Saturday, May 08, 2021

'An Undiscovered Plant - with a cure for cancer.'

Elora Sculpture Project - 2021
‘My. how peculiar! Just what is this? It’s not like any plant I’ve seen before. It’s so BIG. - and so strange looking…’
This sculpture is in the form of a huge jungle (?) plant. A cluster of arching stems each hold individual frosted glass ‘flowers’. Towering above these are a group of huge and complex ’seed pods’. Bundled at the base are long blade shaped leaves.

... In truth it is the title that conveys the meaning to the piece, beyond creation of the fantastic. I also wanted to be less obvious that last year’s ‘Last to Sea’, and ‘Legacy’ in 2018. The starting point here was suggested by the 1992 film ‘Medicine Man’, about an isolated scientist in the Amazon, pursuing a plant based cure for cancer, and battling the destruction of the same rain forest where the rare plant can be found.  
(from the full description, published earlier)

On Friday, with the assistance of Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios, I installed the completed sculpture :
Overall view, from the walkway, towards the north east with the river behind.

Looking towards the south east

'With the Artist' - gives a better idea of scale *

One of the concepts I have developed in earlier work is contrasting colour against the natural appearance of forged steel. 
In the fire, steel will take on a flat, dark grey colour, with various textures depending on the hammering process. (It is not 'black', within the modern perception of colour.) Many of the past works presented at Elora have worked directly with how various metals oxidize with time ('Layers' - 2013 / 2016) or with the use of subtle colours against surface rusting ('Spears of Summer' - 2014). 
Modern steel alloys will rust on exposure to weather, if not protected by some coating system. Most typical is the use of industrial enamel, either a flat, or most commonly a glossy black paint. This actually bears little resemblance to the natural colour and texture of the freshly forged surfaces. To my mind, a bright, shiny, fire engine red is just as 'honest' a protective coating!

Given the overall 'fantasy of nature' intent to 'Undiscovered Plant', I chose to use a base coat of a bright gloss green. You can see that it is not that much different than the leaves of the early tulips planted already around the presentation space. The leaves have a wash of a darker green on their outside surfaces, with a highlight of a florescent green applied where they wrap into their stems.

The tendril like 'stamens' that form the core of each 'seed pod' element were dip painted to a yellow. These were then highlighted using two more florescent spray paints, with a bright yellow from below, then an orange downwards from the very tips of the element. The leaves making up the exterior of each bundle were painted a darker green than used elsewhere. (As you can see, it was overcast when the images were taken, the full impact of these bright colours is not as apparent as they are in life!)
Although it is harder to see in the images, each of the top ends of the bell flowers merges to a darker green. There is a slight hint of blue in the interior of the tendrils that hold the glass bells. 

Showing one of the 'seed pods', with the glass 'bell flowers' behind.

Close up of one of the seed pod elements, showing colour variations.

The physical dynamic of forging such long / heavy elements I have found pretty punishing over the last month. The weather over the last week had been uniformly cold and wet (night times about 4 C, days up to only about 12 - 15 - with rain almost every day). This seriously effected the application of the many layers of paint required for the effects I wanted. 


Taken altogether, I am extremely pleased with this sculpture. It is visually striking, and with consideration of the title, still conveys the subtle (but extremely important) message. 

* Image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

Friday, May 07, 2021

'Wave Action' - Paisley Street Scupture Project

The Elora Sculpture Project has inspired a number of similar public art presentations (1). The original Elora project (from 2010) was expanded into nearby Fergus (under the same umbrella) in 2016 (2). The town of Haliburton would start its own version in 2018 (3) (reduced in scale for 2021 to five sculptures). 

This year, Paisley has launched its first Paisley Street Sculpture Project. They are starting with only three installations.

COVID has put a clamp on all arts work over the last year. One direct result has been the narrowing of published 'calls for entry' to submission deadlines. I had known that Paisley had been considering an artist 'loan' on fixed base mounts at least potentially in 2021, back in January. This through my close friend David Robertson, who had been asked to consult on some of the practical aspects.  At the time, I did have a flash of inspiration - but foolishly, never made any scratch drawings or notes of the idea. 

So when the actual call for entry was published, I had totally forgotten what ever brilliant idea I had...

Fortunately, my partner Kelly Probyn-Smith (who operates her own Elfworks Studios) had a great concept. We kicked this around in conversation, she providing the inspiration, me providing the 'nuts and bolts'. This resulted in a joint submission :

Wave Action

Framed by bright waves, fish jump and ducks dive, while paddlers cruise on by. Who wouldn’t enjoy a day on the river, here in Paisley!


Original (rough!) concept drawing


As our submission for the Paisley Street Sculpture Project we propose making a mobile piece powered directly by community interaction with it. The longstanding relationship that Paisley has with their unique position on the confluence of the Saugeen and Teeswater rivers, and the aspects of the community’s long standing environmental interplay with the waters, would be showcased by this work.

The sculpture is framed by a box which represents the river. Contained within the box are a number of formed metal pieces – both forged and cut sheet of varying materials, some brightly painted . These are variously attached to a protectively hidden internal gear track, with motion driven by the cranking of a central handle. Proposed potential moving elements include : waves, canoe and kayak, various fish, a turtle, ducks and geese, cattails or reeds, possibly even a swimmer. Driven by the handle, The main ‘boat’ elements travel across the top, some pieces back and forth, and some to rotate in and out of the ‘water’.

This is a collaborative effort by emerging artist Kelly Probyn-Smith, and long experienced artisan Darrell Markewitz (who has participated in the Elora Sculpture Project since 2013). An additional ‘ecological’ element will be that the gearing will be built from various discarded bicycle parts.

It is hoped that the jury can assess the general concept of the sculpture, as the exact details of the gearing will largely determine the final number and position of the final moving elements.

Scaled proposal drawing
Technical :

- The basic framing will be of welded structural angle. The ideal placement for the crank handle should be about 30 inches above ground level. This would also place the top (moving) parts at at least 40 inches high, which should keep these out of the range of vary small children. Additionally, the tip of the handle would be best placed to the same line as the mounting stone block (to keep it from projecting out towards passers by) As the exact size of the anchor block and the position of the mounting bolts is unknown at this point, the exact details of the framing will need to be adjusted.

- The enclosing ‘box’ will be made of 20 gage stainless steel sheet. This is basically weather proof, and will additionally have decorative enamel paint applied to it.

- The individual figures will be created from stainless steel sheet, forged mild steel and forged copper. Some of these will again have protective / decorative paint, while some will be left to naturally oxidize.

- All of the gearing and bicycle chain drive will be enclosed inside the framing box. The top line of the chain will run over the top of the box (but protected at front and rear by the scalloped line of the box as illustrated). The gearing will be constructed so that multiple rotations of the driving handle are required to create motion of the various elements. This will both reduce wear in the components, but also reduce any ‘inertia effect’ should anyone attempt to over rotate the system.

- Individual small figures will be attached to thin rods, to lift up and out of the box as they rotate.

1) I have contributed sculptures to the Elora Sculpture Project annually from 2013.

2) For the first year of expansion into Fergus, I was asked to contribute my 2013 piece 'Layers'

3) I contributed 'Layers' to the first year of the Haliburton project.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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