.  A stray fly lands on my hand.  It has been a long winter and spring will be more than welcomed.

I quickly gathered enough sticks and Styrofoam to make three small figures.  I imagined that like the birds I had heard, these guys are also singing.  I moved them around a bit, but in the end, decided that I liked this one image the best.  I left them in the roots of another cottonwood tree and went home.  On the way back to my car, I came across a tangle of driftwood and found a child’s broken plastic chair mixed into the lot.  The brilliant red color caught my attention and I offer it as a parting gift to you.

Read Full Post »

Great Blue Heron in flight, 10/09

After last week’s excitement in the form of an exhibition and talk, life is returning to a slower pace.  Autumn is in full swing now.  When the sun is shining there are still enough leaves with great color left on the trees to make things seem magical.  On the other hand, after days of rain and overhanging clouds…it’s easy to get a case of the grays.  Following are a few images from last weekend.  I did come across an unexpected bird that is new to my Falls of the Ohio checklist.  I was able to watch a pair of Prothonotary Warblers for a few minutes and managed a couple of really  blurry images with my camera.  The park’s official checklist lists them as being only occasional for the spring season.  So, I’m feeling lucky to have seen them unexpectedly.

young groundhog, 10/09

The park’s woodchuck’s are busy putting on weight for the hibernation to come.  It seems this has been a decent year for them.  I’ve seen many and stepped into more than one unseen burrow entrance. It’s been a good year watching animals in general.  The mink sighting earlier in the year was a highlight.  It’s only a matter of time before I surprise a deer in the park.  Signs of them are starting to show up everywhere.

plastic model car, 10/09

I’m still finding unusual plastic stuff all the time.  Despite walking familiar routes through the park, I keep coming across items deposited here by past floods.  Here’s a plastic model Mustang car.  It was lying snug next to a log.  I have other images of shoes and plastic gasoline containers as well that I’ll use to eventually update those image collections on this blog.  With many of the willow trees losing their leaves, my secret studio spot is easier to find than ever.  Here’s what it looks like currently.  Prince Madoc is keeping a good watch over things!  According to the extended forecast, tomorrow is supposed to be the one sunny day of the week.  I’ve promised myself an extended outing at the Falls.  Whatever I make or document will be my posts for the upcoming week.

Studio in mid October, 10/09

Read Full Post »

View with Interpretive Center, 8/09

Now this feels more like summer.  The Ohio Valley heat and humidity just grabs your breath and makes it heavy.  After the flash flooding and torrential rains, I thought the park would look a lot different than it does.  You can see that the river did get high because piles of driftwood form a meandering line where the water stopped and receded.  I checked out the new arrangements, but the object that stands out as the find of the day was a plastic, crinkled, French fry!  Something new for the “Fake Food Collection”. dragonfly, 8/09


All manner of insect life is present today.  Various dragonfly species patrol the air space just above my head.  I watched a small thread-waisted wasp carry a caterpillar across the sand.  Ants follow their chemical trails through the driftwood.  Some of the willow trees are exuding a sap that’s attractive to dark-bodied flies and an occasional monarch butterfly floats by.  With all this buggy activity, I can feel the energy of life all around me.

Head of Starry-eyed figure, 8/09

The river stopped just short of my studio site.  As I was walking towards it with today’s finds I could hear the voices of children coming from that direction.  For the first time, I actually came across people standing in my spot.  I know I surprised “Grandma” and her two grand children, a boy and a girl.  She explained very quickly that she lives in Clarksville and wanted to take the kids to the river and get exposure to nature.  The girl was holding a small doll I had found months ago and her brother was carrying the wooden ax I had fashioned for my Prince Madoc figure.  Grandma said that they just came across my site and thought some old drunk had hauled all this trash to this spot!  No I explained, it’s just me…some other kind of eccentric with artistic inclinations.  Grandma, however, wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation and the boy laid down the faux weapon.  I said he could have it and his eyes lit up in the way boy’s eyes shine when they get to hold sticks and guns and there is a suggestion of danger.  I told him that if he struck anything with the ax that it would just fall apart.  Grandma said that if they ran into trouble that she wasn’t too worried.  She dug her hand into one of her short’s pockets and pulled out a wicked looking black folding knife!

Starry-eyed figure w/ Gold Ornament, 8/09

Standing proudly by the river is today’s figure!  It’s all stuff I came across between the parking lot and my studio spot.  The plastic star is either a child’s cookie cutter or a clay tool of some sort.  In the center of the star is an acorn.  The other eye combines an orange foam fishing bobber with the cap from a milk jug.  The nose is a fake, plastic tube of lipstick.  The ears are made from the bottom of an aluminum can.  Can you guess what the mouth is?  It’s a hair barrette.  On the end of some old fishing line, the figure holds a plastic, gold ornament of some kind.  I like the way it shines in the light.  I attached the sole of a child’s sandal to the body to create another area of interest.  The rest is Styrofoam and driftwood sticks.

Starry-eyed figure by river, 8/09

I had forgotten how uncomfortable the heat can make things.  My t-shirt and jeans were sticking to my skin.  On such a warm day, why don’t I wear shorts…surely that would be cooler?  Yes, but over the years I have torn my legs up on sharp-bladed grasses, endured insect bites and poison ivy, scratched myself climbing over driftwood and bruised my knees slipping on wet fossil rocks.  You get tired continually healing from something.  I can live with a little perspiration every now and then.

By the wier dam, 8/09

This image was taken under the railroad bridge and next to the eastern tainter gates.  The parking lot is just beyond and up on the hill.  It’s hard to imagine that the level of the river is just about to the top of the wall on the right.  You can’t get any lower in the valley than being at the bottom of the Ohio River, but here at the Falls you can get a feeling for that.  I noticed that the leaves are starting to turn yellow and so summer’s days are numbered.  I did pass a stand of broad-leaved arrowhead plants with their white flowers and thought this a good way to end this post.

Broad-leaved Arrowhead in bloom, 8/09

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: