Posts Tagged ‘found object art’

Seldom seen and thus aptly named, the River Ghost is an unusual small mammal living at the Falls of the Ohio.  Over the course of several days I was able to photograph a young adult as it was surveying potential territory.

Don’t let the cute face fool you.  The River Ghost is a relentless pursuer of anything it can catch and eat.  It’s diet includes birds, fish, other mammals no larger than twice its size, eggs, reptiles, and if necessary, insects and carrion.

The River Ghost has a long and flexible body that allows it to pursue its prey through underground burrows.  It also utilizes abandoned burrows to raise its own young.  Two kits are usually born, but only the strongest will see the light of day.

I photographed this specimen walking along the mud line that was deposited by the recent flood.  The mud is a five-inch thick layer of “fudge” and very soft and moist.  That’s my boot print in the picture.

This mud is also perfect for recording the foot prints of other animals that cross over its surface.  Scientists are uncertain which senses are most important to the River Ghost, but it seems to have a keen sense of sight and hearing.  This odd animal has kinship to both rodents and weasels and may be a throw back to an older evolutionary line.

Despite having formidable survival skills…the River Ghost is not thriving for a variety of reasons and primary among them is habitat loss.  More and more the riverine bottomlands it prefers are being divided and developed.  It’s prey species are also experiencing a decline in populations.  Many species are dependent on large areas of intact ecosystems in order to remain viable.

It would be a shame to allow this curiosity among the local fauna to disappear before its time.  Humans have coexisted with this intrepid predator for thousands of years.  The native people have legends and myths about the River Ghost’s ferocity and toughness and its way of getting out of trouble that it starts.

The last time I saw our River Ghost it had moved onto higher ground around the Interpretive Center and Woodland Trail.  It seemingly followed every lead and poked its head into every hole looking for food to satisfy its insatiable hunger.  It occurred to me, that it was heading for the picnic tables where people have been spreading dry cat food on the ground.  I wondered if the River Ghost “knew” that other animals would be attracted to the feeding station…or was it here for a bite of cat food too?  Perhaps I will see it again?

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This is my 1ooth post!  I was really looking forward to writing this about two weeks a go when my computer crashed!  The real horror was that many of my Falls of the Ohio project images weren’t backed up.  I do have stuff on flash drives, CDs, memory cards, and yes, this blog, but the hard drive of my computer has the majority of my pictures.  That’s about three years worth of this project.  I still have another three years that’s completely analog-based that I could scan at a future date.  I’m not certain I have saved all my digital work, but I think it may still be there.  I’ll find out tomorrow, because it was a bit of an ordeal to get the family computer going again.  In the meantime, I was visiting the river and making sculptures and images from them.  Here is one story that takes place after the willow leaves have fallen and turned brown on the sand.  Winter’s chill isn’t far behind.

In my collecting bag were several small bottles the size used to serve alcohol aboard airline flights.  I decided to use them together on a single figure.  I found a piece of Styrofoam that could serve as a head and a few elements to create features.  Acorns become eyes, a plastic bottle cap serves as a mouth, the nose is some plastic electric insulating cap, the ears are Asiatic clam shells, and that tuft of hair is part of an old broom.  Those bottles mentioned earlier…I decided to string together like charms on a bracelet and I wrapped them around my polystyrene figure.

I conjured up this figure and imagined that he was a magic person with the power to intercede between worlds.  He wears the small bottles as amulets and as symbols of his office.  Bottles are important vessels because they mediate between exterior and interior realities.  The JuJu Bottleman comes to the Falls of the Ohio because he knows this is a really good place to find bottles of all kinds.

Strewn among the driftwood are plastic bottles that rode the last high water to this spot.  To the JuJu Bottleman, this is exactly what he is looking for.  It is uncertain what he intends to do with these bottles, but they serve some kind of important purpose that we may never know.  You can, however, feel a certain kind of power emanating from the collective energy of similar objects being grouped together.  Perhaps they serve as a battery for the imagination?  If one is good then more might be better.

Yes, I’m going to ask Santa for an external hard drive this year.  I have always intellectually known how fragile this data is, but my recent computer problem has accentuated that.  Pixels are like tiny beads of Styrofoam that are subject to fragmentation.  The notion that what happens to images in the electronic world finds a correspondence with the objects I’m manipulating and photographing in the physical world is an idea of interest to me.  The internet is a river that abrades and changes images as they appear in different contexts.  If I’m unable to retrieve my images from the old hard drive…I will accept that and think of it as a lesson learned.  I have other new discoveries and images from the Falls that I will post soon.

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Ohio River at the Falls, 11/09

In the week since I last visited the Falls of the Ohio, we had enough rain for the Ohio River to rise once again.  The willow trees nearest to the bank were a few feet underwater.  I found the remains of Watchful Willie from a couple of posts ago as well as “fresh” polystyrene scattered all along the shoreline.  I only had a few hours to work this day, so I tried to make the best of it.  Feeling the sunshine again was alone worth the trip, but I saw and made enough stuff to allow me several posts for the week.  Here is my latest Styrofoam creation made spontaneously as the sun was setting.

Little Deer, facing left, 11/09Little Deer, facing right, 11/09

Rummaging around my studio cache of materials under the willow trees I improvised this Little Deer.  It turned out more naturalistic than I anticipated.  Its head is a triangular-shaped piece of thin insulation foam, while the rest of its body is more found Styrofoam.  As is my habit, I have not tried to carve or shape the foam the river has given me.  It’s more about being choosy about what forms I use to begin with.  The work is held together with sharpened pegs.  I did, however, shorten the sticks I used for the legs with my pocket knife.  I attempted to create “eyes” by piercing the blue foam with a small wooden pin, but it left the hole you see and I liked it and left it as is.  The ears are made of pine bark and the tail is another piece of wood.  What’s different this time is that I didn’t try to incorporate another plastic element into the piece.

Little Deer on riverbank, 11/09

Little Deer, 11/09

I walked west along the Indiana side of the river stopping every once in a while to record an image in situ with Little Deer.  The way the light plays with the “eye-hole” causes it to glow and gives it another spark of life.  It made me recall the Henry Moore retrospective I saw at the Guggenheim Museum in New York years ago.  How Moore was able to use a hole as a form in his sculptures remains amazing.  The waves coming ashore threaten to sweep the deer away, but I placed it just out of reach.  Still, the sense that the work is vulnerable comes through the photographs.

Little Deer with Osage Orange, 11/09

One last image with the Little Deer.  This time I set it down next to the fruit of an Osage Orange tree to give it some sense of scale.  Some folks know these as “hedge apples”.  Since today is my sister Pat’s birthday, I would like to dedicate this piece to her.  I hope you had a nice day!  The parting image is something I’m beginning to see with more regularity now.

deer tracks in the sand, 10/09


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Late October color, 10/09

When the trees at the Falls of the Ohio reach peak color, birders keep an eye open for avian rarities.  The Uncommon Bluebill may or more likely may not appear in the park.  Usually birders have to settle for glossy pictures of this bird in fancy magazines devoted to all things…birds.  Those images are usually taken in the bluebill’s northern haunts during the breeding season when the birds are a bit more distracted as they go through their courtship gyrations.  This post is about a personal stroke of luck as I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to record the Uncommon Bluebill at the Falls of the Ohio.

the Uncommon Bluebill, 10/09

And here it is!  As advertised, this bird does possess a distinctly blue beak.  It’s a little larger than the average wood warbler and has some of the same foraging behaviors.  Other distinct features for identification purposes include a white body and pink tail.  This bird is equally at home on the ground or in the top most branches of a tree.  I do confess that I wasn’t looking for this bird for that would be an excercise in frustration.  In a way, it has to find you and you have to be prepared to receive it when it appears.  That is why I bring my camera with me whenever I’m here.

Uncommon Bluebill with Milkweed, 10/09

I recall that a few Golden-crowned Kinglets proceeded the bluebill.  I was watching the kinglets and their hovering, mid-air investigations of the undersides of leaves when from the corner of my eye I noticed a bird that was distinctly not a kinglet.  The Uncommon Bluebill moved easily from a branch to the trunk of a tree ready to pounce on the insects it discovered.  Some of my best shots of this single bird were in association with a Milkweed vine that held its attention for a while.  It was so intent in its pursuit that it did not notice me observing it from behind a large willow.

Uncommon Bluebill and Milkweed, 10/09

I held my breath and hoped the digitally- produced mechanical camera noise would not frighten it away.  The bird hung around for a minute and no longer.  After that, it was gone.  I walked silently over the dropped willow leaves and back to my car.  I had just seen a creature so rare that it was essentially a ghost.  What could possibly top that as an experience today?

Autumn willows by the river, 10/09

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Watchful Willie, top view, 10/09

As promised, the weekend at the river was gorgeous.  I spent the greater part of Sunday in the sun and being absorbed by my absurd art form.  The willow leaves that hadn’t already dropped to the ground were now more yellow than green.  Autumn is a fragile season at the Falls.  If you blink you can miss it and I wanted to place a figure in this setting before that happened.  I moved to my studio spot and created this guy from materials I had gathered previously and snapped these images.

Watchful Willie's head, 10/09

Here’s Willie’s head in my hand.  I started with an odd-shaped hunk of weathered Styrofoam and fished out some bobbers from my bag to use for eyes.  As you can see, they don’t exactly match, but they work with the form and make it more expressive.  The mouth is a piece of red plastic and I’m not sure what the nose was in a previous life.  Maybe you do?

gray squirrel, 10/09

While I worked on my figure, I wasn’t completely alone.  This handsome gray squirrel decided that I posed no threat and sat on the opposite end of the same log I was sitting on!  None of my movements seemed to concern it and so I kept doing what I was doing and it did the same.  I have had the feeling on more than one occasion that animals reveal their presence to me.  Connecting with life in those moments is a truly magical and intimate experience.  If that happened to more people regularly, there would be no question about falling in love with nature or the need to preserve it.

Watchful Willie, 10/09

The chunk of Styrofoam I selected for the body was really flawed and split easily.  I was barely able to get the legs in before the whole piece started falling apart.  I picked a spot that had all these other “elements” to it and gingerly stuck the sculpture into the wet sand.  When I categorize my work as being “absurd”, it is meant to refer to more than just the figures.  Coming across a stretch of the Ohio River that has several tires, plastic barrels, and rusted-out water heaters along it is equally ridiculous.  The figures I make help create focal points at particular sites and remind people that this kind of callous treatment of a precious resource is something no other animal would think of doing.

Watchful Willie in the landscape, 10/09

I left this figure standing next to the debris and returned to my studio under the willows.  I have long come to the realization that try as I might, I just can’t take all this trash with me.  I have enough river-turned Styrofoam at home to continue this project for a couple of years.  By leaving a work every once in a while I hope that visitors will get the idea that some measure of creativity is required to address the pollution dilemma and that this creativity potentially resides in everyone.  And since I consider the river to be a co-creator in this artwork, there’s probably some karmic significance to letting the water have the last word every now and then.

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Bioneer sign, 10/09

The live satellite feed from California of the national Bioneers conference was projected onto the domed ceiling of the University of Louisville’s Rauch Planetarium.  A nice cheer and applause followed the mention of the City of Louisville as being one of the participating cities in the 20th anniversary of this event.  Bioneers are people who are social and scientific innovators engaged in the tough challenges that affect us as a result of our rough treatment of the very Earth that sustains us.  I was honored to be asked to participate in the Bluegrass Bioneers which was a three day connection to the national event.

Rauch Planetarium, 10/09

The Bluegrass Bioneers are people who are truly trying to make a difference globally by acting locally.  Several of the Kentucky sessions revolved around the issues of coal and the consequences that result to people and planet from relying on this fossil fuel.  Sustainability and wise land use were frequent themes among the dozens of presentations that were given by experts in their fields.  There was a creative mix of round table discussions, films and documentaries, lectures, music and more that kept things lively and interesting.  Despite the daunting environmental challenges that face all of us, there was an upbeat and optimistic attitude around this event as people networked and strategize on what to do next.

My art at Bioneers event, 10/09

Partly as a result of this blog, I was asked to show a few of my artworks and give a talk about my Falls of the Ohio Project.  Here’s an image of my absurd works in the planetarium that were temporarily relieved of their duty of insulating my basement.  I gave a PowerPoint presentation showing my art in its river context and was really surprised when 25 people showed up on a beautiful Sunday morning to check it out. According to my son Michael,  I probably had a few slides I could have done without, but each time I give this show it will get a little better as a presentation.  With hope, maybe a few people sitting in the audience might think to engage the world using their own innate creativity.  Of the sessions I watched, the plenary talk given by artist Lily Yeh was the most inspiring.  Her projects in Philadelphia and Rwanda demonstrate in the most positive way the transformative power of art.

Bioneer sign, 10/09

I would like to thank Ben Evans for inviting me, “Crow Holister” for the recommendation, and the University of Louisville, Rauch Planetarium, and the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Education for helping to organize and host this event.  I enjoyed the opportunity to share what I do and to make new friends!

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blue-headed vireo

October and the Fall migration is underway.  One bird I look forward to seeing is the Blue-headed Vireo.  I have spotted them the same week in October for two consecutive years now.  I watched a pair working their way around the willow trees and observed one eating a fat, dark moth it caught.  These vireos are less wary and found lower in the trees than the other vireo species recorded here.  The official Falls of the Ohio checklist counts six vireo species.  I’m still looking for the Yellow-throated Vireo, which like the Blue-headed is considered uncommon for the park.  I like the bright white spectacles around this bird’s eyes.  Here’s a different view of this bird.

Blue-headed Vireo, 10/09

A couple weeks back I made another bird from Styrofoam and just didn’t get the chance to post it till now.  I think it turned out well and I call it a “White Jay”.  It’s about the same size as a Blue Jay.  Materials used to create this sculpture include:  polystyrene foam, sticks, lead (one eye), bark (for the wings) and plastic.  I later attached it to a branch, as in early ornithological prints, and is in the present Galerie Hertz exhibit.  Again, here are a  couple different views of this piece.

White Jay, 10/09

White Jay, 10/09

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Downed tree at the Falls, 10/09

Another day of adventure at the Falls of the Ohio and made all the more memorable since I had company this time.  My good friend Jefferson, his son Holden, and my son Michael made the short trip across the Second Street Bridge to have fun and collect sticks.  Wood is something the Falls has in abundance and Jeff has a purpose in mind for his sticks.  He wants to support a net over his goldfish pond to keep out leaves and all the cleaning that results when they get in the water.  Jeff always seems to have a purpose or job to do.  The boys decided to collect wood and construct some kind of fort.  That has been their prefered activity at the Falls for as long as they have been coming out here.  I, on the other hand, prefer to play and I made a figure to accompany us.  I call him the Dancing Man and here are a few images from our day together.

Dancing Man, 10/09

Dancing Man, back view, 10/09

Here are front and back views of this figure.  He’s made from Styrofoam, sticks, plastic, and aluminum all found in the park.  Finding branches and roots that have the right gesture to them is what helps give this work some sense of motion.  I like it when I find a piece of foam that isn’t so static in form.  The body of Dancing Man has some torque to it that further enhances the implied motion and helps make it a more interesting sculpture in the round.  The limbs also help animate the figure and lead your eye to the head which has the most detail invested in it.  This guy looks surprised like he wasn’t expecting to get his feet wet!

Dancing Man with Tire, 10/09

Looking through the day’s images, this one is my favorite of the Dancing Man series.  There was enough moisture in the sand that it reflected the back light in this interesting way.  At the moment, it seems that there are more washed up tires along the shoreline than is usual.  One can always find a tire or two, but after the last bout of high water, it’s like sea turtles that have come along way across the river just to find this certain stretch of beach to haul themselves out on to land again.

Michael, Dancing Man, and Holden, 10/09

Dancing Man ventured too close to Michael and Holden’s fort and was captured.  This image does a good job of giving you some idea of the scale of my Styrofoam figure.  Michael’s in the 8th grade now and Holden is a year behind him.  I’m glad they are good friends and I know it pleases Jeff as well.  I first met him when we were undergraduate art students at Murray State University.  Our families have remained close.  Jeff is a wonderful artist in his own right and has become a middle school art teacher in a neighboring county.  I am going to use Dancing Man for an exhibit I’m participating in this weekend.  I’m also looking forward to my Bluegrass Bioneers talk the same day.  Two separate events both involving my art.  It must be serendipity because it sure wasn’t planned out that way!  Final image is of the guys by their improvised fort.  I’ll catch up with everyone later in what will prove to be a noteworthy week for me.

Michael, Holden, Jeff, and Dancing Man, 10/09

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The Sandman and Adam, 9/09

The day my son Adam made his dragon, this is what I came up with.  I call him the Sandman and I based him upon the nocturnal visitor familiar in children’s stories.  As Adam and I walked along the river, I found the blue plastic sand shovel and the idea for this piece fell into place.

Cicada, 9/09

While my son and I worked under the willow trees we were serenaded by the cicadas.  The rising and falling buzzing courtship song of the males is a familiar sound of summer.  This year I’ve noticed them more at the Falls than ever before.  Now I understand why the cicada killer wasps are also more common.  I wonder if the wasps detect their prey by sight or do they zero in on the cicada’s sound?

The Sandman, 9/09

This figure is made from the found materials that have become my vocabulary for my Falls works.   Polystyrene foam form the head and body.  Each piece of foam has traveled down the Ohio River from who knows where?  I only use materials that I find in the park and over the years I have been able to keep to this personal rule because so much stuff shows up here through periodic flooding.  The Styrofoam is shaped by natural processes and I add other natural and artificial materials as I see fit and come across them in the debris of the park.

The Sandman, 9/09

The Sandman comes to the Falls of the Ohio because of the quality of the sand.  He wanders along the river’s shore and carefully selects the right sand which he stores in a small bottle.  A little bit of sand goes a long way.  The bottle is worn close to the body with the help of a little waste fishing line which is unfortunately plentiful at the moment.  The Sandman may appear a bit ghostly, but he’s harmless.  His appearance has more to do with the unseen and unknown quality of the night.  So, when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning…you will know where the sand comes from.  It’s a gift from the Ohio River formed over deep time.  Sweet dreams.

The Sandman, 9/09

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Father and Child, 8/09

Having arrived at the “Falls” of the Falls of the Ohio State Park, I took materials I found along the way and made these two figures.  There is less debris to pick from on this side of the fossil beds.  Sometimes you just don’t find that right twig or element that you think will set the work off.  I remember being in this spot two years before and received a good look at a snowy egret.  The bird had beautiful plumes with yellow feet on black legs. 

Father and Son at the Falls, 8/09

Father and Child at the Falls, 8/09

Although the scale of this cascade is modest the sound of running water provides a soothing background.  Because the figures I’ve made are small it helps give the impression that the falls are bigger than they are.  I’m not sure what I’ve got going here with these figures?  I don’t have any elaborate narrative that I am trying to illustrate.  I think it might have something to do with being tourists and being awed by the local sights?  I have seen the vintage photographs of people posing at the Falls before the dam when it was a greater natural wonder.

Bird sand drawing, 8/09

You can walk to Goose Island when the fossil beds are exposed.  It’s just a short walk from the Falls and leads to our end point…the Lower Tainter Gates.  Walking through the sand I made a few contour drawings with a long thin stick.  Noisy flocks of Killdeer mixed with Semi-palmated plovers flank the river’s edge.  The island is sand held together by the roots of willow and cottonwood trees. 

Sight near lower tainter gates, 8/09

A sight along the beach on Goose Island is this small stand of dead trees that has captured a barrel.  The island is regularly inundated  by water and features are covered and uncovered by the flow of the sand.  An even louder roar of water is present as background noise.  In view is the western limit of where we can go on this side of the park.  A few fishermen are trying their luck in the tail-waters of the power plant.  This is a good place to fish and a pair of present ospreys can vouch for this.

Lower Tainter Gates, 8/09

I have been out here for hours and haven’t exchanged a word with anyone.  I’ve arrived at the place where the Ohio River’s waters help generate electricity.  You can see fish trying to swim against the force of the tail waters.  The town of Shippingport, KY used to occupy the location where the power plant now stands.  The corps of engineers bulldozed and scraped the remnants of the town away.  In it’s day Shippingport had its own identity and pride separate from the City of Louisville and now it’s history.  The Lower Tainter Gates are an impressive sight, but I always felt something was missing.  It occurred to me that what’s needed are a few colossal sculptures that could emulate something like the power seen in the Ramses sculptures in old Egypt.  To me, these gates have a temple-like presence to them.  After paying my homage to this spot, I turned and headed back.  Walking over the fossil beds during the heat of the day can fry your bacon.   I’m going to take a slightly different route home to take advantage of some nice panoramic views of Louisville’s skyline.  I did find something interesting on the walk home.  Lying in the sand was this film cartridge for an Instamatic camera.  If the light hasn’t ruined it, I may get some found images from  having it developed.  I better do that soon before they discontinue the use of chemistry in photography.  In my next post, I’ll finish up this hike on the fossil beds.

instamatic film cartridge, 8/09

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