Posts from the ‘2011 Roadtrips’ Category
From Erie, PA to Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and back.
First stop: James Penquite; Delphos, Kansas
(please click above link for Penquite visit page)
Second stop: Melvin Gould; Cheyenne, Wyoming
|Melvin Gould, Cheyenne, WY
(please click above link for Gould visit page) in preparation
Third stop: Cano Espinoza; Antonito, Colorado
Cano Espinoza; Antonito, Colorado
(please click above link for Espinoza visit page) in preparation
As I was leaving Colorado for my motel in Dodge City, KS, I stopped to photograph a VFW Post in Las Animas that I had seen (under bad lighting c0onditions) last year:
Fourth stop: MT Liggett; Mullinville, Kansas (’09)
|MT Liggett, Mullinville, Kansas (’09)|
I pushed to leave Cano’s early enough that I could get to MT’s in time for a late day/ dusk shot, and the weather rewarded my effort with a clear sky and a dramatic Kansas weather front on the horizon. I just had time to set up the 8×10 film camera and the strobes for fill light. On the way, I thought I passed a wild-eyed MT in his pick-up truck heading towards Dodge City– as confirmed by him the next day.
Last year, MT asked me to photograph him with a judge from Arizona who had come to visit and whose name “Macbeth” amused him. He has many classically based figures among the totems, and was all excited to erect one for her. A year later, there is was:
In previous years MT would always show up just as I, or Cheryl and I, were about to finish our meals in Mullinville’s only restaurant and insist on paying for us. Last year the town’s nearby gas station was closed, but this time it had re-opened and the restaurant was closed. Its a modern style gas station with a small eating area, and has taken over as the social hub of Mullinville. The next morning as I was checking out, the young lady cashier exclaimed, “oh, no– let me go on break.” I looked out the windows, and sure enough, MT was on his way in. The cashier said, “usually he’s pretty nice, but sometimes he drives me crazy.” I assured her that I “would take care of it,” and greeted MT as he was coming in. He was pleased to see me, and is always impressed by the number of my return visits since 2006. (I had sent him a postcard to let him know that I would be heading through in mid-June) Despite his somewhat gruff demeanor, MT always insisted as well on giving me sculptures in exchange for the prints I’ve sent, and in 2009, he invited Cheryl and I to stay a couple nights with him in his house– a classic messy bachelor’s pad with guns, ammo, and knives hanging about. I’ll never forget the amusing non sequitur image of Cheryl sitting in his living room easy chair– and what a saint she is!
Now in his early 80’s, MT’s works, perhaps as always in defiance, have tended in recent years to get bigger, and are more likely to be unpainted. Less like sardonic cartoon cut-outs– more like pure raw metal figurative sculpture. MT’s totem field is something of a personal scrapbook writ large, a public airing in hard copy of his thoughts on contemporary times, a folk art Mt. Rushmore, and for people he doesn’t like: MT’s doghouse inferno. Not, I think, being in the last category, I was delighted to see that my Maxi-Me “Sir Frederick” was still striding above the Kansas plains. Before we left in ’09 he announced that I was going to be immortalized, but when I snuck back and looked around in 2010, I saw no sign of myself– however as soon as MT realized I was lurking about, he asked if I would be around for a couple days while he made my totem. There I was, in MT’s workshop, to witness my own birth, and I managed to help him plant my hoofs firmly against the prairie winds. I can’t help flattering myself with the hope that MT might think I’m almost as bull-headed as he is!
Fifth stop: Wichita, KS
Before visiting James Penquite at the VA hospital in Wichita (see above), I photographed a tattooed tattoo shop under the interstate near my motel on the outskirts of town.
Undisputed Tattoo; Wichita, KS
Jerry Hubble’s “Hubble’s Rubble;” Howard, KS 2011
On the way to Tennessee, I stopped off in Howard, Kansas to visit Jerry Hubble’s ‘Hubble’s Rubble.’ I didn’t see Mr. Hubble, but enjoyed photographing the animated pop-culture inspired figures that populate his property.
Sixth stop: Billy Tripp’s Mindfield; Brownsville, TN
Next stop was the motel under the Mindfield in Brownsville, TN. Like a secular cathedral, the Mindfield is being built over decades (he began work in 1989), and is a life’s project. Billy told me that he has written permission from the local government to be buried on the site. Its clear that he thinks of its present state as being sparse compared to future plans– which in the short term includes integrating parts of a Drive-In theater. I had sent Billy an email with my expected arrival date, and before I got in later that night he had looked for a Pennsylvania license plate in the motel parking lot. He seemed pleased that I was back for my third visit, and I assured him that even without all the changes since since ’09, I was sure the Mindfield contained many more photo ops to be discovered. Billy has installed industrial lights which transform the nighttime Mindfield into a whole new science fiction-like surreal experience. He adjusted the timer for me to make sure the lights come on in time for a dusk shot– while there is still light in the sky. There is only time to attempt a single 8×10 film camera dusk shot per night– it has to be set up well ahead of time (while its still possible to see the full image in the camera), and a clear blue sky works best.
Billy has put Endura, Kodak’s archival color photo printing paper to a rather extreme test, but these have no doubt been seen by more people than any of my other exhibition prints! We’ll see if any from the new set appear on the walls of the Billy Tripp truck gallery….
Nighttime at the Mindfield:
Last stop: Robert Morgan exhibition at the Kentucky Folk Art Center
And finally it was off to Morehead, KY to rendezvous with Bob Morgan (see March 2011 Roadtrip blog) at his exhibition: “The Age of Discovery”. Bob was scheduled to meet Larry Harris’ (AKA Narrow Larry) tour group from Texas there– having just come from his house in Lexington, and this lucky schedule overlap brought Larry and I to the same place for the first time. It was great to meet such a tireless art aficionado in person, and to exchange many tales of travel. The KFAC chose my portrait of Bob for the exhibition wall statement– full circle from Director Adrian Swain having put me in touch with Robert. After shooting mostly video, I drove Bob back to Lexington (his truck had sprung an oil leak from an undetermined place), and shot stills of his living room lampshade (!)– to drop on top of the same overexposed lampshade in several of my video takes from March. Bob’s backyard studio area had three ‘victims’ of the art-making process hung up to cure.
The next day it was back home– with lots of new 0&1 arrangements on my memory cards, mini-DV video tapes, and the latent imprint of light from distant places on a couple dozen sheets of 8×10 inch color negative film.
First stop: Ron “Fish” Clifton; Ridgeway, VA
Since my previous visit in March, Ron “Fish” Clifton brought home to Ridgeway, Virginia a fish sculpture of his which had been hanging in a park in Myrtle Beach for several years.
A squirrel had nested, died, and became skeletal right in the fish’s stomach. Perhaps artists can’t improve on nature, but nature can improve on art!
That evening we attended a “jam session” at Billy’s Mountain Music in nearby Bassett, Virginia.
(Billy Shelton in blue)
Third stop: Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC
Next morning it was off to Wilson, North Carolina to visit the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park (restoration/relocation) Project, and try some more “painting with light” night pictures at Mr. Simpson’s original site.
Thanks to Janet Kagan, former director of the Whirligig Park Project, for sending this picture of Mr. Simpson being presented with a gift print I had left with her (that was taken during my March 2011 visit)
above photo: ©2011 Janet Kagan
Forth stop: Bishopville, SC
Bishopville, South Carolina is home to both Pearl Fryar and his topiary gardens, and Dalton Stevens, AKA: The Button King.
If Mr. Fryar was home, the artist stayed ‘in residence’ during our visit on that high 90’s South Carolina day, but we saw Mr. and Mrs. Fryar the next morning in the local Waffle House where (according to the documentary, A Man Called Pearl) they get free breakfasts in exchange for the most unusual shrubbery likely to be seen in front of any Waffle House!
Mr. Stevens was a gracious and patient host to my unscheduled photo shoot agenda. Having had fifteen minutes in the mass media many times (Carson, Letterman, Rivera, Regis, Cosby, and more), he is a real pro as a portrait subject, and commented on how he remembered having to walk through a door numerous times until “the cameraman was satisfied.” Inside the Museum a DVD plays over a button encrusted coffin, and reviews his many media appearances: including when he informed Johnny Carson that in the unfortunate event of something happening to his (now recently deceased) dear wife, he planned to seek out one of Johnny’s well-alimonied exes.
Fifth stop: John Culver; Sparta, GA
(portrait: 2010) John Culver’s dedicated page
Next we spent a day in Sparta, Georgia with visionary artist John Culver. John works as a meat cutter in the local grocery, and draws during his work breaks. He lives in a double-wide with family members, and works in a small room on a drafting table in front of the window. John gets up very early in the morning, gets in a couple hours of drawing before leaving for work, and resumes his time-compressed explorations that range from Egyptian pyramids to futuristic spacecraft and energy sources during most of his after work hours.
John and I began a video project, and I shot a number of copy photos of his paintings.
|detail of left|
|All paintings and drawings above © John Culver||(detail)|
Last stop: Saint Eddie Owens Martin’s Pasaquan
Pasaquan is only open the first Saturday of the month from April through November, but is a real treat– well worth the effort. Time and weather exposure have taken their toll, but the spirit of Saint EOM is irrepressible and pervasive!
Entrance to house.
First stop: Vollis Simpson; Lucama, NC
Mr. Simpson’s site is slowly being dismantled, the sculptures are being restored and relocated to a dedicated park in nearby Wilson, NC. (Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park) One of the great American folk art environments, Mr. Simpson’s ‘Whirligig Farm’ has been a yearly constant in my travels, and just in time for it to disappear, I was starting to have success photographing it from dusk into the night using a combination of flash and large ‘spotting’ lights. Even in daylight, the many applied reflectors pick up light sources like glitter. This technique opened-up a whole new range of possibilities for photographing his work, and the sudden ‘here for decades– gone tomorrow’ time frame put extra urgency into this project. For his part, the 91 year old Mr. Simpson expressed frustration over the slow pace of restoration process, and the planned completion date for the new park and museum.
Mr. Simpson invited me back over to the outdoor studio area at his home– about a mile from the main site, and where he does the painting. He also let me hang around his on-site workshop for several hours on a rainy day and to photograph him (with flash) repeatedly while he kept a constant eye out on a stray dog he had been feeding. The dog kept running out into the road and Mr. Simpson commented on how much more traffic there has been in recent years, and the tendency for drivers to speed by while talking on their cellphones.
A framed large print I had given him a couple years ago was in the ‘gift shop’ (presumably not for sale!) behind his work area. Mr. Simpson has always been very grateful for the prints I’ve given him, and always remembers me when I show up out-of-the- blue about once a year. He had previously mentioned spending several hundred dollars getting my prints framed, and intends that they will be legacy gifts to his children.
I like to imagine Mr. Simpson appearing on “What’s My Line?” This low-key, laconic man would probably appear the least likely candidate for: “I’m an irrepressible artist of exuberant whimsy who works on a monumental scale.” Mr. Simpson seems vaguely amused by all the attention he gets, and is a wonderfully surprising embodiment of the creative spirit.
Second Stop: Robert Morgan; Lexington, KY
While visiting the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead’s permanent collection in 2010, I was especially taken by Robert Morgan’s work. Seen outside of that context, I might not have slotted it into the “folk art” category. Cheap mass-produced plastic materials and a more urban than “rustic” message help establish Robert’s own distinctive territory. The wall label showed that Robert was alive and middle-aged. Thanks to Center Director Adrian Swain for giving me Robert’s phone number, and the next day we arranged for a portrait shoot (prior to a Lexington Legends single-A minor league baseball game). Robert’s indoor art environment of a house was a jaw-dropping surprise as I walked through the door of his outwardly conventional ranch house (Adrian hadn’t ‘warned’ me, and Robert says he wants it to be like a first peek into Tut’s tomb). I returned later that summer to turn the 8×10 film camera on the bedroom and living room. Robert simply left the door unlocked for me, and I worked for several hours (on those two quite difficult shots) before he arrived. (portrait 2010)
On this third (three day) visit, we primarily worked on video, but I also took some stills of the shrine:
Robert dislikes the “folk art” label, and chafes that the ‘folk art industry’ often perpetuates an idealized myth about simple country folk whittling away outside their cabins in the woods– while the back-story realities are often quite grim. He cited The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virgina (2009 documentary about folk dancer/performer Jesco White and his extended family) as being a sort of myth-busting reality show. Robert’s work sharply engages contemporary times and culture in a way that certainly pushes it to the fringes of the “folk art” umbrella.
Third stop: Ron “Fish” Clifton; Ridgeway, VA
In addition to jewelry, sculpture, art bikes, and painting, the ever-creatively-restless Ron had produced an art van since my last visit in 2010. A couple years ago someone had paid to ship his art motorcycle to Europe for exhibition, and this new van recently returned from Florida with a show award. As usual, Ron patiently worked with me all day, in great humor, while I snapped away.
Last Stop: Billy’s Mountain Music; Bassett, VA
Billy Shelton converted his flea market into a free admission music hall and hosts 3-4 bands every Sunday afternoon. Having stopped to photograph the building in 2007, Wanda (see below with Billy) came out to give me an inside tour and an invitation to come back for a performance. Billy has created a whole community of people interested in music and dancing, and it has been a once or twice a year stop for me since 2008. I’ve gotten to know many of the regulars, and they insist on treating me to the home cooking that precedes the festivities. Always allowed to do all the photography and video I want, I simply send Wanda an email about a week ahead of my next intended visit, and the atmosphere of down-home fun and entertainment never disappoints.
Mr. R. D. Harris makes custom instruments from raw wood (see Billy and Wanda’s above), and Wanda was able to put in touch with Mr. Harris for a couple visits in 2008/9.
|R D Harris (2008)||work of R D Harris (2008)|