Well, it’s finally done. I have to say that I’m rather pleased with the results. As most of these projects go, they often turn into an ‘albatross’ and seem to take forever. I’m often to the point where I really hate them after a bit, but alas, that’s the creative process.
Often times, I need a motivator to finally get the piece done and often times that’s a gallery show. So here it is in all its glory at a great little gallery - the Anita Sue Kolman Gallery - www.askanita.com in the hood - Northeast Minneapolis.
Well, about the piece-
As you can see from the construction, it is much more than just a cello. Everything else is fabricated with the exception of an old metal chaffing dish for decoration and some store bought carved wood applique’s. The hull is bentwood pine over pine with a fair amount of wood putty and coats of paint. The masts are welded steel tubing painted a nice cocoa brown and distressed (as is the rest of the piece to unify it). The sails are steel with a thin sheet of decorative fabric. One of the hardest things to do was to distress that beautiful fabric since it was just so pretty right out of the store. It should be - 36 bucks a yard. Good thing the previous first pattern didn’t work out and this fabric was half price after Christmas. Also note that the figurehead on the bow is the ‘Christ’ from a crucifix and the child on top of the “Poop Deck” was a cherub (I cut off the wings- just a little too cutesy).
So, you got the basics. Now, what is the damn thing about? Well, I might have mentioned before that one of the basis of the Flying Dutchman legend was a Dutch captain by the name of Bernard Fokke. Granted, this is not the only start of the legend, but it is the only one I’ve found based on a real person. Besides, the name is conveniently a lot like my own. In fact ‘Fokke’ was a man’s first name (which like a lot of names, became the last name) and ‘Fokken’ means ‘son of’ just like Petersen is the son of Peter like it is in Norway. Anyway, he’s said to made a ‘faustian’ deal with the devil because he was able to make the trip between Holland to Java incredibly fast.
So, I decided to use this legend as a starting point. Frankly, the idea of a cello as ship came organically to me since I just happen think they look like ships as is. I did use the framing of the title as a way to look at other things that stick in my mind.
I thought it was a good way to talk about the roots of modern international trade-specifically how it changes societies and culture by the exchange of goods and just plain bumping into each other. So I likened the cello to the ‘high’ culture of the 17th century and the post renaissance ‘modern age’ of Des Cartes and Newton and far from the superstitions of sea monsters at the edge of the world. The sails are ‘fancy Dutch tablecloths’ - a metaphor for all the finery of the ‘Dutch Golden Age’. The dark side of this wealth and finery was that there were lands and cultures that were being ravished and robbed of their resources and people.
Cultural interaction makes strange bedfellows. Conversely, some cultures benefited from western riches, tools and technology that helped their ports grow into power houses. Some dictators were overthrown and some were created.
I think that the title of the piece “Song of the Flying Dutchman” caries with it the beauty and romance of the sea. Music also references the complexity in timing for navigating latitude and longitude at that time. In the end, I like the the idea that cultural interaction and trade is complicated and in essence never ‘makes port’ to come down on one side or the other.
Just like the Flying Dutchman.
Yes, I said it. I’m destroying one artform in favour of another.
I bought a few 3/4 size cello’s from a school surplus sale for uber cheap and I thought they looked like boats. So I decided to turn one of them into a Dutch “East India’s Style” ship circa 1700 or so. I just thought the form of the cello lent itself to a boat form so I’m giving it a whirl. The thing I like about those types of ships is how much they look like bloated ornate oak desks. They feel to me like fat baroque kings all “wigged up” with long flowing tendrils flowing down onto their opulent jewel encrusted silk jackets. A period instrument for a period time - another shot of Vilvaldi on the house!
I’m currently calling it my “Celloship” but will probably link it to the Flying Dutchman. Funny thing about that story, is that one source states that the legend was started as a loose rumor regarding Dutch East India Company Captain Bernard Fokke’s quick trips between Java and Holland. There were rumors that he made a “Faustian” deal and this was the beginnings of the “Flying Dutchman” legend. I’m delighted by the last name since it the paternal root of my last name - Fokken (the “en” means “son of” ie - Petersen = son of Peter in Germanic languages.).
Anyway, it’s looking cool. Here are some images of it in process. I’m thinking that it’ll be black and pale yellow stripes (near the gunwhales) with Prussian blue and gold leaf accents. Not sure what the base will be tho’ so that’s still up in the air.
Do you ever have one of those times where you think “what the F*** have I been doing with myself”?
I feel like I’ve drank a whole bottle of “Milk of Amnesia” and forgot my whole summer.
Anyway, it’s fall in Minneapolis, and I dare say one of the best we’ve had in a long time. We deserved it after an incredibly hot summer, short spring and crappy ass winter. Maybe this is global warming at it’s best. Well, back to things - I have to look at my resume sometimes to figure out what I’ve been doing lately. A lot of what I’ve been doing is promoting my work rather than making new work. It’s frustrating not to be in the studio, but that’s such a big part of the business when you’re stuck in the middle of the country. Granted, I love it here, it’s just harder to sell work of my type here (or so I believe…).
Well, looking back since my last post, I’ve put work up outdoors at a sculpture competitions in Eau Claire, WI, Hopkins, MN and a local hospital in St. Paul. I’ve won a couple of awards including 2 Children’s Choice Awards, and a 3rd Place Award all with some nice cash attached. I’ve exhibited some images of my work in a recycled art show in Shanghai, China (I just thought the shipping costs would be too much, so they asked for images instead) and in a local art center with a couple of other sculptors, applied for a couple of grants (no answer yet), a bunch of shows - some rejected some accepted, took a trip to Paris, France with my wife for her birthday and got a new dog - who chews everything - good thing he’s cute!
I do have a show to promote. I’m showing at Garner Narrative Contemporary Fine Art Gallery in Louisville, KY. It’s run by a mother and daughter who’ve recently renovated their space and are making strides to show unconventional work. They contacted me on linkedin.com and here we are. It was a hassle to build crates, but once it was done, it was nice not to have to bump into that work over the course of the next few months. Hopefully some will sell and make more room in my studio. Here’s a nice review of the show.
Well, it looks like I’m late again in getting my blog out there. Truth is that I’ve been very busy working on this new piece of outdoor sculpture and a couple of other outdoor competitions. I think it takes so long since I do a lot of self questioning and sipping coffee while I should be just ‘workin’ it.
Anyway, one of the biggest things I’ve been questioning is whether or not I’m suited to make outdoor work. I’m a fabricator and everything I’ve been doing doesn’t seem to look quite right or takes too long to get to where I want it. I’ve been thinking that I should just sell my soul and start making work out of bronze, but frankly I’m cheap and I don’t want to take the chance that I’ll have a big old lump of bronze sitting in the corner that will never sell. I can understand now why people make bronzes of people, eagles and other wildlife - it sells! I just think that there is something more wonderful out there to make and I’m not quite hitting it. The other thing I’m concerned about is over investment in tools. I’ve been buying all these things that need other things to help them operate. For instance, I bought a plasma cutter a couple of months back thinking that I’d use it on this project and it turns out, it was simpler to use a nibbler. I had spent a lot of time researching the proper air pressure to buy a compressor, and it turns out the simplest device was the best. Granted, if I’m gonna be making really large things down the line it will be worth it, but what I really like to do in my work is to use simple hand tools and work in a comfortable scale on my bench. Too many high end tools take you away from the work which I don’t really like. Anyway, I’ll get over it. I’ll just have to keep working it. I’d like to have a milling machine tho…
BTW, here’s some pix of that last piece “All in the Same Boat” in process and installed in Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk. I don’t think I’ll win any awards this time, but who knows? Again, I was hoping to have it powder coated, but when I found out my last piece rusted, I thought I’d save my money. The next step is to work in only stainless, but I’m dreading the shiny monochromatic-ness of it. Good things and bad things about this piece - It looks close to the sketch which was good, but I was hoping to add some stainless elements but I ran out of time. Also, the colour on it is an autobody paint which was expensive and may rust anyway. It also flattens out the work, and I am actually looking forward to it rusting to have as an indoor piece. It needs more character - hence the talk about bronze. I’ve got a museum show coming up in a year, so it may be just the thing.
Well, here goes - my next big outdoor project for Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk….www.sculpturewalksiouxfalls.com
I’ve been meaning to take a year off from this program, but they treat me so well, and I keep winning…not a bad problem to have, I just wish I could sell another piece there.
Anyway, I submitted drawings of the piece I plan on making titled “In the Same Boat”. The idea I had was to put a city onto an oil tanker in reference to the oil crisis but then figured that it’s more than just an urban problem. So, for the sake of simplicity (since I’ve got to make everything myself) I chose just seven structures to represent ‘America’. I also know my audience, so I chose buildings representative of those in the midwest. They are - the “Golden Dome” of the capitol building in Des Moines IA, the “John Hancock Tower” in Chicago (much prettier than the Willis Tower’s ‘pack of smokes’), a rural church, rural barn, generic house, factory, urban apartment building. I chose them to represent - government, big business (finance), religion, agriculture, industry (mfg) and average American dwellings. I omitted a lot of things including schools and hospitals, the arts etc since it would just be too much. I might figure out ways to incorporate symbols and the like in it, but you’ve got to use artistic license and I figure that this will get my point across without mucking it up. I intend to use diverse media in the piece to work with each media’s strengths - rust for the tanker, gold leaf or maybe bronze (gotta check the finances) for the capitol dome, and powder coated steel with stainless highlights throughout for the rest. I hope that the light reflected off the gold and the bits of stainless steel will really make the piece ‘vibrate’ over the course of the day. It’d be fun to make one with lighted elements, but that remains to be seen down the road apiece.
The ship itself will actually be tilted in a 15-20 degree angle and off center to the right implying that the ship is listing and a little bit of trouble. I hope this will convey the state of our energy crisis without beating people over the head with it. Unfortunately, this probably won’t help me sell the piece, but ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.
Here are some photos of the model process. I hope to bring you pics of the bigger piece soon.
As all artists through time, sometimes you have to make work that’s a little more accessible the the average person. I only do one art fair a year in Chicago and it’s usually a good one. However, finding the person that has to have one of my “headless dog/tank/church/battleship” pieces is rare indeed so I’ve got to hedge my bets by making work that will help defray the cost of showing. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been making small trucks, cars and planes for a while now and I can’t say I don’t enjoy making them. I actually look at them as therapy to help ‘right’ myself and to play with happier themes and colours.They’re also priced right so that the customer can see the bigger more complex ‘art’ pieces and in a sense ‘buy into’ those works by buying the less expensive ones.
This series of trucks is loosely based on the ones that my dad made when he was kid in the 1940’s. Back then, he didn’t get new toys, but made trucks out of wooden cheese boxes (think “Velveeta”) then added wooden sewing thread spools as wheels. Pretty inventive and I rather wish he still had a few of them around. Anyway, this is a bit of an homage to his creativity and I since the Old Town Art Fair is a week before Father’s Day, it’s usually a good fit for those people who are looking for something for their Dad.
I’ve made a few of mine (all sold already) out of old wooden sewing company boxes that my old studio mate and I “creatively liberated’ from an old tailor shop that was being demolished. They’re cool in that they’ve got old writing on the sides and printing from some other use. I’d keep them as antiques, but frankly, I’ve had them for over 10 yrs and just need to use them or toss them. I still would like some sort of graphic on the side, but haven’t decided of one yet. The other two are just experiments because I get bored easily. I thought it’d be interesting to see what a ‘60’s style of tin trays of flowers and leaves would look on the side of a truck. Unfortunately, the work becomes all about the graphic then, but as long as someone likes it and wants to take it home so be it.
Well, here’s the process-
I cut them out of pine then weld the axles together with the leaf springs -something new in this series, paint the entire piece with a couple of coats of black primer (adds more depth to the piece) then a couple more coats of red spray paint to act as the underlying complementary colour. Then I paint on a cracking medium (available at Menards) let that setup then paint my top colour that will crack apart to reveal the complementary colour underneath. I then affix the metal parts, graphics,wheels, etc. That’s it in a nutshell and actually takes a lot longer than it sounds. I guess if it was all did I would have it down to a science, but since I get bored and never sure what people will buy, I take a few chances with design etc - note the propeller cowling and nose and slanted box on the oakleaf truck. I’m still not happy with the position of the engine compartment on that one, so may make a few changes. I tend to let pieces ‘marinate’ for a bit first then hustle to get them done just prior to the event. Go figure. I even think they look pretty cool without wheels, so may just make them with small rocket engines on them akin to every other scifi spoof from ‘Spaceballs’ to ‘Futurama’.
Yes, it’s been a long strange trip making this piece.
I dropped off my piece for the “Art of the Self Portrait” show at Hennes Art Company Gallery (http://www.hennesart.com/). Sad to say, but it really doesn’t look like me but I think it has elements that convey a little more about how I think rather than my physical appearance. Well, maybe that’s a copout, but it’s so much easier to draw a flattering self portrait than to sculpt one. You have to get into all the dimensions of the things you don’t like about yourself that either age, genetics or lifestyle have caused. I’ve been going to the gym and trying to eat better so I hope that’ll soon change. In either case, I’m probably not going to sculpt a self portrait again. Besides, I wanted it to look a little more youthful since I wanted to show a young sailor vs an old one. It does look a little like me when I was younger except for the darker hair and the wide mouth. I think I got the nose right, tho’.
On the plus side, I really liked the process of wood carving and am still pleased with the overall results of the piece. Looking back, I know I made a number of errors regarding the mouth but I was too pressed for time that I just will have to live with it. Speaking of things unfinished - the small plane that is part of the launcher on the back of the sub didn’t get finished in time. I dropped the piece off at the gallery on Saturday and told the gallery owner I’d work on it this week and drop it off. I had designs on making it so that the wings would fall into place once it left the church/garage/mast, but just no luck. I think I wind up wasting a lot of time putting too many moving features into each piece. With each piece I think I’ll do it and then I don’t. I guess that’s part of the process. BTW, the reason the eyes are so big is that they are the backs of spoons. I wanted a smooth curved surface and thought I didn’t have the “chops” to carve it properly. Well, I’d have attempted it, but my skills at sharpening my wood carving tools are even worse for the time I had so I chose to do what I do best - improvise. Also, if you look closely around the eyes you’ll see that there’s some small bumps. What I did was to make the eyelids out of sheet metal and nail them in place. I had originally made them from leather, but it just didn’t look right. I did however make the hair and eyebrows out of leather. Again, I could have carved them from wood or painted them, but I think mine are better and unique. I also borrowed from Tom Haney’s wonderful kinetic sculptures (see his work in the AKA blog or www.TomHaney.com). His carved figures have big eyes and a wonderful folk art look - you can see the tool marks and the paint is worn through giving it an aged appearance. Since I borrow from folk and outsider art as well, I thought it was appropriate. At one point in making a self portrait I had thought of revisiting an old idea of mine of recreating the Etruscan “She Wolf” (with the latter added Romulus and Remus). The she wolf is a stylized primitive sculpture while the figures of R and R were added in the renaissance or baroque (?) periods. When you see it in person, it’s funny how much they don’t fit together. Anyway, I didn’t want my rough looking sub to have a neoclassical figure under it. It just wouldn’t jibe.
I’d like to hear what people think about this piece so jot down a note to me if you get the chance.