A diminutive kite hangs on a wall in my studio. Found several years ago at Coney, it's an economical piece of work, fabricated from humble, cast-off, materials. A simple parafoil design, its sail was carefully torn from a light-weight brown paper bag, its tail an old sock ripped into strips and knotted end-to-end, its kite string a few yards of cotton sewing thread.Barely recognizable as a kite at first, it took to the air readily and bobbed along behind us the length of the boardwalk. It flew well, but its origins set it apart, made it a real thing of wonder: someone had painstakingly, lovingly, taught a littered paper sack, an old sock, and a length of thread to fly.^ less
The idea for Air Chair came to me while running. The route from my studio in Long Island City, NY usually takes me past two VA Hospitals located on Roosevelt Island. These are home to many disabled, wheelchair-bound men who often pass the time at the riverside, along my course. The irony of running for pleasure past dozens of men no longer able to walk is never lost on me. Seeing these men year after year started me thinking about wheelchairs, and I began to ponder what I would want, were I confined to a chair by disability or old age. I knew at once it would need to be capable of getting airborne. If I were to lose use of my legs, I would want to trade them for wings.< I thought about this image for several years, then one day while running past Goldwater Memorial VA Hospital, I spotted a discarded wheelchair in a dumpster, and I knew it was time to begin. I returned later that day in my van to get the wheelchair.
Working with a basic knowledge of aircraft construction that I have gleaned in my hobby as a glider pilot, I designed the Air Chair to be as convincing as possible. I want to raise the question of plausibility in the viewer’s mind: “Does this thing really fly?” Locating the piece in that curious “space between life and art” is a way to invite the viewer to suspend disbelief, to engage and enter the world of the sculpture. To that end, I added a realistic airframe around the chair: wings with traditional built-up construction of wooden ribs, covered in the same white Rayon used on real airplanes. A wingspan of roughly nineteen feet – larger than some actual aircraft. A trellis framework of nickel-plated, welded steel tubes is used for the fuselage, and the tail section has working rudder and elevator, activated by pedals and control stick. The wings are braced with stainless steel aircraft cable, and the underside of the wings is left uncovered to reveal the spindly skeleton of the structure. The construction refers to gliders and powered planes from the daring, pioneering days of flight.
Air Chair can be sited on the floor, and in fact, “taxied” around by someone seated in it, but it is really meant to be seen suspended in space, in a hopeful, ascending attitude.
I believe the meanings of the piece are quite direct and clear, and hardly need to be stated. As a glider pilot since 1998, I experience the intense beauty and profound release of silent, soaring flight, and wish I could share this with many. I understand perfectly why humankind has always dreamt of joining the birds in flight. As a sculptor, my hope in Air Chair was to begin with what is for most an image of earthly limitation – a wheelchair – and to “liberate” that image with the imagination – to send it soaring. I hope that viewers will engage their imaginations to take the controls of Air Chair.
Air Chair is my gift to the Vets at Roosevelt Island, and to all of us who believe that life’s challenges can be met with hope, imagination, determination, and grace.^ less
"Simple magic:” a kind of very modest alchemy. Start with humble, cast off materials, in this case a few dozen flattened, littered beer cans from the streets, wire from Canal Street Surplus, tiny bulbs from Radio Shack. Get out the scissors, files, and soldering iron. You're thinking: “the whole greater than the sum of the parts.... Make the things you are making nearly dissappear; all you want is their shadows. Not vine charcoal, not gouache, shadow.” Open a window and a little surprise arrives: a breeze brings a shadow to life; now search for the center of gravity and build-in the possibility of motion...add a small fan and the walls turn animate: at the month’s end a gently fluttering shadow garden of nocturnal flora and fauna.^ less
I am drawn to humble, yet evocative materials; in this case, crushed beer cans from the streets of New York - every one of them once raised to someone’s lips. My process of “recycling” them into images of butterflies is a quiet physical meditation, a yoga of tin snips and files and fingers. As the butterflies alight on the walls of my studio, they lead into an exploration of formal, painterly issues. Often, they want to gather into a certain shape, or fly off on a particular tangent, and I let them. They function both as marks in these abstract, three-dimensional “paintings,” and as actors in curious narratives. Some pieces develop a quirky, magic-realist quality, as if a strange child has trained the insects to perform some ritual dance we are not usually privy to. Finally, the butterflies operate symbolically, and I try to develop a conceptual unity between materials, process, and imagery: metamorphosing littered beer cans into flocks of butterflies mirrors the act of transformation and rebirth that butterflies symbolize across all cultures.
Butterflies seem impossible. How can these ridiculously delicate creatures, apparently blown about by the merest breath of wind, actually fly many thousands of miles to migrate? How is it that an innate, intergenerational GPS guides them year after year to the same tree? Are we more like them than we suspect, or could we be?
Lost gloves? The city is full of them. Having read this, you will see them everywhere. Do they stand in for the people who wore them? Instantly you wonder: whose was this - their sex and age and body type - their laugh? What work was done? You begin to construct entire identities, for the gloves are replete with memory, with personal history. They are almost the hands themselves, in ways even more telling. There is good reason for all the folkloric wisdom of hands: idle hands are... many hands make... like a hand and glove... if the glove fits...
Gloves from all ages, classes, occupations, races. Gloves from all walks. Here everyone wears gloves and loses them. Collected over the years and into artworks they make an informal census, a demographic of detritus. (The white, elbow-length, kidskin evening glove was found on the street outside the Plaza Hotel; most of the work gloves come from my industrial neighborhood.) They are easily anthropomorphized; some of them even have names emblazoned on the cuffs.
They have qualities we fear coming to know: carelessly left behind, forgotten or discarded, weathered, damaged, exhausted and worn through, run over by life, homeless. Lost and found. So I bring them into the studio and into pieces and give them homes, with the others.
They get jobs, too. In attempt to repair and transform they are interwoven and become new objects. Vessels and sacks: so the ability to hold is literally and metaphorically restored. Blankets (quilts? abstract painting?) and garments: where the warp and weft are manifold hands, combining into images of interdependence, warmth, protection, comfort - a human fabric. Wings (fingers become feathers): for the struggle against gravity, for ascendancy and flight in all senses.
Some of the pieces are constructed from found work gloves only. These have a patina of the work performed while worn. They are freighted with untold hours of labor. To this I add my own labor.
The gloves are collected from the streets daily. The pieces are obsessively handmade. Entwined. Handstitched. They are about handwork and restoration and connectedness. Once they lie melancholic, now they are hopeful.^ less