A Diamond in the Rough

17 January 2012 in Reviews, Traveling

 

Blue GuyCrescent City is roughly 8800 people. Being a harbor town set on a main costal highway the population is composed of a lot of fisherman and lumber jacks. While the consensus found 8800 permanent residents, at any given time there is probably an additional 300-500 people living more of a transient lifestyle. One which is not recorded in a traditional consensus. To start we have never seen so many hitchhikers. It seems along any reasonably busy highway you are bound to see at least one or two vagabonds for every mile. In addition to this there are a couple RV parks that seemed filled to their borders with RVs and trailers in varying states of decay. These populations are not in the single and double wide mobile homes we are used to back in Wisconsin, but old RVs, trailers and fifth wheels that look as though they haven’t moved in decades.

For a small city there is a disproportionate number of amenities. There are six places to buy groceries: Safeway, Walmart, Rays, RiteAid, Grocery Outlet (affectionately called “Gross Out”), and Shop Smart. There are three hardware stores. Probably ten gas stations. Three veterinarians. And there has to be at least ten mexican restaurants. I guess the number of grocery stores is the most exaggerated characteristic.

So why all of this build up. Well I wanted everyone to picture a fairly nondescript harbor town. Despite an ideal location, Crescent City is not a tourist town. There is not a Main Street lined with cozy little shops selling seashells and postcards. For a tourist Crescent City has very little to offer along the lines of souvenirs and culture. This is not to say it has nothing to offer. The coastline there is beautiful, dotted with several small parks from which one can whale watch and explore craggy sea battered rocks. There are two famous lighthouses that have been well maintained and are picturesque. To the north are two gorgeous parks and to the south is the northern start of a long chain of Redwood State and National Parks.

But I am losing my point once again. For souvenirs and coastal fair there was what we thought was one small shop set just south of town, directly across from the beach. Here piled outside of a pole shed are massive Redwood carvings slowly aging in the salt filled air. Furthering down there is a cluster of three steel rail cars outside of which are strange, abstract and surreal sculptures made of both metal and varying found materials and objects. We had assumed these two spots were connected since they literally butt up against one another, but the other day we actually stopped in for a closed look.

The pole shed contained an amazing array of sculptures carved from Redwood. From large comical moose to small, football sized bears. There were also more realistic carvings like a coffee table sized carving of a group of sea turtles swimming around a forest of coral. Then there were pieces where the abstract and irregular shape of the wood defined the piece. Either a mirror or a table or a bench. All made visually compelling simply by the natural curves, twists, and burrows of the Redwood.

SculptureAfter a slow walk through we headed over to the cluster of rail cars and surreal sculptures. We didn’t know what to expect. The sculptures outside looked a little out of place amongst an otherwise ordinary, somewhat dull seaside town. Up close we were stricken by the beauty and wonder of each sculpture. We had not been exposed to anything like this since leaving Madison. But this was just the tip of a massive and shocking iceberg. Inside the three rail cars were an impossibly large collection of artwork of varying styles and mediums all of which was done by a single man. Every wall from floor to ceiling was covered in paintings and along the floor were more paintings vertically stacked like records. In the middle of each car and sometimes set to the sides were sculptures. The sheer volume itself was staggering. On top of that the work was incredible and showed a continual state of experimentation and success in several mediums. There were huge oil paintings layered in thick gobs of paint. There were paintings in which were set found medium like circuit boards and wires. There were collages paired with paint and ink. There were sculptures of metal, like the ones outside, but also sculptures composed of oddly cut wood and found materials such including beer cans and computer wire. Most of the work I would categorizes as surreal, but some was abstract. The colors, creativity, and skill were simply stunning. The atmosphere of a few rail cars, along a mostly barren stretch of coast was surreal in and of itself. The pieces housed within and outside of these rusty cars, in our opinions belonged and would have felt right at home in a swanky art gallery in some big city.

ArtAs we were walking through, our mouths a gape, we first met the artist’s cat, then his dog, and then him. He was Ukrainian and while he had been in Crescent City for twenty one years he still had a very thick accent and broken English. This made him a little hard to understand, but that didn’t stop him from talking our ears off as we wandered through this obscurely placed wonderland. He was quite infatuated with the freedom he has as an American as opposed to that of which he had in Ukraine. He also was in love with art in every single sense. He talked of how he preferred to have the freedom to express himself completely and unrestrictedly. It didn’t matter how much money he made or if he ever found success. He was almost childlike in the joy he found in creating art. It reminded us a little of our adolescents when the love was creation and expression. There was no concern over judgement, money or success.

An Amazing ArtistWe will certainly return before leaving and hopefully talk with this wonderful and friendly artist. Maybe someday we’ll be in a position to purchase one of his amazing pieces which were very reasonable priced for just sensational work.

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17 January 2012 Reviews, Traveling

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