I’ve been remiss in posting new stories although I remain as busy as ever with my river art. Of late, I have had fewer opportunities to go to the river because of rain, work responsibilities, and lots of family birthdays…which are all mostly good things!! In this post, I will compress a lot of goings on starting with a quick trip to the Falls of the Ohio a few weeks back. It’s officially Spring because the migrating birds have been through and the resident Baltimore Orioles have returned to build their hanging nests and raise their young. Hearing the orioles’ calls is something I look forward to every year. It seems we are having a bit cooler Spring which to my mind seems much more “seasonal” as my memory of this area and time of year is accustomed to. As with any trip to the river, I begin by searching for the latest junk that I either overlooked or has just arrived. Here are pictures of some recent finds.
My sharp eyes spied this among the driftwood. It’s a plastic, fluid-filled “citrus slice”, perhaps an orange. If you freeze this little item until the fluid becomes a cold solid…well, you have yourself a novelty “ice-cube” for your drink. I intercepted this on its way to the ocean and now is in my collection of odd and particularly useless plastic junk.
Of course, in this part of the country, the first Saturday in May also means the Kentucky Derby. On this particular foray to the river, I found two horses whose races have been run…so to speak! They are now river trash that have been discarded and happened to wash up here from who knows where. This stuff may have just traveled from across the river in Louisville, KY or floated hundreds of miles to reach this destination. My intuition tells me that this stuff has traveled far.
This is the first of these items that I have ever found. It’s a plastic pump bottle for what?…soap, hand lotion, or what have you? The snowman image is kind of fun. Finding this item is just a short leap of the imagination to this temporary creation.
Scouting around the immediate area produced enough detritus…I mean art materials to create this figure. I have become quite quick in being able to make an absurd sculpture from most anything I find around me. These figurative pieces are meant to be seen as absurd because I feel our handling of our environment is both silly, stupid, and ultimately tragic. I try my best to let my figures “communicate” this on their own through their “very being”, but occasionally, my true feelings come out and besides people are becoming more and more literal. These works are meant to call attention to the types of materials that make it into our environment, particularly through our precious waterways and as such help to build awareness of this situation. But, by now, if you don’t know that this form of degradation is happening during our time…then you simply prefer not to know. For me, it’s not enough to call attention to this problem, but to try to at least suggest something hopeful. I know this is very idealistic…but there you have it. What these artworks also try to embody is a call for creativity. Anybody and everybody’s creativity is required if we are to have any kind of future. What artists can do is take the same information that everybody else receives and by turning this information on its head…perhaps come up with something different and unexpected conclusions or applications. Creativity, however, is not just the province of a gifted few. It’s truly in everybody if folks could just recognize it in its many forms and try to cultivate it just a little bit. Creativity is our kind’s “ace in the hole” and is probably why we have evolved this far in the first place. What I do at the river is as much a demonstration project where I have been willing to engage these often poor quality materials in the hopes of forming some kind of meaning from it all. I keep looking at the image directly above this paragraph. There’s smoke rising from a big fire on the Kentucky side of the river and the plume as I remember kept getting larger and darker.
The last time I made it out to the river I went by my absurd friend to see how he was doing. Predictably, he was in a sad state of affairs. His head was completely missing except for the broken snowman bottle that was lying on the ground. I just moved on. It’s always about moving forward and I had another mission on this day. This year we have had some decent flooding, no records mind you, just activity that is normal to this river. Each high water incident deposits something new upon these fabled shores. Today, I’m looking for large branches that have the potential to be arms or legs for some big figures I’m making at home. I have a new opportunity to show some work in a context that is a bit different. Retired Courier-Journal columnist, Bob Hill, has invited me to place work at his Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, Indiana…just across the Ohio River from Louisville. Bob wrote a very nice article for Southern Indiana Living about my artwork and I want to have a nice showing which will occur on May 21. It’s a Saturday and if you are around and interested…the fun will start about 10:00 am. I have collected three particularly large sections of Styrofoam (probably old boat docks) and I’m using them for the bodies of figures I’m making to be placed on the grounds of his plant nursery. Bob specializes in hard to find flowers, trees, and shrubs. I’m really curious to see what I have in mind will look like on his property.
For the moment, the scene has shifted from the river to my basement studio at home. I call it a studio, but it’s really evidence that I have become a hoarder! It’s also proof that I don’t leave everything behind at the river. Believe me, I have taken more than my share of river crap away from the scene of the crime. My poor suffering wife and family. Anyway, here’s an in process view of a figure that became “The Crying Indian”. It’s a meditation on the old public service announcement that appeared around 1970 or 71 and if you were around then, you probably have vivid memories of it. I look forward to telling you more about this particular figure which has an interesting back story, but for now will just tease you with a sneak peek. When I finished this piece, I couldn’t help but take it out to the river to photograph it in the environment where I found most of the pieces. Here’s the proof. I will leave it here for now, but if you want to see the real thing…consider this your invitation to visit Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery. Hope to see some of you then.