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Posts Tagged ‘sculpture’

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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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The Crying Indian, Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

I touched on this briefly with my last post, but it has taken a couple of weeks to return to the story of “The Crying Indian”.  This post is both about the figure I created from found Styrofoam and the true story about one of the most successful Public Service Announcements of all time.  A few months back, I accepted the invitation of Bob Hill to show some of my river creations at his Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden in Utica, Indiana which is just across the river from my home in Louisville, KY.  After the high water we had in late winter and early spring, I had the opportunity and collected several large pieces of Styrofoam off of the riverbank with the intentions of making a few large figures that I could use for the Hidden Hill show.  I was successful in accomplishing this goal and the first figure I made was to become the piece I call “The Crying Indian”.

Basement studio view with the Crying Indian in progress, May 2016

I really don’t have a proper studio.  Just a basement at home that I hoard all the materials that I bring home from the river and the few finished works that I keep.  I really do prefer working outdoors at the Falls of the Ohio where I can work relatively quickly.  On occasion, I have a need to create work that is a little more formal or ambitious and requires more time to put together.  With a deadline approaching for a May 21 opening and weather unpredictable…I set about creating what I could in this cramped space.  There are some advantages like being able to listen to music or moving the laundry along and snacks are just a short staircase away.  Sitting at the foot of those basement steps, I weighed my options and introduced elements that may or may not become a part of the finished work.  The large chunks of Styrofoam that I had brought home from this year’s flooding were outside leaning against my house.  I selected the third largest piece and brought it into the basement.  It was time to go to work.

In progress image of the head of the Crying Indian, Louisville, KY, May 2016

Going into this sculpture, I knew that I wanted to keep it fairly “classical” meaning that most of the elements I used were white in color in “imitation” of marble statuary. I chose a river-polished hunk of Styrofoam for a potential head that felt somewhat in proportion to the figure I envisioned.  I sifted through bags and boxes of river collections and chose two hollow, plastic, and crushed fake golf balls for eyes.  The nose is a piece of polystyrene that is cone-shaped.  The mouth is a plastic and foam element from an old football helmet and the ears are pieces of Styrofoam.  The element that would become “the feather” in the Indian’s headdress was a broken plastic kayak? paddle that I had recently found and thought would look great in this context.  I would later use glacier and river worn quartz pebbles for the tears, but this was one of the last elements I introduced into this piece.  The rest of the work would be Falls of the Ohio driftwood and plastic elements collected in the park.

The Crying Indian in progress, Louisville, KY, May 2016

As I’m working on this, I’m also having an internal conversation with myself.  Talking to my materials I silently ask, “What do you want to be?”  I’ll pose questions and trust my subconscious to help me out by providing a few clues that become ideas that can be elaborated upon.  In this case, I was remembering that great Public Service Announcement from 1971 that is known as “The Crying Indian”.  I was wondering why there weren’t similar ads on television now decrying pollution and litter and extolling the public to do what they can do to help which is also the right thing to do?  What seems to rule the air waves now in the way of public service has more to do with finding cures for cancer and other maladies that afflict us…and that is important too.  Another little voice within me also feels that many of these physiological problems we endure will find their root causes in an increasingly degraded and contaminated environment.  For old times sake I looked up that original Crying Indian ad that was sponsored from the Keep America Beautiful folks and found it as effective as I had remembered it.  During my search, I clicked on a few other stories related to the Crying Indian and that’s when my jaw dropped in amazement.

Back view of the Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2016

Detail, Crying Indian at the Falls of the Ohio holding plastic jugs, May 2016

The first big surprise is a story full of ironies beginning with the actor playing the”Crying Indian”…he  was not a Native American in the first place.  “Iron Eyes Cody”, America’s favorite movie and television Indian was born Espera Oscar de Corti in Gueydon, Louisiana in 1904.  He was actually a second generation Italian American.  He had a rough upbringing and when he was a child he left with his father for the American West.  It was out there that he first experienced indigenous cultures as well as the entertainment industry where he was to find life-long employment.  His first role, playing a Native American child happened in 1919 in a silent film entitled “Back to God’s Country”.  Iron Eyes Cody’s film and television career ultimately spanned the 1930’s to the 1980’s.  He claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree descent, but he needed his braided wig to become at least the image of an Indian.  Apparently, he never quite confessed to his deception and even lived to the ripe old age of 94.  Although Iron Eyes Cody was not a real Native American, he seems to have lived his life otherwise respecting the indigenous cultures.  He married a Native American woman and they adopted two Native children…one of whom became one of the best Native American musicians.  Perhaps it was the times, but I have to believe that if this ad were to be remade today that the public would insist that the Indian be at least genuine.

The Crying Indian and the Skyline of Louisville

The Crying Indian with Jugs

I didn’t feel that this figure was complete without photographing it in the context of the Falls of the Ohio where I originally found the materials that comprise it.  The addition of the white jugs became important not only because I have recently been doing a lot of outdoor assemblages using plastic containers, but returning to the fascinating story of “The Crying Indian”.  As was mentioned, this PSA was sponsored by Keep American Beautiful and the Advertising Council did the ad for free as a way of stimulating business interests in our country.  The Ad Council also created Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, this is your brain on drugs with the egg frying in the pan, buckle up for safety which was an early seat belt public service announcement and many more.  As for the Keep America Beautiful folks….well, they actually represented an organization consisting of  companies that produced bottles and containers of all kinds which make up a huge part of the litter you see everywhere but in the PSA crafted for them.  The Crying Indian ad is now considered a classic case of green-washing.  What occurred with this PSA was to put the responsibility for litter square on the backs of consumers and deflected any blame away from the manufacturers that produce these containers in the first place.  Once upon a time, containers were returned to their point of origin to be cleaned and reused, but there was a lot less trouble and more money to be made in convincing the public that single use containers were the way to go.  We are still in that place forty years later.  You can never underestimate the power of ad agencies to understand human behavior and psychology and use it against us to further the goals of their clients.  A good part of the shame people felt upon seeing trash being thrown at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody had to do with the subtle guilt that many people feel for displacing and persecuting the original inhabitants of this land.  That added ingredient helped make this one of the most successful public service announcements ever made.

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden, May 2016

The Crying Indian at Hidden Hill, May 2016

Here are a few images of the finished piece in place at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  It looks great where it’s at and I will do another story soon that will include the other sculptures I made for this occasion.  Some of them turned out very well, although they don’t quite have the back story that the figure does.  Hidden Hill is a special and beautiful place and I look forward to sharing more pictures with you.

I used Ginger Brand’s great article entitled, “The Crying Indian” that originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Orion Magazine for much of the information included in this post.  Brand really goes much farther than I could go here and I highly recommend this read.  Here is a link to that story…https://orionmagazine.org/the-crying-indian/  Another good source of information came from Priceonomics and the link to that story is http://priceonomics.com/the-true-story-of-the-crying-indian/  And, if you want to see the original one minute long public service announcement, it is available on YouTube and at the end of this post. Until next time…

Head of The Crying Indian, May 2016

 

 

 

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piled up driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The following is my latest adventure from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s official now, the month of November was among our top ten coldest Novembers ever recorded.  This continues a see-saw trend where one month might set a record for heat (like October did) only to bounce back down to the other extreme.  It’s too early to tell about December, but on this recent visit it was cool and overcast.  We have since had several days of rain causing the river to swell.  Today’s story begins at the westernmost point on the Woodland Loop Trail.  This path is bordered by what folks around here refer to as a “creek”, but in actuality is a channel cut into the riverbank by storm water overflow released from the town of Clarksville.  I wish it were a creek and perhaps long ago, may have been one.  During periods of flooding and high water, driftwood and logs back up into this area and are stranded once the water level recedes.  The picture above is a recent illustration of this.

beaver tracks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was exploring this water-cut channel and noticed that there were lots of beaver signs present.  In addition to their tracks left in the mud, I found plenty of chewed willow branches.  I added some of the nicer sticks to my collecting bag.  It made me think about how much the appearance of the black willow trees around here are shaped by the beaver’s “pruning” methods.  I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before…perhaps it was just too obvious.  Actually, I think it has something to do with the beaver population rebounding over the last few years.  In certain local places, they have become “pests”.  Their damning of local drainage canals has necessitated their capture and removal to other more remote areas.

found deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Exploring a bend on the Woodland Loop Trail, I found this deer skull laying upside down on the fallen leaves.  It was kind of hard to see, but something in the old brain said to look more closely and I did.  After taking a few photographs, I laid it upon the trunk of a large fallen tree for others to discover.  Like the beaver, it appears the deer are becoming more numerous as well.  After years of finding just their tracks and the occasional bone, this season I was able to spot a doe and her fawn in the park during broad daylight.

storm sewer overflow peninsula, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I walked to the top of the riverbank to get a better look at the peninsula that has been created at the mouth of the “creek” from the storm sewer’s overflow.  Over the years, I have witnessed stringers of sauger and catfish being caught here by the local fishermen.  I like how the rising and falling of the river has terraced the mud into a series of graduated steps.  I was relaxed and zoning out on the view when I noticed something white that had surfaced and was entering the “creek”.  I quickly took a photo and here it is.

white dorsal fin in the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I scrambled down the riverbank to get a better view and got my clothes severely muddy in the process.  In my head I’m telling myself that for all the world this looks like a shark’s dorsal fin…but is this possible?  I remember hearing that there are a few shark species (notably bull sharks) that are capable of swimming up rivers and able to tolerate being in fresh water for extended periods of time.  Still, we are a long way from the ocean which also includes navigating a large section of the Mississippi River before entering into the Ohio River… just to reach this spot.  I observed the fin submerging as it disappeared from view.  Hustling, I reached the general location where I thought the fin was heading and was “blown away” by this sight!

The Shark Shepard emerges from the river, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Emerging from the muddy water was this white figure sporting an improbable headdress or mask?  The figure was carrying a staff and appeared to have fins on its body similar to a shark.  I let this fellow come fully out of the water before my curiosity overwhelmed me and I went in for a closer look.

Shark Shepard, side view, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

This strange being did not seem to be afraid of me and regarded me through his dark eyes.  His face was framed by what looked like the jaws, teeth, and the head of a shark.  My attention kept returning to the fearsome mask it was wearing which I surmised might be a part of some breathing apparatus?  A yellow light on its chest would occasionally blink signaling some other unfamiliar technology was present.  The staff the figure was holding was terminated by a hand pointing a finger which reinforced the stranger’s mysterious presence.

The Shark Shepard on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Using its staff, I watched as the figure drew the outlines of several sharks in the soft mud and then pointed to one of his eyes.  He followed this by making a sweeping movement with his arm that seemed to encompass the river and its surrounding landscape.  It took me a moment, but I think it asked me if I had seen any sharks in the area?  Reflexively, I replied by shaking my head “no” which the figure seemed to understand by dropping his head and shoulders in a disconsolate manner?  That’s when I had this mental flash that this guy was a shepherd, a shark shepherd and he was looking for his lost flock?  From here on out, I will refer to him as the Shark Shepherd.  He next stuck his staff into the mud and walked away from it.  I decided to tag along to see if I could learn anything else about my new silent friend.

Shark Shepard by improvised tent, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd seemed to have a curiosity about our world.  I observed as he approached an improvised tent that someone had set up among the trees.  It’s owner(s), however, were not around, but it didn’t seem abandoned in my eyes.  Probably made by fishermen and there seemed to be several trying their luck along the riverbank on this windy day.  I too have a curiosity about the world and after my encounter with the Shark Shepherd ended…I rushed home to try to figure out what he was doing here so far from the sea?  Using the miracle of the internet, I learned a few alarming facts about shark disappearances worldwide.

The Shark Shepherd by fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

On average, between 20 million to 73 million sharks a year are taken out of marine ecosystems across the planet.  Most of the statistics mentioned the higher number…regardless, that’s too many sharks.  Sharks are “harvested” for their fins, cartilage, and teeth.  The boom in popularity for shark fin soup has led to an insidious practice where millions of sharks are harvested and often indiscriminately by using thousands of hooks set on miles of trailing “longlines”.  Sharks are a valuable bycatch.  The captured sharks (which are often caught alive) have their fins cut off and are frequently thrown back into the seas to die in agony.  It’s a lucrative business because this was once a delicacy and status symbol reserved for the wealthy back in the day when sharks were harder and more challenging to catch. Now it is within the reach of more people.  Through industrialized commercial fishing, millions of mostly Asian consumers can have a bowl of shark fin soup on special occasions.  Interestingly, the soup itself needs to be flavored with beef or chicken stock because the fins themselves are a textural element and contribute no flavor of their own.  Of course, a bowl of soup is not the only challenge sharks face.  Commercial sports fishing, pollution, reef destruction, and overfishing of the shark’s prey base play their part as well.

The Shark Shepherd at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

In the United States, large sharks have disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico.  I think this is the reason the Shark Shepherd was this far inland.  Along our Atlantic Coast, it has been reported that eleven of the largest shark species have essentially vanished.  This has important repercussions for the overall marine environment.  You can’t remove this many apex predators from an ecosystem and expect it to function normally.  There are cascading effects.  A recent study attributes the decline in our East Coast scallop industry is due to the loss of sharks that normally would keep cownosed rays and sting rays who eat scallops in check.

Shark Shepherd by the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center, Dec. 2014

I followed the Shark Shepherd as he explored the area around the newly closed Interpretive Center.  There were people around and they did exhibit interest in my friend, but were generally respectful for what was going on.  A few folks asked if they could take pictures of the Shark Shepherd and he obliged them.  During my internet research, I did find it fascinating that there are places like American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, and the island nation of Palau where sharks are protected.  Interestingly, these are all places in the Pacific Ocean where people regard the shark as a culturally and spiritually significant animal.  These Polynesian cultures understand that their very identities are connected with sharks.  The same, however, can’t be said for the rest of the world who regard sharks as nuisances and or threats.  Better to view something with reverence than through fear.

The Shark Shepherd surveys the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Dec. 2014

The Shark Shepherd climbed the staircase to gain a better vantage point overlooking the river.  I watched him scan the waters, but only an occasional fishing boat presented itself.  If he was looking for sharks, well, there probably hasn’t been any here for about 400 million years when this area was a Devonian Age coral reef.  I could feel the poignancy of the Shark Shepherd’s search as it failed to bear fruit.  After a short while, we reversed our course and retraced our steps.  The Shark Shepherd gathered his staff and walked back into the creek where after acknowledging me with one last look back…disappeared into the Ohio River.  Although I realized that I would not see him again, I couldn’t help but hope that he and his sharks wouldn’t disappear forever from the oceans of the world.

The Shark Shepherd, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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Carnegie Center for Art and History banner, Feb. 2014

Our first gallery talk about the”Potential in Everything” exhibition happened yesterday.  Through a light dusting of falling snow, about 20 people braved the elements to hear R. Michael Wimmer and myself talk about our respective projects.  I was delighted by the turnout and had a great time too.  I am glad to have had this gallery opportunity because the river has been so high of late that getting to my usual spots at the Falls of the Ohio has been a challenge.  Perhaps this is nature’s way of redirecting me?

R. Michael Wimmer talks about one of his works, Feb. 2014

Folks in attendance for the artists' talk, Feb. 2014

It was a nice mixed ages group and a few local artists attended as well.  People were very respectful and asked some interesting questions.  Michael and I have very different processes, but the end results involve using something that has already functioned in the world and making something new from them.  For me, that shift took many years of transition because my formal artistic training involved “staring down”  a blank piece of paper or canvas and making something happen in a more traditional way.  Although my old drawing professor might disagree with me about this…so much of the work I now do comes out of the conceptual concerns I first encountered through drawing.

Flat-faced Cat with Bird and homemade ball collection, Feb. 2014

When I get the chance to talk about art and creativity in general, I like to mention how important it is for all of us to cultivate that impulse to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Sadly, I hear far too often from too many people how they aren’t artistic or have any business being involved with creative acts and I know this to be untrue.  I feel that part of my role is to get folks to expand their definitions of what is creative or aesthetically minded.  Creativity is a precious, universal resource and available in everyone and may represent much of our hopes for a better future.  We need to get people turned on to their own potentials instead of emphasizing the consumer in them.  Too help illustrate this I brought my Homemade Ball Collection with me and placed it upon the pedestal that my “Flat-faced Cat with Bird” is sitting on.  I found all these “balls” at the Falls and they are made from electrical tape, duct tape, cellophane tape, and aluminum foil.  Rolling these waste materials into balls is not necessary for their disposal, however, I was struck by the artistic impulse I perceived in them by their anonymous makers to shape and form.  There is obvious care in their making and rolling something into a cohesive ball has a satisfying side to it.  After this sidebar and when the talk ended, I went outside to see how my “other” ball piece in the tulip poplar in front of the center was doing?

detail, La Belle Riviere in the Carnegie's tree, Feb. 2014

detail of La Belle Riviere in tree, Feb. 2014

La Belle Riviere in tulip poplar tree, Carnegie Center, 2014_1_1

“La Belle Riviere” seemed to be in good shape.  I was curious to see if any ice would be decorating it, but not this time.  Ice can contribute a lot of weight which might take my nylon line beyond its limits.  I look forward to spring’s arrival and how the appearance of this piece will change as the tree transforms.  New Albany, Indiana is just a few miles downriver from Louisville.  The town has an extensive riverfront and I took the opportunity to check it out in greater detail.

Concert, special events shell, New Albany, IN, Feb. 2014

There is a large earthen berm that protects the New Albany from the adjacent Ohio River.  A key feature of their riverfront is this structure used for concerts and special events.

Sherman Minton Bridge at New Albany, Indiana, Feb. 2014

One way to reach New Albany from Louisville is to cross the river over the Sherman Minton Bridge.  Bridges in our area are a usual and often contentious topic of conversation.  This one was closed down recently for much-needed repairs, but caused a headache for commuters while it was being fixed.  Bridges are vital to river towns and a new one is currently being constructed near Louisville’s downtown. This new bridge was years in the planning and much of the controversy surrounding it involved where exactly would it cross the river and how would it tie into the existing interstate highway systems.  The Ohio River has been high due to snow and rain in the upper part of the valley, but I walked down to the river’s edge and guess what I found?

Styrofoam and ice, Feb. 2014

Styrofoam in the river at New Albany, Feb. 2014

Yes, it’s river polished Styrofoam.  There’s goes my main art material floating towards the Gulf of Mexico.  There are a couple other events associated with “The Potential of Everything” exhibit including a family workshop I will be leading on March 1.  I have enough collected sticks and polystyrene that it will be fun making things with other people.  I will also be giving a solo gallery talk on March 4.  Michael will be doing a studio talk and welcoming people to visit his place on March 25.  And, there will be a closing tea and cookies event at the Carnegie on the exhibit’s last day on April 5.  So, if you are in the area and haven’t seen the show…there are other opportunities coming hopefully in beautiful weather! If you want to see my found homemade balls in more detail, I did a previous post about it entitled “The Need to Form:  Handmade Balls from the Falls of the Ohio” and can be found in this blog’s search feature.  Speaking of balls, I did find one other item by the river in New Albany and I’ll end this post with it.  Stay warm out there!

softball core and snow at the river, Feb. 2014

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Carnegie Center for Art and History facade, New Albany, IN, Jan. 2014

On January 24 our long-awaited exhibition at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana opened with a big reception.  I say “our” because this is a two person show featuring work by R. Michael Wimmer and yours truly.  The exhibition in entitled “The Potential in Everything” because both Michael and I utilize a diversity of materials to make our art.  While I depend on what I find at the river, Michael goes much further afield to locate objects that project a certain “aura” and associative power for him.  Following are some images from the exhibition which will be up until April 5.

My sculptures just delivered, Jan. 2014

I brought about 25 pieces that I had saved from the river and park visitors.  I have gotten into the habit of keeping some of my better creations for events like this.  It’s such a big leap first seeing the work at the river and then in a more formal art space where everything is displayed, labelled, and illuminated with care.

opening reception for the Potential in Everything, Jan. 2014

The other extreme is having several rooms full of friends, family, and assorted art lovers coming out on a very cold night to take in this exhibition.  A wonderful jazz band provided music. At times, it was hard to see the art because of the people…which is a great situation to be in and I felt very lucky.  I know I did a lot of talking and meeting people who said that they knew my work through this blog.  This happened more than once and it made me feel good that local people were checking out my river adventures online every now and then.  I returned to the center the following day so I could get a better look at the show and to take a few more pictures.  Overnight, it snowed two to three inches while we slept.

Potential in Everything installation view, Jan. 2014

Installation view at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, Jan. 2014

Installation view with "Cycladic Oarsman", Jan. 2014

Both Michael and my sculptures are assembled.  He favors a wider variety of materials and I have over time evolved a vocabulary of forms and found materials that I prefer.  The pieces I’ve saved function for me as mostly a means to an end.  The story telling aspect of my work has been the biggest shift in what I do over the years and it has caused me to reassess my priorities when I go on location.  I was pleased that people thought the stories added something extra to the artworks.  Wall labels had excerpts from my river tales and I supplied a binder with printed stories that accompany many of the objects on display.  It takes the pieces away from being strictly artworks as usual.  I do, however, try to make compelling sculptures to help activate the spaces I work in and to assist in creating interesting images.  The tall figure in the foreground is entitled “Cycladic Oarsman” and was made specifically for this show.  I gave it this title because the face has some similarities with very early Greek marble statuary.

Three Styro-birds on a shelf, Jan. 2014

"Audubon's Habitat", R. Michael Wimmer,  at the Carnegie Center, Jan. 2014

Karen Gillenwater, the Carnegie Center’s curator did a fine job of pairing artworks together and finding what Michael and I have in common artistically.  Both of us have channeled John James Audubon and bird imagery.  The naturalist’s earliest attempts at drawing birds happened in the Kentuckiana area during the early nineteenth century.  Over the years I have made several Audubon figures and most of the birds I’ve created are creatures he never encountered in America’s pristine wildernesses.

Installation view in The Potential in Everything, Jan. 2014

"More than Skin Deep" by Michael Wimmer and my "Time Traveler" tableau, Jan. 2014

The Styro-fish I’ve made stand near a wall piece that Michael did about the deteriorating marine environment where he lived for a while in Florida.  My fish are made with some of the junk I’ve removed from the Ohio River.  Michael now makes his home and studio in New Albany.  Both of us are also fond of time references.  My stuff flirts with time on a number of levels including quantum mechanics.  Clock faces and dials appear in many of Michael’s Carnegie pieces and some of his sculptures are also working clocks.  A good friend of mine once told me that much of life is what we decide to spend time on and that seems true for both artists in this exhibition.  I appreciate that the Carnegie Center for Art and History believes it is important to generate good quality materials to help supplement an exhibition.  The staff at the center produced a wonderful gallery guide, show announcement, a banner that hangs from the building’s facade, a poster, and both Michael and I have the opportunity to give gallery talks and lead workshops.  I may never have a chance like this again where the hosting institution helps the artists out as much as the Carnegie Center for Art and History does.  I know of many regional and local artists who feel that this is what makes showing at the Carnegie such a treat.  The exhibition continues outside and both Michael and I have works positioned in front of the building.  Here is Michael’s piece and all the work’s components find similarities with details and materials on the building.

R. Michael Wimmer sculpture outdoors at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, Jan. 2014

My piece is my long, beaded necklace made from softball cores and is entitled “La Belle Riviere” which I originally displayed at the Falls of the Ohio in October of last year.  It was quite a production and required a bucket truck and a worker supplied by the city to hang the piece in the tulip poplar tree outside the center.  For now, I will close with this image and look forward to my next post as the Artist at Exit 0.  Stay warm everybody.

"La Belle Riviere" hanging from tree at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, Jan. 2014

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Rising Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

High water at the Falls of the Ohio, July 2013

We have had (along with the eastern half of the country) a lot of rain recently.  When it has precipitated, it hasn’t been gentle rains, but rather torrential, monsoon-like downpours.  Consequently, everything is saturated and the Ohio River has quickly risen to engulf the riverbanks that are normally wide and clear this time of year.  I took a chance between rain showers to see if I could access my site for a few hours.  Maneuvering through the underbrush I was able to investigate the river’s edge that was slowly but surely creeping inland.  As a gauge to how high the river has risen, in the above photos…you should be able to walk out to those willow trees that are now in the middle of the river.  I watched columns of ants marching for higher ground.  The river’s edge attracts animals, particularly birds, that are hunting insects being driven by the advancing water.  I’m here doing a similar thing…except I’m looking for interesting junk that has floated in with the driftwood.  I always find something and here are a few recent images of this river treasure.

small, red plastic, bell pepper, July 2013

This is a plastic bell pepper to add to my ever growing collection of faux food.  This collection has grown considerably since I last photographed it in its entirety.  I’ve added several fast food items and I now can boast owning  several plastic hamburgers and hotdogs to accompany the fruits and vegetables.

green toy character head sticking out its tongue, July 2013

I don’t recognize this character’s head, but I responded to the tongue sticking out!  It was this discovery that caused me to go on a tangent.  I decided that in the relatively restricted area I was investigating that I was going to collect all the different green plastic items the river was delivering to me.  This is what I came up with.

green plastic junk, July 2013

I was amazed at the collection I was able to put together in less than an hour’s time.  Each item is unique…even the green plastic bottles which are different sizes, designs, and have different colored bottle caps.  Among my other finds include green discarded fishing line, a green “Lincoln log”, a lost lip balm cylinder, a hair curler, a circular green plastic “smokeless” tobacco “tin”, a flip flop, etc…

"Homage to Green", July 2013

I then took my 21 green artificial objects and arranged them in a line on an interesting wooden object I found that looked very alter-like.  This is a very different expression of what it is to be “green” and the plants behind these objects concur.  It was now time to visit my site and see if anything had happened there and perhaps to make something new.

expanded structure at my site, July 2013

I had that “oh no” feeling upon arriving.  There were several changes since my last visit.  Whomever is building this structure appears to be trying to construct a roof over my spot.  Most of the materials that I have gathered over the months were just thrown out and around the site.  There is no way for me to work here now in its present configuration.  I wonder if the rain prevented the “work” from being completed?  And then it dawned on me…where is the figure I left here?  I found him a short distance away.

big Styrofoam figure face down, July 2013

This is how I found him disarticulated and face down.  It appears that he was just lifted up and thrown aside.  I knew if I was to learn what had happened that I would need to reconstruct him.  It took me a bit of time to find his various parts, but I ultimately was successful and set him up on the “roof” in a sitting position.

Large Styro-figure head, July 2013

Large seated Styro-figure, July 2013

I said…”Dude, what happened here and to you?”  My friend was quite excitable in retelling the tale.  He said a couple of people came by a day or so after I was last here and just started ransacking the place.  The last thing he remembers was flying through the air and then blackness.  He at least confirmed my suspicions that more than one person was involved.  Here is the evidence I used to draw that conclusion.

giant polystyrene drink cups and bottle, July 2013

The last time I was here I noted a giant polystyrene cup lying in the sand just outside my space.  Upon returning, I picked up these additional cups and the blue bottle that were casually thrown on the ground and photographed them on a nearby log.   I’m deducing that these people live in the area since they sell these mega drinks at a nearby gas station.  Now as much as I’m torqued about being evicted from my spot…finding these added cups here makes me mad!  There is already enough junk in the river without bringing more and leaving it here!  It seems the height of disrespect and irresponsibility and my remade figure concurred.

Excited Styro-figure with arms spread wide, July 2013

My friend was growing excited with the thought of his recent tormentors returning to the scene of the crime.  He asked me what I was going to do about this and I have to admit it’s a dilemma for me.  Generally, I appreciate it when people interact with my art, however, there is little evidence that there are respectful spirits at play here.  I decided that if the river kept rising (and at this point it was about twenty meters away) that matters would become moot.  The water would rearrange the context here and I would simply begin again.  If, however, the river doesn’t reclaim this spot…I promised my figure that I would reassert my will.  I might do a little engineering of my own and see how I might modify the structure to suit my needs.  If you were me…what would you do?  I told my mustachioed figure to sit tight and that I would return the following weekend if the river would allow it.  To be continued…?

My figure at my site, July 2013

The rising Ohio River, July 2013

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washed up plastic tricycle, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

I was at the Falls of the Ohio last week when I spotted this plastic toy tricycle just sitting by itself near the river’s edge.  Although I didn’t see anyone around, I just assumed its owner must be nearby.  I took this picture and walked away.  After a time spent looking for driftwood and anything else, I was heading back to my studio under the trees when I was approached by this character I’ve come to know as the ” Off Road Triker”.  He was quickly peddling that tricycle I had seen earlier.

Off Road Triker, May 2013

With his trademark orange goggles, the Triker likes to explore the world from the seat of his three-wheeler.  I recognized him as the  subject of a few human interest stories in the newspaper, but this was a first spotting him on the shores of the Ohio River.  I have heard that he used to own a car, but now he just peddles everywhere he wants to go.  As a side benefit, he’s in the best shape of his life.  His legs alone must be as hard as wood.  The Triker’s ride came to a smooth stop in the sand in front of where I was standing.

the head of the Triker, goggles off, May 2013

Removing his goggles from his eyes the Triker greeted me pleasantly on a picture perfect day.  We introduced ourselves and talked about our observations and connections to this landscape.  The Triker remarked that he had seen a lot of rubbish along the water’s edge and I nodded in agreement.  He wondered why nobody did anything about this, but I had to tell him that the Falls does see several clean-up attempts a year, but with each new flood or high water the new “largess” in the river just washes up again.  It’s like rolling that proverbial rock up the hill only to have it roll back again and again.

Off Road Triker in motion, May 2013

The Triker said that there was a place where several old automotive tires were laying half buried in the sand and that I should check it out.  He put his goggles back on and I walked beside him as he peddled to the spot.  I didn’t tell him this, but I was already familiar with these tires and have photographed this feature many times.  I found the Triker to be amusing and so I just played along to get a sense of who he is and what he might do next.  The reason all these tires are in this particular location is that once upon a time a river clean-up had occurred and these loose tires were gathered here for future disposal.  Ironically, the future never came which left these tires mired in the present.  Now these tires are so full of mud, sand, and water that it would take a herculean effort to dig some of them out of the riverbank.

The Triker begins his run, May 2013

The Triker thought these tires would make an appropriate obstacle course to maneuver through and he asked me to photograph him while he made his run.    Everything started off well enough, but that was not to last.

The Triker runs the obstacle course, May 2013

The Triker swings wide, May 2013

The Trike over corrects, May 2013

The Triker clips the tire, May 2013

It’s at this point that the Triker hits a snag or rather a tire.  The slalom at the course’s start went fine, but midway through the Triker swung wide and he had to over correct to get around the next obstacle.  Here are some different close up views of the action.

View of Triker hitting the tire, May 2013

The Triker up on two wheels, May 2013

The Triker nearly falls off, May 2013

As you can see…hitting the tire caused the tricycle to go up on two wheels.  The speed and forward momentum nearly caused the Triker to completely lose his balance!

The Triker recovers his balance, May 2013

Fortunately as an experienced rider…the Triker held it together and was able to regain his composure and balance to complete this impromptu course.  He pulled off to the side near some willow trees and exhaled deeply.

The Triker recovers his breath, May 2013

“That was a close one my friend.  I thought for a micro second I was going to eat sand and rubber in a hard way!”  I praised him for his skill on the tricycle and told him I would post the images on the internet which seemed to please the Triker.  Recovering his breath, the Triker said he enjoyed his visit to the Falls of the Ohio, but it was now time to return to the city.  With his goggles back on, my last view of the Triker was of his back as he peddled his wobbly ride with a newly bent axle towards the skyline of the nearby city.

The Off Road Triker departs, May 2013

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