While going through some old papers recently, I found a partial draft of an artist’s statement paper I wrote in the early 90’s when I was applying to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at SIUE. I don’t remember what portions of this draft ended up in the finished paper – I did not find a printed copy. I’m sure I have the finished paper saved on a Commodore 64 floppy disc somewhere! In college I sometimes hand wrote drafts, but I typed up all finished papers on the old Commodore 64 we got for Christmas in 1983. (Yes I still have it and yes it still works but I’m sorry it’s not for sale! If you have working Commodore 64 joysticks or a “Give My Regards to Broadstreet” Commodore 64 game I might want to buy those though!)
I could go off on a tangent and write a little bit more about the Commodore 64 and why it’s so special to me, but I want to get back to my artist’s statement draft because Father’s Day is coming up. I wrote about my Dad’s influence on my work and I think he’d get a kick out of reading it. My Dad’s name is Don and you’ll find out who “John” is as you read. I also will enjoy remembering what my artistic passions were so long ago. I hope you will too! Contemporary additional comments of mine are italicized.
B.F.A. Paper Draft Part 1:
“While looking back on my artistic influences I can’t help but reminisce about my childhood and the factors that must have had some kind of influence on my artistic interests today. My father has had a lifelong habit of picking up every little nut, bolt or other piece of hardware lying on the ground and taking it home in the hope that it will come in handy to fix something someday. He is quite a handyman – after he fixed our old Ford Maverick with an old pencil and a piece of wire my friend exclaimed “Your Dad IS McGyver!” Whether we were on our way to church, to the store, or on vacation he would never let one of these little objects pass without picking it up. Over the years he has acquired a huge collection of such objects, many of which do eventually get used. If he knew what the objects he was picking up were, he would explain them to me but if he didn’t know he would take it anyway.
I was always encouraged by my father from a very early age to watch him work at his bench in the basement and learn the uses of all the tools myself. I remember burning my hand rather badly with a soldering iron building an electromagnet for the science fair at school while Dad left the room mistakenly thinking that I had the hang of it already (I was six years old). I haven’t touched a soldering iron since (no longer true as of the early 2000’s) but I did continue to hammer, saw, drill and glue on my own projects while my Dad repaired appliances or built furniture. He used to turn over his box of junk to me and supply me with odds and ends of wood, nails and glue plus drills and hammers to use. My favorite things to build were model ships for some reason. I have always loved water and boats and I used to create floating monstrosities studded with junk to play with in wading pool in the backyard or in the bathtub. Long nails became masts, brackets became the bridge, bits of tubing and pipe became smokestacks. When I was tired of the boats I would pull all the parts off and build a new version. The use of found objects in my art is just a continuation of one of my favorite childhood pastimes.
Another formative influence from my childhood was John Brower, the contractor who built our house and most if not all of our neighborhood. The neighborhood kids all called him “John the Builder”. He lived about four lots away from us in a very mysterious house that was surrounded by huge old trees. It was one of only two older houses in this part of the subdivision, which was still under construction when we moved in. Vacant lots flanked our house on two sides and these and the other future home sites in the neighborhood provided endless hours of fun for the kids. Huge weeds, mounds of fill dirt, wood piles, abandoned vehicles, vast puddles of mud and bits of old junk protruding out of the ground created an endless variety of play situations. (Not SAFE play situations mind you, but more FUN than I can describe!)
John the Builder was one of the most eccentric people I have ever known and as a result among us children he was beloved. He refused to paint his outbuildings, trucks, or equipment any color other than Pepto Bismol Pink, Decayed Neon Orange or Pea Green. He routinely painted new homes in putrid shades of Lavender or Lime Green with glitter mixed in! We never could figure out if he just had weird taste or was color blind. His own house was given the same treatment so we assumed that he considered it attractive. (The house to our right when new even had, I am not kidding, glitter Lavender metal banisters!) Despite this, all the houses were quickly sold as they were built and promptly repainted by their new owners!
To us kids, John the Builder was a godlike figure. He rarely drove down the street without a crowd of children running alongside his car yelling “John! John!” We loved him because he allowed us to play on his vacant land with all it’s fascinating “forbidden” features. In return for us staying away from the current, active construction sites he would save special dirt piles for us to use. We turned one into a mountain environment for Hot Wheels, complete with tunnels and winding roads. I don’t know if I’ve worked on a more enjoyable project in my entire life! Many times we came home covered from head to toe in mud and had to be hosed off in the yard.
John the Builder also endeared us to him by occasionally letting us “work” for him by holding up surveying posts while he took measurements, or by carrying his tools. He would pay us each a quarter for such a task and at a time when that amount was a whole week’s allowance it was quite a boon to get one. The quarters he handed out were always encrusted with gunk and very old, usually from the ’40’s or ’50’s. We used to take them home and put them in vinegar to bring back the shine. We usually intended to keep the oldest ones for our “collection”, but they inevitably ended up at the Quick Shop along with all our other money in exchange for candy, paper kites, or little toy boats.
(Notes to self) Write about – Tire moving and fires, outbuilding moving, Dad being sprayed with tar, haunted “crashed” bus, Ruth back in time.”
That’s where Part 1 of my draft leaves off. Someday I might write about those tantalizing topics hinted at at the end of part one! I still know what those notes mean! Part 2 of my draft deals more specifically with art influences. I’ll share Part 2 in a future blog post.
I wrote about Dad and John together because they had quite a bit in common. Dad was maybe not as eccentric as John but they were both into collecting old stuff and creative re-use before it was a “thing”. They both taught me to appreciate the old, the grungy, the humble, the simple pleasures of life. They also showed me the fun of building things. I had a very involved Dad of my own but John was kind of an additional father of the whole neighborhood because of his kindness to the kids and his willingness to teach us things now and then when he had time. Dad and John were friends and had a good understanding of each other I thought. I associated the two together in my mind even when I was very small. One of my favorite things to do with Dad at a certain age was sit in his lap and play with his hair. They both had black hair, but John’s was receding while Dad had a full head of the same wiry, wild, thick hair I have (that we both got from Grandma Ludwig). In the 70’s Dad had a big thatch of it on his forehead that was kind of like bangs – the closest thing to bangs our type of hair could get anyway! I used to push this section back to show his forehead and say “John!” then let it down and say “Daddy!” I’d do that over and over until one of us got tired of it! (Dad I’m sure got tired of it quicker!) John’s wife Ruth was just as kind and was very motherly to my Mom as well as welcoming to the kids.
I think both Dad and John had unusually laissez-faire attitudes toward kids, even for the 1970’s. Can you imagine anyone today letting kids do what we did back then? I will admit, everything we did was not necessarily condoned, but that which was tolerated would probably be considered child neglect or abuse today! There were so many things that could have gone wrong – pits of water and mud, mounds of dirt, climbing-sized old trees, rusty nails, splintery boards – they are genuine hazards. Despite all this, I never got any injuries that Mom couldn’t fix at home with Bactine or Campho-Phenique. I’d get hosed off, maybe tweezed a bit, smeared with anti-bacterial stuff and sent back out to my activities. It was worth it – has any kid ever had more fun than I did growing up? I seriously doubt it!