Friday, March 1, 2013

Art from the street

I haven't gotten much fiber art done recently -- not that I haven't been busy in the studio, but I've been on a different plane.

Let me explain.  For many years I've been picking up interesting junk from the street as I walk.  I'm always amazed at the quantity and nature of stuff that people are willing to throw away as they walk or drive along.  Often I suspect, from the placement and size of the piles, that people occupy themselves while waiting at red lights by emptying their ashtrays, changing batteries in their flashlights, sweeping out their pickup beds or fieldstripping their weapons.

I am intrigued by the stuff that ends up on the street.  I've taken to carrying plastic bags with me in case I find some appealing junk.  I'm not a hoarder -- not much intrinsic value to dead batteries -- but I have always had a vision that this could become art.

Over the years I found a kindred spirit, my friend Debby Levine, who like me is primarily a fiber artist but who is also an avid walker and an avid picker-upper of junk.  We try to walk at least once a week, each armed with our bags and with a sharp eye out for interesting detritus.  And on one of our walks we  had a brilliant idea -- hey, kids, let's put on a show!

Our show opens today at the Firehouse Gallery in Louisville, and for the last month we've both been busy getting that junk looking spiffy for the occasion.  For me it has been exhilarating, challenging, satisfying and most of all, a lot of fun.

Unsealed (Combine with Eagle)

Although one of my pieces is mounted on fabric, the others are presented against wood panels in a sort of bas-relief sculptural effect.  That has required me to take up woodworking, a skill that I have possessed in a crude way for many years but not practiced much since we got old and rich enough to hire people to fix the things that go wrong in our house.  This show has forced me to get my saw, drill, wirecutters and glue gun out of retirement.

Fortunately my son is a whiz with wood and power tools, so he has made me the platform/supports for all my junk work. And in keeping with the spirit of the show, he is also a lover of picking up junk from the streets, except that where I pick up a half dozen rusty washers, he picks up whole pallets.  So the supports are genuine street junk, just like the stuff displayed on them.

Street Person with Dueling Scars

What has been fascinating to me is how working in 3-D, and with a whole new array of tools and techniques, has given me a huge shot in the arm.  I still think of this as a frivolous sideline while my fiber stuff is my "serious art."  But I'm dreaming about junk art, and it's been a long time since I dreamed about quilts.

After the show is hung I know I'll need to get back to the fiber art sometime soon, but for now I'm on a wonderful vacation with my junk.

If you find yourself in the vicinity of Louisville between now and April 8, please drop in and see the show.  If you'd like to visit at an unconventional hour, send me an email  
[     ]          and I'll come let you in.


  1. I wish I lived closer...I would love to see your show! I do much the same thing. We have no mail delivery and walk the less than two miles one way almost every day to the post office, and of course I'm always finding stuff, and come home with pocketfuls! Inspired by your daily art I'm participating in a weekly 5X7 challenge. I decided on a theme to use my findings--but now I think I may not stick to just fiber and findings! Thanks for the inspiration. I have bucketfuls of pottery, glass, and china shards that I'm saving for mosaic work as well.

  2. I'm fascinated by street junk in the same way, but I don't pick it up; I photograph it in situ. When I have time. And a camera. I must see this show. Now that I've moved to the city (waaay out Preston Highway, but City) getting to Hancock St. shouldn't be too hard even though I'm working a seven day week.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  3. From the samples you've shown, this looks like a wonderful show. I pick up rusty bits, odd twigs, leaves and rocks. I think the urban environment that you live in gives you a much different set of debris than I get in a small rural town. Wish I were close enough to see it.

  4. Congratulations on the work in this exhibit Kathleen. I am sure that you will return to your chosen field of fiber art with new energy and depth.
    I like your reference to Robert Rauschenberg in the title of the first photo. He is a role model for us who work with found objects and with fabric and with political ideas.
    You rock.

  5. I'd love to see that show - it has several appealing components: collections, improvisation, making "something from nothing", and of course, vision. Art is all around.

  6. How cool! I also collect street junk on walks - bottle caps, rusty washers, etc. It was interesting to see what you did with yours.

  7. I too collect what my late husband and I called "road kill" as in people dropped road kill. I would toss it into a tray and when the tray was full he built a very large, shallow box for me and I mounted all my road kill and then we mounted it on our outdoor shed as yard art.

    1. Susan -- I have made three pieces (so far) called Road Kill -- interesting things sewed to a fabric backing.

  8. What a fun show! You must have been smiling the whole time you were creating these pieces. Some day I will get back to Louisville, but soon enough to see this show.