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.
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.
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.
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.
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.