The Ohio River remained higher than expected and was bolstered by a few days of rain. I visited the Falls of the Ohio last weekend during a moment when the water level had dropped just enough to reveal a muddy shoreline with its accompanying line of stranded debris. The places in the park I like to work and visit were still underwater.
I put on my “Falls shoes” which were already muddy and that I keep outside on the front porch of my house and headed for the river. As usual, I brought a collecting bag and camera with me and ventured forth to see what there was to see. In places, you could tell that the river with its water-born logs had acted as a battering ram and pretty much leveled the vegetation nearest to the water.
The silt and clay are both very fine and sticky when wet. I gingerly step on wood and other debris to keep from sinking ankle-deep in this quagmire. I enjoy looking at the rippling wave patterns that the water creates. I call this “river shivers” and imagine if the riverbank could display “goose-flesh” that it would look something like this. And speaking of geese…
…the flock of Canada geese I photographed the previous week, left their footprints everywhere in the mud. Their friend, the ex-patriot domestic goose, was still hanging out with them.
Of course, nearly every place you looked, you could see man-made trash and driftwood. Much of this material has originated far from here. When things finally dry out enough for a more thorough exploration, I’m expecting to find all kinds of examples of our material culture washed into the park.
Interspersed with the bottles are lots of other plastic items and various foam-based garbage including Styrofoam…my primary sculptural material. This is just a detail of one small area. Already I’m seeing hundreds of plastic drinking bottles. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if I’m ever afraid that I might poison myself or get an infection from something that I’ve found out here by the river. My short answer is yes. One needs to be concerned, however, I don’t press my luck with anything that looks at all questionable. I guess I do place a lot of trust that the billions of gallons that constitutes the Ohio River does in effect “wash” the stuff that I use. So far, knock on wood, I’ve never had an adverse reaction after working out here for more than a decade. The Falls of the Ohio State Park is a public space and what I encounter is also what the public encounters.
Here’s the trunk of my car after this brief foray to the river. This may be hard for some of you to believe, but I’m actually very selective now. These days, I only carry back to my home work space, the “cream of the crop”. I prefer to make my artworks at the river, but will also take materials home to “hedge my bets” and for workshop purposes. The larder I had created at my “UFO” (Unknown Floating Object) outdoor studio is now long gone and I wonder if that circular metal platform is still around…or has it finally floated away too?
While temporally stymied by water and mud, I have the opportunity to interact with the local art world in a more usual way. Galerie Hertz which represents my art in Louisville opened a collage and assemblage group show. Billy and his partner Tom have been important players in our city’s cultural life. They have been rightly credited for creating an arts district on Market Street through the activities of their renovated galleries. Each new space the pair opened was an upgrade of a building that needed some help. This gentrification has attracted other galleries and dealers, bars, restaurants, and several home décor stores along Market Street. In typical Galerie Hertz fashion, Billy and Tom have moved on to a different location and their current gallery where I’m showing my works is now on South Preston Street. How often is it the case that creative folks move into formerly neglected areas and bring them to back to life?
Among the works I have in this group show is this piece entitled “Moon Star”. I made this piece at the river, but felt is could use a bit more embellishment. I added many found bicycle tire reflectors and some river-polished glass around the head. When the light hits it just right, the reflectors just glow.
Through the miracle of “Styro-dermy”, I saved the Polar Beaver I encountered recently. To get this piece to sit the way I want it to…I have embedded three, large, lead fishing weights into the tail to counterbalance the body.
This diminutive figure is called “The Harbinger of Spring” and I created him last year at this time. I also wrote an accompanying story that helped explain how winter transitions to spring. Although I like to think that many of my Styrofoam-bodied sculptures can hold their own as freestanding objects…they are also relics and artifacts of a site specific performance that happens out at the river and is additionally documented through photographs and stories. At the moment, the sun is shining, but it is also cold at the river. Tomorrow is another day, another day for the river to recede and the mud to dry. I think I will get up early and give it a go. I will let you know what I discover at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.