“Artists are just normal people looking for their rightful place in the world of work.”
The folks in Highlands sure know how to support the arts and culture. Anytime I’ve attended a Zahner Conservation Lecture at the Biological Station, it has drawn a large and receptive audience. Yesterday, I saw the same degree of involvement and enthusiasm for Patrick Dougherty’s talk at The Bascom.
The visual arts center recently opened the new facility at 323 Franklin Road. The six-acre campus is hosting exhibitions, artists-in-residence, and dozens of classes and workshops this year.
Sculptor Patrick Dougherty, a North Carolina native, will be creating a large-scale outdoor sculpture at The Bascom in June 2010, and during his visit this weekend he explained how he got into art and where it has taken him.
As a child, Dougherty liked art, but was intimidated by the image of the artist as a prodigiously talented person doing great things. Finding it difficult to imagine himself in that role, Dougherty followed another path.
Eventually, the circumstances of life took a sudden turn, and he faced the challenge of building his own house. One day, while researching span tables and R-values at the library, he happened to see a magazine article on the barrios in Rio where people used cast-off materials to fashion meager homes. In another article, he saw how tribes in the Amazon used native materials to create their structures. Then, he discovered pictures of amazing feats of engineering done by birds in Africa. Dougherty saw that it was all beautiful and latched onto that same spirit while completing his own home.
In the process, he learned that he loves to make things and this led to his attending art school. Dougherty struggled for a time with the question of “What is art?” One day while on his way home, though, he had a epiphany. He saw the tangled saplings that lined the edge of the road near Chapel Hill as a medium for sculpture. If it worked for the birds and the beavers, then why not him? He recalled playing in the woods as a child, watching the patterns of light and colors through the interweaving branches and discovering that “sticks entangle easily.”
Since then, Dougherty has gone all around the world bringing his visions into existence. Often, his sculptures intertwine with architecture. In other cases, he works with trees as matrices for his creations, and he has made stand-alone pieces. He compares what he does with saplings to line drawing. “What you can do with a pencil, you can do with sticks,” he says. The width and taper and pattern of lines on paper are mirrored in the arrangement of sticks in his sculptures. During his talk, Dougherty even referred to his sculptures as drawings.
Come next June, it’ll be interesting to see what takes shape when Dougherty returns to The Bascom.
This video shows a Dougherty creation from the gathering of materials to its completion:
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Finally, here are some photos from The Bascom campus:
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