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Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Wire Play #2" - Final Project Spring 2015

The Final Project for the semester began with the intention to create a 3D sculptural version of a Joan Miro painting.

Miro was a Spanish Abstract Surrealist painter whose playful imagery I find very appealing. A Miro inspired work was just a starting point; and as always my profs encouraged me to push the idea further. That is the mantra that I will continue to hear until I am able to do it all on my own. I ended up making use of the many, small, found objects that I have acquired over the last four years. The title "Wire Play"" references one of the sculptures made for the  13 Sculptures project.

Most of these found objects were picked up off the street while walking from my home to the grocery store. Its a two mile round trip and there is a particular side street that is what I call a "target rich environment" for found objects. Any time I walk down that road I'll find two or three interesting items. The copper wire came from a classmate who was cleaning up her studio space and giving away odds and ends.  Even though we had three weeks for completion I had to work out conceptually what I wanted to do, and then assemble it. I spent a few days just experimenting with different objects in various combinations, knowing that I would eventually hit upon the "right thing" to do for this project. This took longer than expected, and I felt pressed for time. It seems that there is always one project each semester where I get hung up a bit. I have to continue working on how to "get out of my own way".

During the critique my classmates commented that the piece referenced things that were: "botanical" or "robotic". Some said, "satellites" and even "UFOs".

This last photo is my favorite for aesthetic reasons.

A major donor and patron to the sculpture program sat in on our critique and commented that my piece was "interesting" and "cute".  "Interesting" is always good; but "cute" is not! I wish she had come by to visit us when I was presenting "Artifact" a few weeks before. I think that was my most successful piece this semester.

When everyone's final grade for the semester was posted, I got one of the few solid A's. I feel lucky and pleased for my first semester to end on such a high note.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Project #5: "Artifact"

I was in the mood to make something large, using tools and materials that were unfamiliar to me. Styrofoam seem like a good choice. Other students had enjoyed working with it, and there were plenty of styrofoam laying about the Sculpture Annex. I chose to create a representational form that would be instantly recognizable. However, the twist would be to present the piece in a way that the viewers would have to puzzle over it just a little.

Seven pieces of Styrofoam board left over from another student's project (partially covered with paint), were cut to size and then bonded together in three layers. Using an electric Saws-All, and then a small hand saw, the basic shape was roughed out. After that, the process of shaping the contours of the object was done using a rotary tool driven by compressed air. It had a variety of interchangeable cutting heads that went thru the Styrofoam like a hot knife through butter. I had to exercise caution so as not to remove too much material.

Styrofoam has a cheap look about it, and I wanted to do some sort of a surface treatment that would substantially change that appearance.  After research and discussion with my professors eventually I settled on a mixture of Plaster of Paris and powdered wood, of the type used in making wood putty. The plaster and wood powder was all mixed and applied by hand in small batches because it dries very quickly. The hardened shell built up over the Styrofoam was anywhere from 1/2" to 2" thick.  Then the entire thing was carefully sanded by hand. This took several days. Upon the recommendation from a professor, an odoriferous coat of Johnson's Floor Wax was applied all over to give the surface a light brown, matte finish.

The finished piece had the appearance of bone, limestone, or something fossilized. This was in large part do to the "happy accident" of not having evenly mixed each batch of the wood powder and plaster. There was a lack of consistent coloration and tone which then gave the piece an organic look. It definitely had a "natural history" feel about it, which influenced the title choice of, "Artifact".

The finished piece was about 4 ft. wide x 3 ft. tall x 18" deep. and probably weighed less than twenty pounds, but it looks much heavier. I had originally planned to present it by leaning it against a wall, but decided it would look better on a stand. This would allow viewers to walk all around it, and get it up off the floor without necessarily using a pedestal.

The stand was designed on the fly. A quick sketch, and then a run to Home Depot for some lumber. I was advised to build the stand in a low key fashion or it could prove to be a distraction. Unless the stand itself is an integral part of the piece, people should not even notice it. One of my professors said, "If people are noticing and discussing the stand; then you know they don't like the piece and can't think of anything good to say about it". In other words: A fail. I painted the stand a dark gray color that exactly matched the color of the floors in the Sculpture Annex. This turned out to be a good move and really helped it remain unnoticed.

This piece is a representation of my slightly wonky, left ear. My ear has a low grade birth defect that in no way effects my hearing (But, there have been women in my life who would argue otherwise!). When I was quite young, other kids would tease me about it, so I grew my hair long to cover it up. Later on in adult life, my girlfriends and wives adored it and gave it overly cute nick-names -- which I will not repeat here. I prefer to call it my "squinchy" ear, and leave it at that. You have to admit it is an interesting shape, and presenting my sculpture rotated 90 degrees had the desired effect of creating a bit of mystery. During the final critique, my classmates enthusiastically debated what this "bio-morphic" shape could actually be. I stood back with my professor (who was the only one who knew for sure what I had made), and allowed everyone a closer look. "Is it a whale bone?", "A fossil?", "Petrified wood?", "A dumpling?" The one that made me and my professor laugh the hardest was when someone proclaimed, "It can't be an ear. Ears don't look like that!"

This piece was chosen by me and my professors to go into the Annual Junior/Senior Art show held each spring at the Blaffer Museum of Art.

Amazing how my squinchy left ear went from being a source of ridicule, to a unique identifier, to a praise worthy art object. Life is good. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Knot Here, and Knot There

Junior Block Project #4 is composed of a found wooden chair, an old walking cane, and many yards of cotton cord. This piece was inspired by a clever book I found titled "Why Knot?" written by the famous tightrope walker, Phillipe Petit. Monsieur Petit discusses and demonstrates the how's, why's, and histories of 80+ knots in a very entertaining way. He apparently knows how to tie hundreds.  I used about 20 different types of knots on this piece, with some of my favorites being repeated several times. I don't think I ever really counted how many total knots there are; but of those only nine are functional, and actually hold the chair together.

In these modern times of ours, knot tying is fast becoming a lost art. The tying of knots has been largely replaced by: Duct tape, Zip-ties, twist ties, Super Glue and so on. There are kids I know who grew up never knowing how to tie even a simple knot because their shoes had Velcro straps instead of laces. There are only a few professions remaining that still require knot tying. These usually involve livestock or boats of some kind. I'm hard pressed to think of any leisure activities that make regular use of knots. Camping perhaps? Mountaineering and sailing, for sure. This is indeed a sad state of affairs. However, there is still hope. Perhaps such films as "50 Shades of Gray" could spark a new public interest in "recreational" knot tying. But a mere hope is all that it is.

The multiple non-functional knots I used in this piece to represent our society's loss of it's general knot knowledge and usage. There is also a certain pathos and a bit of irony in the idea of using a cane, designed to aid and support a human body, to repair a chair which is another structure designed to support the human frame. There is a little obsessiveness in the abundance of the non-functioning knots.

I felt I had no other choice than to title this piece as, "This Is Knot Your Seat".

The dramatic lighting effect was both loved and hated by my classmates. What do you think? 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Untitled" : A Performance Art Piece

This is project #3 from the Spring semester of my Junior Sculpture (or Block) program. Please watch this 1 minute video, and if you find yourself intrigued then you can read the "inside story" below. Enjoy!

I became aware of these "Drawing Robots" a few years ago, and thought that at some point I'd like to do something with them.  These little robots run on batteries and have a small motor with a short axle. At the end of the axle is a small yellow plastic disc mounted in an off-center fashion. As the motor turns the axle, the weight of the off-center rotating disc, creates a wobbling motion which then causes the robot to move in a circular way.

My goal was to make these little robots do something they weren't designed to do. In this case, to make sound. On one robot I substituted the pen-legs for a ping-pong ball, the spring from a doorstop, and a wire brush. This one became known as "the Sweep Bot". Also, I glued a short metal rod onto the "wobble disc" and added a nut to the end. This put substantially more weight further out from the center, and created a very exaggerated wobble.

The same enhanced weight arrangement was added to the second robot along with golf tees for legs. This one I named "Tap-Bot" as it literally tap danced when the motor was turned on.

The third robot was given the same weight set-up as the other two. Long, thin dowels were added for the legs. Bells were affixed to the legs and the whole thing was wrapped in a sheet of Mylar. This one I named the "Tall Bot".

The two short bots were placed in small wooden boxes with holes drilled into the sides. These enclosures amplified the sound produced by each one. The Tap Bot was especially loud as you can hear in the video. The Sweep Bot did produce a "whooshing" sound, but it was not loud enough. I purchased special light bulbs to use as footlights that were designed to change colors automatically or in response to a remote control.

In the video the flying bot finale was a complete surprise to my audience. When I'm working on a project I tend to keep some aspect of it a secret. I like to surprise my professors and the other students when it comes time for our presentation and critique. The professor who was grading my project said "I've been teaching a long time and I've seen a lot of  strange things. That was one of the strangest! I want to congratulate you Buck, on allowing yourself to get so...weird".

I was at loss as to what to call this piece. In the past I have stated that naming something "Untitled" can be a bit of a cop out.  But in this case I made an exception.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Planes & Grids

This is my second project for the semester. Two found birdcages were deconstructed and reassembled into a mobile (my very first!). I was inspired by a book on the works of Alexander Calder, who for all intents and purposes is considered the creator of the "Mobile". 


Sunday, March 29, 2015

13 Sculptures

Starting last January I entered into my Junior semester of Sculpture Block classes. "Block" refers to three semesters of intense focus on sculptural work, processes (methods in how-to make things) and concepts. One must submit a portfolio for evaluation by the professors in the department in order to get accepted. It is a small but vigorous program where students have regular access to professors and grad students for guidance.

The 13 sculptures project is the first and only assignment in the Junior semester of Sculpture Block at the University of Houston. The 13 is is a way to kick-start the students and get their hands and minds busy. The idea is to work fast, and not over think. We had two weeks to complete the work. I found that the two weeks went by very quickly! All future projects, ideas, and concepts must be generated by the students entirely on their own. Each student is responsible for exploring and finding their own "voice" as a sculptor.

The following are the best of my 13 sculptures. Some were made very quickly, and others were made with a bit more time and consideration. Most of these pieces were made with found objects.

 Iron Wood

Wire Play

Crumpled Screen


 Flying Glove

Sinking Balls

Trouble Chair

Wood Pile

Conversing Stones

Hair Ball

(Look closely, that's a ping-pong ball covered with my hair. Most of which came from the top of my head.)