Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Serendipitous Motivation

However, that night I stumbled on influence from a different direction that literally caught my eye & turned my neck.

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I’m taking a pause from posting about Cuba. At the end of last year I went to see the work of Xzya Cruz Bacani being displayed at the Manchester Craftsman Guild & to listen to her lecture. The subject of her images Modern Slavery resonated with the deep-down photojournalist in me. Her work & the perspective she provided were haunting.

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However, that night I stumbled on influence from a different direction that literally caught my eye & turned my neck. In earlier posts I’ve mentioned how architecture & woodworking grab my eye. Entering the Manchester Craftsman Guild  an alcove with a wooden accent built into a brick semicircle did just that. In one glance I saw customized shelves, entryway, utility, separation & focus blended into one compact area. If I ever tried to describe a union of form & function this would be a strong example. The synergy of structure, materials & openness was as harmonious as anything I have seen.

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Ms Gubser, the executive assistant at MCG, noticed my wide-open eyes. She told me about the woodworker & invited me to look at more of the craftsman’s work in the boardroom.

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After seeing more finely crafted pieces, in a wonderful serendipitous moment, she introduced me to the artist who had also come to the lecture.

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Meeting Tadao Arimoto & discussing his work was delightful. After humbly listening to my praise of his work he invited me to his workshop. This was an inspirational encounter I never saw coming. Since my wood-shop was closed for the winter I was excited to get some sawdust on my shoes.

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Tadao came to Pittsburgh in 1976. His path to the medium of wood to fashion his designs began 4 years earlier in his native Japan. He had studied at the International Design Institute in Kyoto. As a young man, he felt the career path as an industrial designer was uninspiring. Then he saw a wooden bench in a storeroom window that “made his heart pop out.” He found out it was created by Shigeru Ueki a respected abstract sculptor who worked with wood. Tadao contacted him & Shigeru befriended him.

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Collaboration can be a powerful motivator. Shigeru, had been a founder of the respected Modern Art Discussion Group with other Japanese artists. He gave inspiration to a young Tadao to learn the craft of sculpting wood & exposed him to other artistic perspectives. Today Tadao is still influenced by sculpture but also is aware of the long perspective of nature & the wood he works with. The life span of a tree is extended in the art he creates. For over 40 years, his hands have molded a 2nd life into the wood he uses. One of the joys of his work is that every week he learns something new.

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His design process for custom work begins with understanding the place it will occupy & then making multiple hand sketches of his concepts & ideas. Then CAD drawings are presented to the client giving a perspective that is easier to visualize. With approval & consensus of the final design, Tadao then creates another hand drawing he will use as a guide while crafting the piece.

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He describes some of his work as Visually Quiet. A blend of sketch artist, craftsman & sculptor, his minds eye is focused on the functional & the aesthetic environment his work will occupy. The soft conflict of his description resonates in his work. Looking at examples of his finished pieces on his website it is easy to see the blend of purpose with beauty.

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Of particular interest to me was the shop environment filled with sawdust creating an orange earth tone hue. I wanted to capture the interaction of the tools, wood, hands & the designer. These images show a glimpse of his personal culmination of inspiration & craft.

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Tadao takes his design & creates a second life-cycle of the tree the wood came from. In sculpting his forms he infuses his ideas onto the grain of the lumber with his touch, & experience. His hands respect the longevity of the medium they work with.

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Often imperfections become an accent adding character to the narrative.

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The work-space of a craftsman can tell you a lot about the artisan. A woodworking shop is a constant shifting balance of space for working & keeping tools close. Raw wood was leaning against the walls. Shelves were piled with hardwoods. Work-in-progress was sitting beside hefty machinery. I was enveloped by the ordered chaos & a diversity of tools. The dominant feature in the shop however was Tadao’s resonating smile.

Stone and Iron Garden

01 Organic Garden
Rocks & stonework inspire me. I noticed a sculpture garden with ironwork designed around jaw-dropping stone objects. I envisioned flora in bloom contrasting stone & dull ironwork as a good time to stroll thru this unique garden with my camera. However, on an overcast Spring mourning I realized the few early flowers, bare trees & a backdrop of grass would highlight the tone of the artwork.
02 Rock Table
The artist, Vince Freeman, has an eclectic assortment of man-made materials to choose from including bricks, pre-formed ornamental pieces & discarded rusted relics of. The stone table is the centerpiece of the patio. The finely detailed ornamental pagoda on the edge of the brickwork offers a pleasing juxtaposition to the natural rock table.
03 Stone Crucifix
The crucifix may be one of the strongest images in our culture. Artists in many mediums have used their talents to create custom representations. I don’t think I have ever seen one as unique as this.
04 The Tong Family
Before I talked with the artist I knew we shared a similar trait. We keep old tools because someday we might do something with them. In his case he actually does. I only hang them in my woodshed. By simply heating & bending these old devices his creation of Papa Tong, Mamma Tong and Baby Tong brought a smile to my face.
05 Iron Bird copy
The color palette of this shot is narrow. The rusted Iron Bird blends nicely with a dominant gray scale & the diffused grass adds an element of life. Originally I thought this might be an interesting BW. However the more I experimented in post the more I liked the color.

06 Bug with Character

When I landscape with stone, I often see a specific place for a specific rock. I never have looked at a rock and seen a face. The choice of this stone & the perfectly positioned eyes give character to an inanimate object. All of us can learn to see things differently. For me his work is kindling for different perspectives.

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Soft spoken and easy to talk to, Vince quickly struck me, as is the type of person who gets things done. His squared shoulders on top of his large strong frame give him an advantage when blending Iron and Stone. I enjoy how he has interpreted & created sculpture using natural and discarded man-made materials.