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While my poor riverblog has been waiting for me…I have quietly been having one of my more creative years at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  When I visit the river, I’m making several projects with the junk I find as I walk along this familiar landscape.  My previous post shows some of the ways I have played with color and form using other commonly found and mostly plastic materials.   I also had fun this summer creating my own absurd brand of figurative sculpture from the river-polished polystyrene I have collected and stored out here.  Beginning in May of this year, “we”, meaning myself and the public,  have successfully added new figures to a growing site-specific installation at my favorite outdoor atelier under the willows.

One wonderful development is that on three different occasions, visitors discovering my site have interacted with or added their own figures to this group from the materials I have left behind for that purpose.  I did “harvest” a couple of figures after they made their first appearance here for a group show I’m participating in October 2017 at Murray State University.  That exhibit is entitled “Folk Fiction” and I’m elated to be showing at my old undergrad alma mater.  Besides, it’s always good to have survivors.

Autumn began with a visit from my equally anonymous nemesis…forever branded by my sons as the “Smashers”.  Whomever they are…they don’t play well which has resulted in the recent vandalism of several of these figures.  More about them later.  Now seems as good a time as any to provide a short history of this figural Styrofoam group I call “The Assembled”.  This story begins at the river on May 14, 2017 with the creation of the first sculpture.

After a wet spring with frequent bouts of high water, I was able to configure a site under the trees and near the old railroad bridge.  Over the next several months I kept adding recently found materials from the area while I pursued different art projects.  This was the first Styro-figure I created here and he’s a bat-earred naturist!  After he explored the landscape of this day in many other images, he eventually took his position greeting visitors to my outdoor studio and soon to be growing gallery.  As this installation grew, each new figure was photographed in different contexts at the park before joining the others back at my eastern most studio site.

"The Naturist" stands watch over the Styro-larder during May 2017

“The Naturist” was the first figure to join “The Assembled”.

My next figure is also the largest.  I remember needing to wait until enough of the absorbed water was gone from this big hunk of Styrofoam to just be able to lift it.  I call this piece the “Queen of Clouds” because the sky was so beautiful on the day it was made.

I remember that the wind kept blowing this figure over and it was difficult to get it to stand in place while I shot this short video.  The large fan blades that make up this sculpture kept falling off until I found a better way to attach them to her head.  The nose is a large wooden fishing float I found out here.  It’s mouth is the plastic cap from a deodorant stick.

Two Styro-figures at my outdoor studio during June 2017.

The “Queen of Clouds” parked at my studio under the willow trees.

Here’s another large figure from the month of July.  I really like how expressive the head turned out on this one.  His mouth is a red reflector that really caught the light well.  I dragged this one down to the Ohio River and documented it with this short video and lots of photos.  Afterward, it too joined “The Assembled” at my river studio.

One of the fun moments during this project was discovering visitors had added two new figures enlarging this group to four!  By days end, it was five figures with my latest absurdity with the bright red reflector mouth.  I was starting to get excited by the opportunity to create a nice little crowd this summer since plenty of Styrofoam remained to be used and people were playing along instead of just destroying what was on hand.  I also started to piece together a couple of other projects nearby.  One began at first with just a handful of found flip-flops of various colors and sizes.  Each visit to the river usually resulted in more found foot wear to add to the design.  I also created a colorful  rainbow-like arrangement from discarded plastic containers that also was a stand alone piece, but also went well with the other projects.  As the summer was approaching its height, wild grapevines were beginning to frame my grouping at the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-group "The Assembled" in July 2017 at the Falls of the Ohio.

Three more figures joined the group.

As the summer wore on I couldn’t wait to visit my spot and listen to the oriole’s call and the sound of running water.  My site was always changing and my sculptures had survived a few summer storms as well as being vulnerable to vandalism.  So far, so good and so I continued to add new pieces here when I visited this section of the park.  Here are a few more for your enjoyment.

A Rose for Mosquito Nose

Small Styro-character I called “Mr. Mosquito Nose”.

The Assembled with Mr. Mosquito Nose.

Rare view of “The Assembled” with “Mr. Mosquito Nose”.

I took “Mr. Mosquito Nose” home with me after this picture and he will reappear in an exhibition I’m participating in the early fall.  This next piece turned out to be a visitor favorite.  He began with me finding a flipper that I used for his headdress and the fishing lure that became his nose.  Between what I found that day and what was already in my collecting bag…I soon had the makings of an orange and greenish-yellow theme for this shamanic or high priest figure.  The staff he sports is capped with a found plastic jet toy I came across on the riverbank.

"Shamanic Figure with Staff and Flipper Headdress"

Shamanic Figure carries a staff capped with a found plastic jet toy.

Here he is in context with the other figures as the month of July began to pass.  If you like trains crossing over bridges then you might like a couple of the videos I have here including this one showing an early flip-flop project at this site.

Another day and another figure and in this sculpture’s case…it’s pretty silly and strangely neurotic looking with its crossed fishing float eyes!  Here he is posed sitting on a driftwood log with one leg crossed over the other.  Soon he too would be added to “The Assembled”.

"Indecisive Dude" at the Falls of the Ohio.

“Indecisive Dude” sitting on a weather-bleached log.

Here is a video that is a good overall site view of my outdoor atelier and it shows this latest figure in the fold.  It also features a passing train crossing over the old railroad bridge and yet another flip-flop arrangement in the form of a large spiral in the sand.

I like the way the spiral turned out and I tried working with the found colors as best as I could.  There is so much individual variation between each sandal…right or left, large or small, bright blue versus dark blue, etc…  I do feel that this piece really added to what I had already started here with “The Assembled”.  Here is a still image from that moment.

My outdoor studio site at the Falls of the Ohio, August 7, 2017.

Spiral flip-flop arrangement along with “The Assembled” at my studio site, August 7, 2017.

We are into the month of August now and I keep adding figures and rearranging my site on a regular basis.  It’s generally a very good month for me if I can get out to the river three or four times.  Plus, I like to also do projects in other areas of the park and so a few weeks might pass before I next visit this particular studio site under the willow trees.  I thought this next figure turned out nicely.  It was aided by finding a nice hunk of polystyrene that was irregularly shaped enough that it could imply motion.  He has a friendly demeanor to him if you can ascribe such qualities to an altered chunk of river-polished Styrofoam?

Smiling Figure next to discarded cooler.

Smiling Styro-figure next to an old cooler that washed into the park.

Here is the video from the end of this day showing this piece in the context of my studio under the trees.  This clip also reminded me that it was a hot day peppered by annoying gnats that also buzzed around the camera.  I will mention that generally speaking…biting flies and mosquitoes are not usually an issue to visiting the park.

Still two more figures to go before the fateful day the Smashers appear and reality reasserts itself.  I improvised all my figurative sculptures on site from materials collected out here.  I still feel it’s important for me to respect the hard-won shapes that nature has provided.  Interestingly, I still feel that the river “humanizes” Styrofoam in particular by knocking of the hard edges and generalizing the overall forms.

"The Happy Hunchback" listening to birds singing.

“The Happy Hunchback” strolling through the willow woods listening to bird song at the Falls of the Ohio.

Moving very slowly and deliberately, the “Happy Hunchback” cranes his neck toward the treetops.  It’s late August, have the orioles and indigo buntings already left?  If it weren’t for the other life forms also inhabiting the Falls of the Ohio, this multi-year “art” project would not have sustained my interest alone.  I can’t believe my luck!  Between the time of this figure and the next…a visitor added another sculpture and awarded my Shamanic sculpture “Best in Show”!

"Best in Show " award...presented anonymously.

“Best in Show” Award…presented anonymously.

I had stashed this green plastic ball with my rainbow-colored plastic containers.  Makes a fine award and I have to admit, that I did put a lot of time into this particular figure.  I’m sure I had the biggest smile I can muster when I first saw this.  Whomever you are…thank you!

"The Assembled" at the Falls of the Ohio, mid September 2017.

“The Assembled”, mid September 2017 with “Best in Show” figure.

Another view from that day showing my overall site with a different found flip-flop design and my plastic container color spectrum on the left.

Outdoor studio and gallery, mid September 2017 showing "The Assembled", heart-shaped flip-flop arrangement, and plastic container color arrangement.

My outdoor studio and gallery with heart-shaped flip-flop design.

Just one more figure to go before that fateful day when the Smashers stop by and temporarily put a hitch in the magic that was this summer at the Falls of the Ohio.  I am amazed that nothing negative had happened sooner.  In the back of my mind, I understand that the river always has the last word in this process and so I don’t get too attached to the things I make out here.  Weeks would go by before I would re-visit this site in the eastern section of the park.  I was also spending a lot of time in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio which has a different quality to the landscape and receives fewer visitors.  I like to visit there when the purple loosestrife flowers are blooming because they are magnets for butterflies and other insects.  Moving on, here’s the last figure to officially join “The Assembled”.

"Raccoon Eyes" sipping from a found cup at the Falls of the Ohio, September 2017.

“Raccoon Eyes” enjoys a found beverage at the Falls of the Ohio, September 2017.

With his spiky hair-do and wide smile, the likable “Raccoon Eyes” likes to pause for refreshment when he can at the Falls of the Ohio.  Locals visiting the park bring these giant cups and I guess seeing all the other debris that has washed into here makes it okay to leave more trash behind?  The world is just absurd…and hence this project.  Old “Raccoon Eyes” took a hit, lost and eye, along with one of his arms when the Smashers came by.  Here is one more video this time showing my site before fate intervenes.

The little figure I ended the last clip with went on to have an adventure of his own and didn’t become a part of “The Assembled”.  He’s a close if diminutive cousin.  The Smashers came and went and it’s fortunate that more wasn’t actually destroyed.  My naturist character, who was the first character here, had his head split in half.  One of the volunteer figures that appeared was decapitated and I found its head in the tree branches above where it once stood.  The “Happy Hunchback” lost all the features in his head and was rendered permanently senseless.  The “Best in Show” figure lost and eye and his staff, but looks repairable.  I think whomever did this ( teenage boy(s) loom large) must have had second thoughts while in destruct mode, because it looks like some sculptures were barely touched.  I like to think that this is what happened and perhaps a little remorse set in before complete havoc was wrought.  I found a nearby stick that I remember setting aside for future use that more than likely served as the weapon.  I can imagine the temptation to not “light saber” all of them into bits must have been great.  This is my best interpretation based upon reading  the scene.

"The Assembled" after being visited by the Smashers.  Early October 2017

View of “The Assembled” after recent vandalism.

Of course you know that I’m not going to leave it here.  When I came upon the scene, I took some pictures and then off for a trek across the fossil beds and had a great day walking to the hydroelectric plant.  Yesterday, I brought my friend Peter Erwin along for a visit to the Interpretive Center and afterward we visited my studio site.  Using what I had on hand…I repaired what I could and recycled other parts to create new personas to replace the previous ones.  I think it’s going to be okay and I look forward to experiencing the continued evolution of this developing site.  I still have a little more work to do, but this is where I left it yesterday.  As for this post…one of my longer ones…reveals the level of engagement that this special place still holds upon me.  I think it also appropriate at this time to rename this group of survivors…I’m now going to call them “The Re-Assembled”!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

"The Re-Assembled", Found Styrofoam and other materials, Falls of the Ohio, October 7, 2017

“The Re-Assembled” at the Falls of the Ohio. October 7, 2017

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Each year has a different character to it and for what I do at the Falls of the Ohio, a lot depends upon what I find.  Last year, there was an abundance of plastic bottles in a full spectrum of colors that stood out among the natural driftwood.  This year, we have had a mostly high river due to locally intense rains throughout the Ohio River Valley.  There have been successive waves of wood and plastic that have had me wandering the wrack lines filling my collecting bags and stuffing my computer with images.  The Falls are not a big area, but the dynamic changes that rearrange the riverbank keep it interesting.  This year I have concentrated mostly on formal arrangements on site using flip-flop sandals, plastic soft drink bottles with colored backwash in them, and I have also been astounded by the number of cigarette lighters I have been finding.  Following are a few of the many compositions I have already made this year.Chromatic arrangement in Flip-flops, Falls of the Ohio, Feb, 2017

Made this one on a sunny day in February.  I found all these flip-flops on a single walk along the riverbank which is how I still like to work out here.  I get ideas for projects based on what that day’s walk presents.  Kind of like going to the grocery store and seeing what’s ripe and in season.

Flip-flop arrangement on the sand, Falls of the Ohio, March 2017

Why flip-flops?  First, they are a ubiquitous part of human life around the river and they float and travel great distances to reach the park.  I also like the idea that these sandals are unique to the people who wore them and have their “soul or spirit” imprinted on them.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be as variable as people.  There is also that saying about not understanding others until you can stand in their shoes.

Flip-flop ring, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

A work from April of this year made with flip-flops.  Some colors seem to be harder to find than others particularly a true red or yellow.  Once in a while, I will also pick up and use the sole of some other kind of foot ware if I think it will come in “handy”.

Cottonwood Tree Composition, late May 2017, Falls of the Ohio

My latest flip-flop composition from late May.  Sited in the western section of the park, this piece is situated by a favorite cottonwood tree that I have shown in posts many times before.  It uniquely has a space under the roots that you can stand under.  It is a favorite place for locals to party.  Now for the next part of this post…”Mystery Fluids”.

Found soft drink and sport drink bottles with partial contents, Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Usually found floating in rivers and other bodies of water are these partially consumed sport and soft drinks capped and in their bottles.  At the Falls of the Ohio I find them intermixed with the driftwood and everything else too.  Often, it is the bottom of the bottle that is sticking up from the wood.  I think being starved for color is why I gravitated towards this common element of our waste stream.  When the light hits these bottles just right…the colors can be very jewel-like and attractive.  Here are a few of the projects and images I made with them this year.

Found bottles and contents with the skyline of Louisville, Feb. 2017

Found bottles and contents, western section of the Falls of the Ohio, April 2017

Found bottle composition with contents, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I have photographed these bottles in a variety of contexts and combinations over the year.  Their contents are amazingly well-preserved and I have never found one that had mold growing in it.  It could be that conditions have rendered these bottles sterile?  Did they get too hot, too cold, not enough oxygen?  Certainly, there is plenty of sugar, electrolytes, and preservatives in them.  On site, I usually have arranged them on the back of stranded logs or boards that have floated in here and then I take my pictures and walk away.  At my main outdoor studio…I have now been caching some of these bottles and flip-flops too for later in the year when the water level is low.  Now for the final category….found cigarette lighters.

Found cigarette lighters by various manufacturers, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

Took this photograph a few days a go and represents my record for found cigarette lighters in one day out at the Falls of the Ohio.  I think there are 103 lighters here all gleaned from the driftwood.  I have always known that cigarette lighters are out here, but not until now have I concentrated on them.  When you begin looking for them, they can be everywhere up and down the riverbank and intermixed with the driftwood.  Once upon a time, the ability to create fire was a special and important skill.  It’s more than the climate that is changing.  Before I show you what I made with a hundred lighters, here are some earlier attempts.

BIC lighter color line, found cigarette lighters from the Falls of the Ohio, 2017

This found lighter composition is unique in that only “Bic” brand lighters were used.  The are arranged on the back of a log.  I still like referencing light through color.  The irony of our dependence on fossil fuels to make things like plastic and energy is that it comes from sequestered carbon created from sunlight by plants living millions of years a go.  Now we need to just look up in the sky to see that same source of energy in the here and now.

88 Cigarette Lighter Oval, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

I think from April?, but definitely the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Created this oval from 88 found lighters.  The river was still very high and this arrangement is up against the riverbank.

Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

68 Found Lighter Circle, Falls of the Ohio, 2017

Lighter circle made with 68 found cigarette lighters.   You can see the marks my fingers made in the sand adjusting the lighters to expand the circle.

Nearly forgot about this one!  “Stump Star” composed of 48 found lighters, a yellow reflector, and of course…a stump.  Made under the willow trees, the light playing through the tree canopy made this piece hard to photograph.  It just occurred to me that I have no idea where butane comes from?  All of these once stored compressed butane.  As these physical objects age and are exposed to the elements, their metal components are the first to corrode and rust away.

Another day and visit to the river.  I try to maximize each opportunity out here by making as many site specific pieces from the various materials I encounter.  Here’s a quick piece with my the toes of my shoes poking in for good measure.  I call this one “Keep Calm” because there’s one lighter that says that…or “From Clear to Blue” because if you look closely you can see between the white and blue lighters is one clear one.  So far, that’s the only one like that I’ve seen out here.  Okay, one more to end with and it’s the one with over a hundred lighters.  I made another composition with these lighters, but decided to try a more open design and it turned out better than the first.Double-spiral Cigarette Lighter Composition, Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

When given the chance to go to the river or write about past experiences…I will opt for the river, unless the weather is bad and it has already rained hard today.  I’m staying busy and engaged with art all around me which has had a calming effect on me considering all the political decisions people are making regarding the health of the environment and everything else too.  If you are interested in some of what’s in the Ohio River and other rivers in this country…then I’m your blog.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Double Spiral found cigarette lighter composition at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2017

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The One-eyed Blue-tongued Devil at the Falls of the Ohio

The river is rising as I write this.  Just the other day…we had a storm that just sat on us and poured down a massive quantity of water.  This is to my count, the fourth time this year that we have experienced high water on the Ohio River.  Fortunately, none of them have been true floods on the big river.  All the art projects and the materials I have collected and cached at my various sites this year are gone or in different locations within the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Having the time and opportunity to access the life at the Falls is a still a big priority for me, but the river and weather don’t always cooperate.

One-eyed Blue-tongued Devil with Blue Ball

I’m out here as often as I can get away and since time is usually limited…I work quickly forming plans for projects as I take advantage of what that day presents.  A typical visit starts off first with a walk checking out what’s new in the area for potential materials and sites for projects.  I’m also looking for new birds, what fish the fishermen are having success with, any new flowering plants and the insects they may attract.  Because of the river, the areas I frequent are dynamic and change frequently which is a big part of the attraction.  After making the rounds, I will return to one of my outdoor studio sites where I store materials for later use or to take home with me at the end of the day.  If there is one change in my creative process over the past year, it is on relying on my home work space more to get things done.

Petrochemical Rainbow in progress in my home studio.

Work in progress, late January 2017

And, as you can see by these especially well-curated and selectively chosen images, there’s also plenty to work with here!  If the river was to evaporate away tomorrow…I will be in good shape for a while as far as materials go.  Drinking water and taking a hot shower, however, may be another story.  Since I participated in a recent two person exhibition that I haven’t mentioned yet, this looks like a good opportunity to share something about that.

Post card invitation for Cross Currents exhibition, Feb. 2017

My friends David McGuire and Karen Welch formed Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile in Louisville to help promote the work and sale of Kentucky’s creative people.  I accepted their invitation to show with Mack Dryden who is another Falls of the Ohio enthusiast who also happens to be a professional comedian. Mack likes to collect the driftwood that he finds and makes more formal compositions with them.  We decided to title our exhibition “Cross Currents…” since while we appreciate nature and what the river gives us…our approaches to art making are different.  Here are a few installation shots from this show.

Taking my "Foamies" to market, late January 2017

I threw this picture in here because this is something most people don’t see or consider…how an artist gets their work from one place to the next.  Fortunately for me, most of the shows I participate in are within a day’s drive of Louisville.  In this case, I’m just going across town.  Shipping can get problematic and costly.  Ironically, since most of my Styrofoam projects don’t weigh anything…they do however, take up “dimensional space” meaning I’m charged for how much room my box occupies on the truck or cargo jet regardless of the weight.  As  you can see, I’m rather careless with my own work with minimal or nonexistent packaging.  I think there is something about knowing where my materials come from that causes me to be casual and not at all precious about what happens to my projects.  I still leave a lot of stuff behind at the river.

Cross Currents exhibition, Crafts and Mercantile Gallery, Louisville, KY, Feb. 2017

Cross Currents installation view, Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile, Louisville, KY, Feb. 2017

Installation view of Cross Currents exhibition, Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile, Lousiville, KY, Feb. 2017

Our exhibition was up for the month of February and was well received.  I brought projects that hadn’t been seen in Louisville before including some new colorful, plastic bottle pieces I had been working on during 2016.  My bird sculptures also did well and they seem to be many people’s favorite works by me.  I also included new dye sublimation prints on aluminum that I had made of river works that no longer exist. Most of my Falls projects after all these years of doing this project remain preserved as images only.Styrofigure with found, plastic battery operated car, Falls of the Ohio 2017

Relatively speaking this has been a warm spring and delightful when it wasn’t pouring buckets of rain on occasions.  When the opportunity presented itself…I started several new series of works taking advantage of and calling attention to the many other materials that I find in the park.  I look forward to sharing them with you and hopefully…I won’t let so much time go by.  Until then….

One-eyed, Blue-tongued Devil holding a white bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2017

 

 

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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Well, the season for grand political theatre is almost over.  I’m feeling like most of the country who are so tired of the divisiveness that has defined this overly long election. Certainly, a major disappointment is the lack of any real environmental dialogue or engagement from either of the parties.  Three national debates…and hardly a mention of climate change at all.  We were much more preoccupied by Hillary’s emails than we are the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a historic and negative 400 parts per million this year for the very first time ever!  We have no idea what this will ultimately mean.  We believe that this can’t be a good thing, but we are willing to take the chance?  Do facts matter and are we close to a point where it won’t make much of a difference what we think and feel?  Nature has her own schedule and we have been consistently wrong in guessing what time it is.

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I find going out into Nature breathing deeply and keeping my eyes open helps a great deal. This is my restorative.   Walking parallel to the Ohio River and atop the Devonian limestone, my eyes register the circling Osprey looking for a good fish in the shallows.  The nearby purple loosestrife flowers are alive with insects of many species doing what is important right now which is attending to life.  Cooling its feet in a shallow spring, I come across one of the park’s box turtles.  I give it my full attention and love.  It’s life amazes me.  Once it was a leathery egg laid in a dirt hole.  When it hatched, a tiny, nearly exact replica of its parents emerged from the shell debris and soil.  Instinct led it to seek shelter and to react to that gnawing sensation in the pit of its stomach by eating something.  It’s alive and has its own reality deeply rooted in the history of life.

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Living with the seasons, the turtle puts on a new growth ring for another year of life.  I have caught up to this one…decades after it left the egg.  I feel at peace and a feeling of well-being when I see Nature going about its daily and routine ways of life.  This is the way it has been before there was an us to proclaim ourselves to be the height and purpose of it all. One needs to go out into nature more to fully appreciate creation beyond the strictly abstract and intellectual.

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Plastic flower blossom in the sand at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

Our ability to transform our world is so complete that we can use a material like crude oil to create plastic flowers!  But should we and why would we want to in the first place?  It is specifically the effects of using fossil, hydrocarbon-based energy sources that have led us to the situation we now find ourselves.  Collectively, we have let oil and coal become more important than clean air and water.  Here in Kentucky, the political campaigns are fueled by the so-called “war on coal”.  What most people miss, is that this has less to do with environmental regulations and more with market forces.  Coal is a dirty form of energy that has been supplanted by the use of natural gas which is much cheaper.  Ordinary citizens are not taking down the old coal-burning plants and replacing them with natural gas burning utilities…big business is.  Coal jobs started to really disappear when it was discovered that you could reach a lot of coal quicker and employ fewer miners with mountaintop removal. The fracking techniques used to obtain today’s boon in natural gas are also fraught with huge issues which are now coming to light.

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We have the current and not fully resolved situation involving the Standing Rock Sioux people and an ill-advised and designed pipeline that the big corporate world have decided needs to go under the Missouri River.  Despite all our vaunted technologies, we lack the ability to make a pipeline that won’t eventually break releasing its poison into the waters.  What is so hard to understand about that?  I stand with the people who know that clean water is life. For awhile, it looked like the Ohio River was making progress, but in a way, the changes we are seeing in the climate have affected us here.  Currently, we have several large basin projects under construction in Louisville to deal with the reality that it rains more and a lot harder now which now overwhelms our sewers sending untreated waste directly into the river.  It will take billions of dollars and a lot of resolve to fix this, but I suspect, we will limp along trying to convince the people who make money the measure of everything to act sooner than later.

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So, here I stand on the wrack line between land and liquid.  I will continue to come out here and record with my camera and pen, the anecdotal changes I see happening in the park.  I come out here to challenge my creativity, see what there is to see, and restore my spirit.  Ultimately, the quality of our water and the environment at large is a referendum on our collective spirit.  We certainly have been found wanting and another election cycle is going by without so much as an acknowledgement that there are big challenges to the very substrate that sustains us all.  I will try to curb my disappointment, by immersing myself in the moment.  So long for now…until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.img_3366

 

 

 

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Spring in Kentuckiana, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

Plastic citrus slice ice cube, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

small plastic horse, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Shattered plastic rocking horse, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

Broken, plastic novelty pump container in the shape of a snowman, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

Absurd figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Scene with Absurd Figure and the Skyline of Louisville with a Fire in the Background, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

Destroyed figure, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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.

Basement studio view with "The Crying Indian" under construction, Louisville, May 2016

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.

Detail view of "The Crying Indian" , Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

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Maple seeds, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

April was a busy but mostly productive blur.  Lots of balancing went on encompassing family, work, loss, art, birthdays, and spring transitioning to summer.  We had an issue with our family computer that kept us quiet for a while, but hopefully that has been resolved.  At this point, I have thousands of photographic images scattered everywhere and if by chance I happen to lose something…well, chalk that one up to the will of the digital gods.  I had this strange realization about being a  survivor of a by gone analog era that my sons don’t understand or have much experience with.  These digital images I have been creating at the Falls of the Ohio can be as transient as the artworks they document.  Fortunately, for my sanity, I was able to get to the river on a couple of occasions in this month, breathe deeply, and relax with my art.  The last two visits I made to the park in April were gorgeous days and productive.  Here are images made from that day’s project.

That day;s gathered plastic bottles, April 2016

I have been having fun gathering up the different plastic bottles and containers that I have been coming across the last two years and making something with them.  The arrangement I made today was composed of black and white plastic junk I came across after a few hours of work.  All the black and white containers were found in the general area of where this piece eventually came together.  I moved around a center location and after fanning in and out found enough stuff to bring back to “base”.  I had previously picked out a place where I wanted to make something because I liked the view with the railroad bridge and the City of Louisville behind that.

Mostly white plastic bottles, April 2016, Falls of the Ohio

Mostly white plastic containers, but also a gray and two silver ones too.  Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I found a couple of nice plastic buckets and a nice fairly straight wooden plank and set the arrangement up with its back shielded by a huge log.  There was an even larger log that had an end on it that had been scorched by fire, but it worked with the scene.  First, I arranged all the black bottles up and moved from left to right and kept the large containers on the bottom row.  I set the three “grayish” containers up next and that including the two silver jugs I came across.  At least they seemed to represent some value between black and white and I took several photos with them in the configuration.  Later in the day, I did return back to this spot and shot a few without the gray containers in the pictures…just the black and white ones which I liked too.

Beginning of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Here’s an image with a train crossing the tracks.  Unfortunately, I did not get a shot before my piece was set up.  Now for a progression of other work in progress photos documenting the brief peak of the “Arrangement in Black and White Plastic”.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic with Louisville in the Distance, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View with Arrangement in Black and White  Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

View of Arrangement in Black and White Plastic (from the black end), Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

While I was working out in the driftwood, new friend and fellow artist Chiel Kuijl came out looking for a few choice pieces of wood for his rope installation.  Chiel has been the Artist at Residence at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and is originally from the Netherlands.  We have crossed paths out here at the Falls of the Ohio as well as socially with mutual friends.  He has returned to Holland, but is due to return to Louisville this year to work on a recent commission.

Artist Chiel Kuijl at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, April 2016

Chiel later built a beautiful rope installation over water as well as distinctive “furniture” from ropes and driftwood.  Park of this busy April included visiting Chiel out in Clermont, KY to see what he accomplished during his residency.  I look forward to showing you a few images of his work in a later post.  First!…let’s get through this one.  I did remove the “gray” containers so it is just black and white butting up to one another.

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

Arrangement in Black and White Plastic, version 2, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

I week after I made this piece, I returned to check on it and inspect my base studio.  Here is an “after” picture.  I already have plans in mind on how I can reuse this black and white plastic.  One other fun development…I am working towards my show at Bob Hill’s Hidden Hills Nursery in Utica, IN.  That will open on May 22 after some of the Kentucky Derby madness has subsided some.  I have three very large figures I have been working on and you will see those soon.  Have a wonderful Sunday…from the Falls of the Ohio and the Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog.

Arrangement in Black and Gray Plastic, a week later, Falls of the Ohio, April 2016

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