Since 2001 I have been sculpting with found wood; assembling mostly faces and more recently, even bodies, from thousands of hand-picked pieces. The sculptures are comprised of non-carved, naturally colored wood that I collect myself from nature’s various regions. So far I have used wood found in nearly 40 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico, and Ireland.
I consider what I’ve been doing with the faces as an adult to be the recreation of my childhood experience perceiving nature spirits in the woods. As a child as well as through adolescence I would explore woodsy areas often. I would continually find myself awe-stricken, believing I was privy to extraordinary beings able to show themselves through the various forms of nature. It was later explained to me that my artistic mind probably had an advanced case of pareidolia-the phenomenon of seeing faces in things that are not, in fact, faces in the usual corporeal sense.
Having spent much time processing these experiences I would have alone and without witnesses, it wasn’t until several years later that the series of found wood faces commenced. It began in Prescott, Arizona where I first attended college at age 19. Before attending Prescott College I had pencil drawn these wild, intricate helmets which were also masks with the idea of actually creating them to wear for performance art. I called them “wilderness helmets”and was very enthusiastic about them. In an art class called Art & Nature I proposed the idea of making one having lied about making several before. In reality I had collected materials for years in New England with the intention to make one, employing wood, rocks, shells, etc. but never actually had.
So finally I did make one in the class that was quite something visually, although cumbersome and painful to wear. It would make me dizzy and leave marks on my forehead and cheeks which a couple people thought was pretty funny. I subsequently attempted a second wilderness helmet that was a little more ergonomic and very otherworldly even though its components were ironically terrestrial. In the process of hunting for materials in the pinion pine forests and high desert chaparrals I started seeing eyes and parts of nostrils and lips and the rest was history. I quickly made 2 wall hanging relief faces and my passion was redirected away from the wilderness helmets towards the faces.
I have been making the faces ever since then and somewhere along my 17 years of experimentation with the medium I figured out I could make it a career. To pursue an artistic path isn’t always easy by any means however, I still feel I’ve made an earnest and courageous attempt at living the proverbial dream.
When I’m working on my sculptures I never know what will happen. I sort of just let the wood I use guide my hand. The wood collectively shows me what it does or does not want to connect to through trial and error and that process is my sounding board for decision making. Sometimes I get in the flow and the bulk of the character just evolves rapidly over a few weeks. Other times a sculpture may take years and much frustration is endured. At risk of losing some of my audience I might dare to say the personalities of the sculptures are revealed through multiple sessions wherein it feels I am channeling the result of their individual essences and forms.
Although I am always learning new tricks I have not exceeded 5 finished works within one year. I believe with a larger studio space I could be more prolific yet art is something I don’t believe should be forced in order to produce inventory. I typically submit to letting it happen as it does.
I believe the results of my art are really the results of my life in a grander sense; Had I not gone to the places I did for whatever reasons, the pieces of wood I happened to see and collect would probably never be side by side, let alone integrated together in a piece of art. Since moving to Northern California in 2011 I have used much more driftwood than I had in previous years, finding the coastal expanse from Sonoma County, CA up to Southern Oregon particularly suitable for materials and inspiration. After all, to elucidate, my inspiration comes from the aesthetics of the wood I find.