There’s a reason Joe Thompson works exclusively with recycled materials for his sculptures. “I am taking rusty pieces of nothing and putting them into a work of art that may end up in a gallery or a museum,” he says (as many of his pieces have, at Hollingsworth Gallery, where the latest show, “A Glimpse From Within,” is getting its encore opening tonight.) Thompson does this because once did the same thing with human beings.
He didn’t put them in art galleries or museums. He merely lifted them out of trailer muck and gave them individuality by recognizing who they were and what they could do, and not out of some grand desire for social engineering. Thompson was only looking for a good plumber. An occasional carpenter. A painter.
A Glimpse From Within:
- Encore Opening at Hollingsworth Gallery Saturday, July 9, with a free reception from 6-10 p.m. The gallery is located at City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Palm Coast. Call 871-9546 for details.
The way Thompson describes it, he was 27, an owner and manager of trailer parks who found himself in a particularly rough situation in northwest Georgia at one point. Nasty trailers. Nasty tenants. Violent tenants, too. There was always maintenance work in the park, but scarce workers to do it well. Then it hit him. There were unemployed such workers all around him in the park. He started hiring them—and working right alongside with them. “We became so proficient with our maintenance that all repairs were done within 48 hours and usually 24,” Thompson writes in his artist’s statement. “I got a ‘life lesson’ out of this experience that very few people truly understand. All People Have Value. You may not know what their talents are because you don’t know them. But, odds are, they have something, if not many things, they could teach us all. The greatest lesson was humility. I couldn’t do it without them. These ‘them’ became individuals.
the Hollingsworth and Art League Shows[nggallery id=82]
You could say that Thompson applies the very same principle to his materials as a sculptor. “Soul Scrub,” a life-size, vivid rendition of a woman scrubbing more than her skin, is made of 5,000 rings from trampoline springs, giving her movement and fluidity and even if her drilled-up soul is difficult to pin down. “Preparing to Shrug” is a reinterpretation of Atlas carrying the world. Atlas himself is made of 435 wrenches, down to the details of his feet and nails and the wonderful mane of his hair. The world he’s carrying is made of keys from 42 computer keyboards and cell phones in a sphere distorted by technology’s meteoric and not particularly good effects on human relationships. “Cinco De Mayo,” unfortunately not on display at Hollingsworth, is a more jovial Giacometti made of sculpted steel: instead of the existential facelessness of a spindly figure, we have a jovial reveler in cowboy spurs and boots shooting a gun in the air.
Then there’s “Blind Ambition,” a piece literally springing with invention and doing what Thompson seems able to do so effortlessly: make a point without being preachy. “Blind Ambition” is a feat of balance and ingenuity—balance between serious and whimsy, between space and size, and that balancing act of placing the lower end of an ambitious climber on tip-top of eight teacups, teetering Pisa-like. You don’t dare touch for fear of crumbling the whole thing until J.J. Graham, who owns Hollingsworth Gallery and curated the show, walks up to the sculpture and shoves the whole thing. It just sways happily. “he’s figured out how to break some rules,” Graham says. Ambition is not so easily crumbled, fragile though it appears. And cynical: The sculpture sits on a metal plate with the imprint of a large dollar sign. The shoes are welded nickels. The pants are cut metal, again with those round holes Thompson likes, creating the effect of impermanence.
This is a guy who puts a lot of thought into materials most of us discard, the kind of guy who puts a lot of thought into words—who thinks the word “epiphany” is too good a word for a trailer park, who makes raw materials of Dylan Thomas poetry and who, explaining why “Finding Bigfoot,” the television documentary, meant something to him, will tell you straight out—as he recently did in a Facebook note: “If you have never got drunk off moonshine, while running through the woods at night, coon hunting, and trying to find that same still again to fill another mason jar, well, I can’t help you! You have not yet breathed my air. Truly, the simple things in life are the most fun and , almost always, ‘Ignorance is Bliss!’”
But he’s being disingenuous there. There’s not much ignorance in Thompson’s work. There’s a great deal of knowingness and willingness to make us see it with a lot of amusement and never a hint of pretension. Thompson’s sculptures speak to you as he might: with aesthetic sweep in one hand and a beer in the other. His self-taught artistry ennobles the rejected and scorns the uppity. Palm Coast is lucky to have him these few weeks.
Just as it’s been lucky to have these serial openings at Hollingsworth, where “A Glimpse from Within”’s encore also gives us abstract artists Betty Parker, Jean Banas and Karin Stoever for a few more weeks.
Banas is “very gestural, abstract painting. Her paintings are like wine, you have to open them up and let them breathe for a while,” Graham says, explaining the difficulty that might accompany looking at Banas’s big works. It takes a while to “get” them, though trying too hard goes against the paintings’ grain. “There’s this space in there and the more you look at it the more you start to see this imagery she painted then painted over. It’s almost like she blurred them. Being the size that they are they just allow your eyes to roam in and out.” Pick a color and follow it through: that’s one way to enter the paintings, like a maze in a garden that reveals its treasures in small steps.
Anyone who’s visited Hollingsworth in the last few months is familiar with at least one work by Karin Stoever, the German-born photographer, even if not consciously so: Her untitled photograph of a large mannequin’s head from behind and as if sunk in a tank of rusty liquids is beautifully disquieting, like several of Stoever’s photographs, which blur all sorts of lines—the line between realism and imagination not the least of them.
Betty Parker’s collages, or manipulated paper, also need time: don’t just look at shapes and walk by. Take the tug of war between red and yellow in “Ripples,” or the play of oranges and blues in a sea of white in the mural-like “A Shabbath Day Walk.” It’s as if you’re looking at the threads of a quilt debating with each other: where to weave, where to go, although the story is all there. You can see the walk. You can also fill it in for the walker, who may be your reflection.
“I don’t regret for one second that I’m hanging it and that I’m extending it,” Graham says of “A Glimpse from Within.” “I’ve had a lot of young people really respond to it. Karin’s and Joe’s work, the younger generation of ours that come through here, they really gravitate to it.”
2011 Summer Gallery Sale at the Flagler County Art League
A few doors down from Hollingsworth, the Flagler County Art League this evening opens its 2011 summer sale, where for the next two months patrons can buy art ranging from the double digits to about $300, with the average somewhere around $150.
2011 Summer Gallery Sale:
- Opening at the Flagler County Art League July 9 (with a free reception from 6 to 9 p.m.), through Aug. 31. The gallery is located at City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Palm Coast. Call 386/986-4668 for details.
Some 20 artists—painters, photographers, sculptors—are displaying 120 pieces, all for sale. “It’s a great opportunity to get original art work, award winning in many cases, at the lowest price it’s ever been offered before,” says Bob Carlsen, the league’s director of shows. “There’s a lot of good quality work, very reasonably priced, and more selections than we’ve ever had before.”
Familiar work, too: some of it has been on display in previous shows at the league.
In this case, artists paid $30 to get a 3-by-8 foot wall space to display as many of their works as they can fit in that space, for a month (or $50 for two months), enabling a much larger amount of works to be displayed. That’s in the main gallery. In the second gallery, where classes are also taught, the league is still exhibiting works from the Zo Cooley collection, the league artist who died earlier this year.
Watercolors, acrylics, colored pencil, sculpted woods, metals and plaster: it’ll all be there for the next two months. It’s all local art—and, for the league, a matter of supporting local artists and the league itself.