Thursday, September 20, 2012

Into the Abyss

I recently did a Road Scholar presentation called In Cold Coincidence which covered the odd relationships between Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Michael Blake and all the victims along the way in the years covered by the lives of these individuals.  It required me to read To Kill a Mockingbird (which has to be one of the best books ever) and In Cold Blood.

Pondering the nature of crime always leads to the issue of the victims.  What I often find most disturbing about crime writing is that it becomes so fascinating to look at the perpetrators of the crime that the victims are often forgotten. 

One of the strengths of To Kill a Mockingbird is that the victims of the crime (the accusation of rape by a white woman against a black man in the American south) become everyone in the novel.  While this may also be true of In Cold Blood, there is no doubt that the focus in that work is on the perps and I struggle with the loss of the victim's story in that work.

The talk led me to another person's work:  film maker Werner Herzog's documentary, Into the Abyss.  There are some eerie parallels in the crime that Herzog reveals and the tale that Capote told. 

Capote's victims were picked by the bad guys because of prison talk that this isolated Kansas farming family had a safe with $10,000.  There was no safe, and the perpetrators killed four members of the Clutter family for a transistor radio, a pair of binoculars and less than $50.  The two bad guys rode around the country and Mexico for two months before the cops found them and arrested them in Las Vegas at the post office, just minutes after they picked up a box that contained the very evidence the cops needed to get them convicted. 


In the crime that Herzog covers in Into the Abyss, the two bad guys want to sleep over at a friend's house but when he is not home, they decide to shoot their friend's mom (who was baking cookies at the time) and steal her car.  They drive away to hide her body and when they return to the gated community where the first murder was committed, they cannot get in because the gates are locked.  When two young boys drive up (one of whom is the dead woman's son), they murder both of them just to get the clicker to open the gate.  The two bad guys joyrode around in their stolen vehicles for 72 hours before shooting it out with the cops and getting arrested. 

The random nature of both the crimes is one of the most chilling aspects of these cases.  The application of the death penalty, in both cases, is also the elephant in the room.  While I might be able to criticize In Cold Blood for intended or unintended sympathy for the bad guys, Herzog's film shows the effect of this crime on everyone:  the victim, the victim's family, the bad guys, the bad guy's family, the cops and even the death row prison guards.

Although it is like getting a sharp stick stuck in your eye, I would recommend watching Into the Abyss:  A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.  I will not reveal one of the other major themes running through the film but let me just say this:  watch the epilogue and worry about the future.

On a lighter note, Werner Herzog has wonderful documentary called Cave of Forgotten Dreams that reveals the ancient secrets hidden in the Chauvet Cave in France.  Watch that one to cleanse yourself after Into the Abyss. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

How a Paint Brush Became a Circus Wagon I Cannot Name or Pick Up

I recently decided that I need to work small.  (This decision is in no part affected by the fact that I cannot find any storage room for these giant projects I keep making in my basement.  Yeah, right!)

My mentor artist teacher (ie:  the guy I steal most of my ideas from) Michael de Meng teaches a workshop on making figures from paint brushes called Brushes Gone Bad which I have never taken.  However, I own one of Michael's Brushes Gone Bad creations and in looking at it everyday I decided that would be the model for my next work. (For the sake of full disclosure, the piece shown above by Michael is NOT the piece I own.  The one I own is better). 

Sooooo...ignore the man behind the box, ignore the man behind the box.  The original two found objects were the baby doll head and the brush.  But...the more I looked at that head I realized it needed to sit on something.  Sooooo...out came the old tin box and the piece began its first step in growing bigger.

The box was so cool but once I Apoxie clayed the head to the box the hair meant I could not longer hang this on the wall so that it looked nice.  That made me think that maybe I could find something to put behind the green tin box.

Sooooo...out came the kid's pull toy I bought a few years ago at a school rummage sale.  Believe it or not, this was one of four or five that I bought for fifty cents each because the folks at the rummage sale thought these had no value without the missing wooden engine.  I could not disagree more.

Once the tin was on the front of the wagon it became obvious that I needed something special to be in the tin box like maybe a heart.  Sooooo.....this is about when the idea of making a circus wagon occurred to me and I went looking for a horse.  I think this may be one of those Pretty Pony toys or at least it is something very similar.  I had to hack off his butt in order to have him placed correctly on the wagon and that was accomplished with a Dremel. 

With more Apoxie Clay I clayed his butt to the box but the real challenge came when I needed to have him sit for a few hours to harden.  I work in my living room/den on all these projects using my basement studio only for drilling, sawing and anything exceptionally stinky.  So, the den corner near the music collection became my vise. 

The top of the circus wagon was a separate piece but that ended when the tin box needed to be drilled into both it and the body of the wagon in order to stay in place.  I decided that I wanted some kind of power/electrical/motor thing on top of the wagon so in searching my found objects (ie: junk) I found an old lamp part and some wooded findings that I thought might work. 

The lamp had this cool space so I filled it with this little guy who appears not to be having a great time at the circus.  Some of you younger folks might think this is a Stephen King influenced attachment but I would encourage you to read Something This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. 

Our lead horse needed to be integrated into the piece so I decided to add these old wood insulators as casters.  They turned out pretty cool especially once I gave them a little circus wagon wheels colors for texture. 

When I looked at the wagon at this stage, I decided to echo the front with a box on the back.  Of course, the rear end of the horse had to go here to complete the symmetry so out came the Apoxie Clay again.

The sides of the wagon were circus poster images printed onto lutradur to give it that dreamy worn quality I was looking for in the whole piece.  The nails, wire and erector set pieces on the top were an artistic decision made when something seemed to be missing. 

Sooooo...what started out to be a paint brush turned into this piece which I have been calling Circus Wagon.  It is 32" x 6" x16" and weighs in at 13 pounds.  There are $31 worth of junk attached and it took 25 and 1/2 hours to construct and paint. 

After talking to you (and thanks for listening) I have found a name for this piece:  Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Ray Bradbury passed away recently and I am glad to say that his writing has influenced my reading tastes for my whole life and I am glad I could do a tribute in his memory. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Waterford Hot Air Balloon Festival 2012

Denice and I headed out to the Waterford (WI) Hot Air Balloon Festival this summer.  While my camera and I are not quite getting along right now, I am still happy to post a few of the pictures from the event.

The colors, etc., made these photos tempting to horse around with in Elements, so I did. 

But the best part of any balloon show is when the sun goes down and the group does a mass burn.  It is so cool.