Posted in Absurd, Art, art and environment, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, ecosytem, environmental art, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, Found objects, material culture, nature photography, recycled art, repurposed art, repurposed materials, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, tagged Art, art and nature, artificial and natural, artist at exit 0, barge rope, driftwood, ecostory, Falls of the Ohio, flotsam and jetsam, Genius loci, junk in the river, material culture, nature story, photography, sense of place, Styrofoam art, tree growing through a wheel, willow tree on June 30, 2016|
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I had an unexpected rendezvous at the Falls of the Ohio recently. I caught up with my friend Katinka as she was taking a walk along the riverbank. I have always loved the way she looks when the sun strikes her face at just the right angle and creates this wonderful glow about her. We are meeting by chance which is often the best way to go. The two of us decide to walk together for a while. She had an earlier start today than I did so I asked if she had seen anything on this beautiful morning that struck her as being memorable in some way? Immediately Katinka answered that there was a tree near the water that impressed her as being particularly heroic. Together we sought out the spot where it was rooted.
We don’t have to go far and as it turns out and I’m already familiar with this tree. It’s a Black Willow and it is growing through the metal holes of an old discarded car wheel. I noticed this one…and another similar tree growing through a tire in the western end of the park a couple of years a go. I can understand why Katinka thinks this tree is “heroic” as it tries to thrive while wearing a metal and rubber yoke. I keep wondering what will happen next as this tree moves through time? Will the limbs growing through the holes eventually get pinched off? Will the willow send out roots all around this wheel eventually elevating it off the ground? How is this tree going to accommodate this wheel?
I have documented this tree through a few seasons and so this was a good time to take a few early summer shots. The tree seemed healthy and was certainly taller than before. I noticed that after this year’s high water subsided, that the tree had shifted a bit as the tire settled into the earth. Linking the tire with the tree is an unusual union of the natural and artificial and Katinka agreed. She said that she couldn’t help but feel that the tree got the worst end of this bargain…but we shall see.
Katinka said she detected a theme developing and that she had witnessed other “unusual pairings”. She asked me to hold out my hand and on my palm, Katinka placed the soft, hollow, plastic body of a toy animal that was missing its head. She found this on the riverbank too. Interestingly, nature seems to find a way to express life and in this case, a small seed landed in the dirt that had filled the toy’s hollow body and had sprouted! This qualifies as a very small niche indeed.
I placed the plant/toy on the sand and then I wished it well. Simple as that. I followed Katinka to our next spot. She had seen something earlier and wanted to look at it again in case it was something that could fit the evolving theme of her tour of the Falls of the Ohio. After a little searching around the vegetation around the willows, we found what we were looking for laying on the surface of the sand.
Once upon a time, this was an object that required hook fasteners to adjust. In this found instance, the hooks from the cockle burr and other hardy plants have hitched a ride and their seedlings are using the man-made fabric for a substrate to germinate upon. Perhaps as the plant continues to thrive and grow, it can jump off its host by spreading its roots far and wide? I mentioned to Katinka that I knew a place that demonstrated a similar kind of union occurring between something artificial and natural and would she like to see that? It was just a short distance along the water line and the sound of the river filled up any need for conversation. The river can be satisfying in that way.
Reaching the spot, we could see a golden-yellow, tangled mess that was once a part of a large, tight, barge cable. At some point, the cable was cut and floated down the river and was now stuck joining two separate willow trees together. The yellow arc was swaying in the slight breeze. Subsequent floods and even birds picking on this large rope for nesting material have continued the process of fraying it. I thought there was something very art-like in the way this cable called attention to itself and the space around it. In places at the Falls of the Ohio you can find other trees that have snagged lengths of this synthetic barge cable in their exposed root systems and limbs. Here is another example of this as a river wave plays jump rope.
Both Katinka and I agreed that the snagged barge ropes offered us vivid examples of how the stuff we make interacts with the rest of the world. While we were looking at the ropes, a new protagonist arrived via a muddy Ohio River wave. A large plastic gasoline container became the latest piece of junk to become beached at the Falls of the Ohio.
So far, Katinka and I had spent the morning together looking at examples of how nature was dealing with us through our surrogates…the trash we create and discard. We both agreed that perhaps we should spend the rest of our time together just looking at the beauty that is nature. Although the Falls of the Ohio State Park is a rather small and some would add a rather limited place…I can usually find something that seems extraordinary and perfect in its own way.
Moving to the nearest decaying log I found a small and completely unfamiliar fungus seemingly bubbling up from the wood itself. All fungi have an important role to play and gives rise to the idea that nature’s creations are rarely superfluous like our own tend to be. I qualify that with a “rarely” since it seems to Katinka and I that what seems troubling about man is that out of synch quality with nature that we now seem to embody and in fact embrace. What was nature thinking about when it gave rise to us? The fungi have a purpose…what is ours, perhaps to usher in the next great period in the history of life?
One more small and seemingly miraculous discovery before calling it quits for the day. I spotted something moving over the shallow, water-covered fossil beds and a quick flash of the hand produced this freshly hatched terrapin. Katinka checked it out before releasing back to the same spot where I had found it. I hope it doesn’t run into any herons or raccoons that would make short work of it. This was a nice way to end the day! As my friend and I parted I watched Katinka as she immersed herself in a bed of violet flowering vines. Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.
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Posted in Absurd, Art, Art and Nature, art and the environment, Artist at Exit 0, assemblage art, creativity, Falls of the Ohio, found materials, material culture, nature, Photograpy, recycled art, sculpture, sense of place, Site specific art, Styrofoam, tagged Albertus Gorman, Art, artist at exit 0, Bob Hill, Falls of the Ohio, flotsam and jetsam, found objects, Franklin Tree, garden art, gardening, Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Gardern, Jerry Voyles, material culture, nature, plastic trash, public art, recycled art, recycled materials, sense of place, site specific art, Styrofoam, Utica, Whimsical art on June 10, 2016|
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In many ways this post is a continuation of my last published one on “The Crying Indian”. I made that sculpture for this occasion which was a cart-blanch invitation from owner Bob Hill to place my river art in the context of eight acres of wonderful plantings that include many unusual and rare plants. My work is far from the more durable art made from metal or stone that you would expect to see in a garden, but I’m always interested in placing my art in a less than typical gallery situations. Hidden Hill is located in the tiny town of Utica, Indiana very near the Ohio River and not too far from my home in Louisville, KY. To be on the grounds of Hidden Hill is a true delight and it’s easy to imagine that you are in a far more remote place than you actually are.
Bob Hill is a well-known personality in our area. He was a long-time columnist for Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper which in the days before Gannett took over was a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper with a big and loyal following. Bob is now “retired” from the paper, but he is still an active author of books and articles and a big advocate for the joys of gardening. When he opened Hidden Hill with his wife Janet, he realized that if they were going to compete against the big box stores selling bedding plants and more that they needed interesting stock that you just can’t find anywhere else. Garden aficionados know who he is and will travel throughout our region to see what new specialties he is cultivating. At the opening of my show, two gardeners who traveled from a distant Kentucky county went home with one of the two Franklinia alatamaha trees that Bob had in stock. The Franklin Tree was named after Benjamin Franklin and is a small flowering tree that is now extinct in the wild and was last seen in its natural habitat during the early part of the 19th century. A few timely cuttings and seeds taken upon discovery have kept this pretty tree alive to the present day.
Great plants are not the only attraction at Hidden Hill. Bob’s idea was to create a destination that would also be fun to visit and he has invited many artists over the years to place work on his property. If there is one word that would describe the kind of garden art that Bob likes it would be “whimsical” and his grounds are full of examples. Hill is fond of creating mini-environments where the plants and art work in concert with one another.
I love this figure made by artist Jerry Voyles out of welded and painted watering cans. Voyles is particularly well-represented at Hidden Hill. Other area artists of note who have work at Bob’s place include Matt Weir, Caren Cunningham, John McCarthy, Jeff Reinhardt, Samantha Grifith & Jen Pellerin, Joe Autry, and many more including yours truly now.
This is another of my newer sculptures made for this show. I call this one “Earth Knight” and it is made completely from materials I scavenged off of the riverbank at the Falls of the Ohio State Park this year. “Earth Knight” is about 7 1/2 feet tall and is mostly made from Styrofoam. The body is embellished with the bottoms of aluminum cans which turns out to be the strongest part of the can. Often, it is the only part of a can left after the river has its way with it. Embedded among the can bottoms is a plastic gray heart that I also found at the river. I thought the head seemed somewhat “helmet-like” and I went with that idea for the whole figure. The Earth after all is in desperate need of defenders and protectors. Other materials used in this piece include found plastic, driftwood, and coal which are in both eyes. This piece is located next to a marvelous Weeping Katsura Tree and a large evergreen which form the perfect background for this piece. Here are some other views of this work.
When I sited this figure, I wanted to see if I could work with the mirrors that were mounted by another artist on a nearby tree. This was the best of those images that shows “Earth Knight” in context, but reversed due to the reflection. Here is another recent big piece. I call this figure “Flora” and the numerous flower references on her are why she has this name. Again everything I have used was found at the river.
“Flora” speaks the language of flowers and I have numerous found references from the Falls of the Ohio on “her”. The main material is river-polished Styrofoam and the body was also found this year. I also found the plastic planter with the bright pink sand shovel and was delighted when I came across a large root that I could use as an “arm” to hold these two elements with ease. I have embedded found rubber balls around her waist line. “Flora” is the second largest piece I have out at Hidden Hill and is about 6 1/2 feet tall. Again all the elements that comprise her including the wooden base were found at the Falls of the Ohio. One good aspect about my art is that I spend nearly nothing for art supplies because the world is already full of free stuff all around you. “Flora” has a silk flower emerging from her mouth that was also found by the river and has traveled some unknown distance to finally reach this place. And now, for the last of the four large works I have out in Bob’s gardens.
The smaller of the four new garden pieces is this one entitled “Figure with a Red Ball” which is about 5 feet tall. Among the materials used in its construction include Styrofoam, plastic, coal, a glass marble, driftwood, and aluminum. This piece has a very different “persona” from the other new figures I have made for Hidden Hill. I do have other works on display and Bob has a covered shed where he let me set up several other more portable works from my Falls series. Here’s a glimpse at that display.
So far, I’ve given a short tour for visitors and did a demonstration where I made a small, absurd figure from found river materials. It was a cold and rainy day when the show opened, but some intrepid souls came out to say hello which I appreciate greatly! I love that there is no definitive ending date and the figures in the shed will be available to be seen for about a month. Certainly, not the art world as usual! I will probably leave a couple of the larger figures out at Hidden Hills for a longer indeterminate time. Bob and Janet’s place is open Thursdays through Sundays and by appointment. If you are curious to learn more about their plant nursery here is the link to their website: http://www.hiddenhillnursery.com I have since continued my river forays to the Falls of the Ohio and I look forward to presenting those posts on this blog. Thanks for checking this out! Until next time…
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