Monday, September 29, 2008

Freight Bearing Clocks

The clocks are pure genius to me.

The dichotomy just smacks you across the head. Wall clocks are generally made out of fragile, cheap materials that are light and finished in a way that makes them appear opulent and heavy. Faux metal; Faux finished; Faux. Paula's clocks are anti-faux. Everything that looks heavy, worn, rusted, sharp or dangerous is exactly that. That's why her art makes me giddy. In an age of digital trickery, giclees, photos, painted still-life's, Paula gives you the thing itself in all of it's impractical glory. There is a distinct, subtly powerful beauty to objects that are presented directly without being filtered. Painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, and most sculpting are subjective interpretations manufactured by the artist. Found objects have lived their own life. They survive a life of purpose before they're appropriated. An object brings an entire story with it, often ingrained in it's surface. You're forced to study something that you would choose to ignore in a different context. Hey, I like, even love work in all of the mediums I've mentioned (I live with a 90 inch oil painting hanging 1 foot above my bed . . . unframed so it won't crush me.) I'm just obsessed with the entropy that the physical universe imposes on man made objects.

Working with found materials does have it's drawbacks. If you want to add a tree to a nature scene in a painting you pick up a brush, mix a few colors and paint it (uh, yes I've worked color and I am aware of how much I'm minimizing the process here). Say you want put a clockworks into a piece of found metal. Just drill a hole. What if it doesn't like being drilled? What if you start drilling and your drill bit melts. Off you go to the internets to find out what you're doing wrong. The first thing that you discover is that whatever kind of metal you got, you need a drill bit made out of something harder than that metal to get through it. So you have to know what you're drilling through. There are basic metals - aluminum, copper, iron. Then there's steel. It's got a bunch of different metals in it (mostly iron). In fact there are like 7384 different types of steel when you take into account how it's processed and made. So what metal is harder than most steel? And more importantly how much does it cost (my brain could only throw pictures of diamond tipped bits at me) There are a few options. Titanium, cobalt, tungsten . . . cobalt - sounds like something that would power a Star Trek phazer. I don't know, maybe this isn't all that exotic, but it hits my surrealistic funny bone.

The first assembly step for Paula's clocks is to bore a hole into 1/2 inch thick cast steel with a cobalt drill bit (we still don't know it's composition and the hardness varies drastically from plate to plate. I think the foundries just used whatever was cheap and available). Horrible screeching noises and a wave of vibrations push the smell of burnt industrial cutting oil out the basement and up stairs. The first time I hear this my limbic system sounds the alarm bells of impending mechanical death. My higher brain functions frantically flash scenes of heavy machining tools hungry for human bones to rip into and pulverize. Icy sweat springs from my pores. Once I'm able to fight off the paralysis I sprint downstairs and push open the door to the workshop. My freaked-out stare is met with an annoyed glance from Pnut. I creep back upstairs.

Now, 2+ years later and I'm peacefully surfing the web amidst the odd screech, thump or curse. The building process continues - patina, texture, color, positive and negative shape all meld together when a piece is completed. Sometimes it seems obvious once it's done. Most of the time my brain gets poked in its sensibilities. Paula has become a reluctant fabricator. I have become the occasional research assistant and frequent prodder. The RR plates have opened up an entirely new universe of possibilities to me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walking The Tracks

We walked a lot. Along a moonlit stream accessed from the parking lot of a mental hospital. Wooded paths discovered by motorcycle.

In late October we decided to camp out at a 'rustic' camping spot marked on a state forest map found archived on the web. We arrived at the end of the access road to find that it terminated into a heavily rutted logging road. A brief exploration on foot confirmed that the campsite was there, about a quarter mile ahead. An hour later and we were unloading firewood out the camper and lining a mud trench behind the vehicle. Backing out and leaving felt like a wonderful idea. Thanks to Paula's ingenuity of well placed logs, rocks and curtains (oh God, my original interior Westfalia curtains . . . ) The Dumpster managed to extract itself after some unseen scraping and bending. Paula began referring to the Westy as 'The Dumpster' at some point during that trip. It was actually fairly tidy inside. Pnut was referring to the exterior shape and that fact that it felt as if it would just overwhelm itself at any moment bounding downhill on country roads. As with most observations like this her gut was right. It did weigh nearly 4,500 lbs between its steel bulk and various added contents. Which isn't so bad until you consider that it sits on 14 inch wheels. Most small passenger cars use 15 or 16 inchers now. Even on mildly steep roads it handled like a wet diaper.

Following the wake of the rustic camping incident our adventures stayed closer to home. Shortly after arriving in Vermont Pnut rented an apartment in a dilapidated building about 500 feet from a set of active train tracks. A couple of times a week we would head out on long walks down the track bed to access hiking trails. Paula would take her small digital camera to snap a few close-up shots of tree stumps, roots, boulders, or freight cars along the way. Later we'd fire up the computer and look at the photos like unwrapping presents.

At some point Paula started collecting railroad fishplates or sleeper pads, er . . . these:

A year or so later we got to know a local sculptor who had lived in the area his whole life. He mentioned that he had always seen potential in the RR plates, but just never figured out what to do with them. Searching the internet at the time, I was only able to find a couple of artists that had gone beyond experimenting with them. The plates have severe limitations. They're made of 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick cast steel. That mostly means that they're shockingly heavy. And hard. What I have seen made out of them are smallish table sculptures that weigh nearly 50lbs, functional anchor points for structures and a massive multi-ton sculpture of a bull that's decided to bury itself by stubbornly sinking into the earth. Every one of these creations are welded together. Pnut doesn't know how to weld. Thankfully, neither do I. She wound hemp through their cast holes. Wired car parts to them. Eventually she started winding wire through the holes to create a hanging system. She used them as little canvases. Little 6 X 10 inch, eight pound canvases. Pnut had found her talisman. Soon an entire world would reveal itself through this medium. These little plates unlocked a flood of design instincts in Paula that continues to stun and inspired us both to this day. Just writing about it is enough to tweak my body into sweaty anticipation of what might be brewing in the concrete floored workshop humming below my feet.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gustav's Trap

The door swung open a scant five months before I met Pnut.

Klimt. That dead bastard unknowingly left some kind of gaping art portal on the kitchen side-table. The 'Sun Room', to be correct. The damn book had been there for years. It's not like I hadn't noticed its boring scholarly presence before. Laying there. Pompously. Ignoring me. Ok, so I was ignoring it. Or at least I was trying to. I used to hate antique gold jewelry, metallic gold paint . . . and quilts. I found that whenever I came across any of those things uptight old people would soon show their disapproving heads. Essential Klimt it's called (yes, the bloody title is italicized on the actual book. See? I told you it was pompous). On the cover is what appears to be a sick necrophiliac-man wrapped in some kind of misshapen gold leafed, quilted sleeping bag kissing a dead woman. Maybe they're both dead. Or the lighting's bad. I don't know. And all that blinding gold . . . The whole thing made me ill.

There I was, just wafting back into the material plane after a lengthy meditation session. My ego, bored stiff, wandering aimless around the back of my skull waiting for some action. My hand reached out and picked up the book. Opened it. My eyes looked. Pages were turned. My ego, suddenly realizing that the electricity was back on, burst into the room - "What the hell is going on here?! Put down the fucking book." The problem was that I couldn't put it down. Some other part of me was transfixed. Bathing in honey. Like some child who had just realized he was standing in front of an apple tree for the first time. Tears started leaking from my head. "This is beautiful", I muttered. I felt completely overwhelmed. By a book . . . of old Austrian paintings. It felt like someone had filled my head with molten lava and it was pouring down my insides. "I get it, I get it!" I said, looking up from the book. I realize this sounds like utter hyperbolic crap, but I actually felt and said these things to myself.

Five months later I find myself feeling possessed. For no discernible reason I feel that I must stop what I am doing and go to Liz's house immediately. I'm in the middle of straightening the mud room. I just know that there is something going on at Liz's house and if I don't go down there soon I'm going to miss it. The odd thing is that I don't really know Liz very well. She has a small pick-your-own organic garden at her house. I met her the previous summer after seeing the town sign on Route 100 before the turn off to Moscow Rd. It says, 'Inky Dinky Oink Inc. Gallery'. This is on an official state road sign in between the ones for the Moscow General Store and the Von Trapp Family Lodge. How could I not investigate that? Since then I had been occasionally stopping by for my snap pea fix. We had chatted a few times about deeper subjects, but I had only made maybe 5 or 6 visits to her place. When I arrived on this particular day it didn't look like anything out of the ordinary was happening. After Liz greeted me before I noticed that there was a woman standing on her porch. "Oh, Tod this is Paula. She stayed over last night after we had a pot luck dinner for the Stowe Arts Association. "
"Hi Paula, nice to meet you." Huh, seemed innocuous enough.

Little did I realize that the trap that Gustav had unknowingly set nearly a century ago would soon swallow the entirety of my peaceful, wispy existence. The enzymes had begun they're work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My New World

Good God, where to begin. . . . I love old stuff. Not antiques or historically significant stuff. Old, worn-out,
useless stuff. This is not the way it's always been. Something happened a few years ago. Mostly I blame her. She came along and poked my tranquil little bubble of a life. One day I was floating along just like the previous day and the years before that, and the next day - **Pop**. Now I'm hungry for air on a new planet.

I find myself obsessively collecting junk. Trash really. It's the stuff people pay to get rid of or step over on the way into the convenience store. The stuff that collects on the shoulder of the road. Sheaths of cut power line casing. A metal spoon that's been run over 46 times. Bits of car. The truly strange part about this is that it's not for me. At least not for the first 4 years. Now I keep some of the small plastic scraps. And wire. Particularly the thin multi-colored stuff the utility workers shed around the telephone junction boxes. I carefully clean the various finds, then give nearly all of it to her.

A few weeks or months later it all comes back. Exquisitely regurgitated out of the basement in a magnificent new form. Small bits from the roadside attached to bigger bits from the town dump. Industrial plastic bits bolted to thick slices of oxidized steel. Wire, tiles, paint, eggshells, tar, dangerously jagged decomposing shards of metal. Things that you're not supposed to touch. Somehow all of this stuff finds other stuff that it never knew existed and gets married into a new form that is unquestionably whole. It's like suddenly discovering that Weeping Willows and steering wheels are a perfect match. You wouldn't think of it on your own, but once you see it bolted all together, it's just right. Once every couple of months or so I find myself in a trance handing over stacks of tip money to buy back the roadside junk that I nearly got run over picking up sometime last year. You see, I must have it. It says things to me. Wonderful things. I know, I know, there's probably something wrong with my brain.

People whiz around me accomplishing things. Achieving things. I Gather. Collect. It's everywhere. Flying off of cars smashing into snowy guardrails. Ripped from buildings in preparation for a face-lift. Fairy dust has been sprinkled on my shaggy little head. I can see things. All of the disaster and horrible pummeling abuse is creating it; neglected, despised, beautiful pieces of stuff. That's what I see. So I carefully pick it up and give it to someone who will fondle it. Love it. Listen to it hum a song of decrepit wisdom and inspiration. This has become my new life. I have finally allowed it to completely consume me. Now I can hear the notes. Feel the tugs. . . the faint whispers of creation. There is no reason to the process. I'm just grateful my apprenticeship has begun.