Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a Chicago artist named David Philpot. David could fill a room with joy. I worked at a museum where he helped us run workshops for our teacher training program. Students that were usually distracted when visiting our museum would drop their jaws in silence when David showed up carrying one of his incredible art staffs (which were usually about 6 to 8 feet tall). From teachers to students, everyone listened eagerly to every word that David said. I am sharing his art today because his work should be even more widely recognized.
David Philpot was born in 1940 in Chicago. He was a self-taught mosaic artist and wood-carver who created intricately detailed and embellished art staffs. He used various discarded items to decorate his staffs, including jewelry, shells, mirrors, and beads. David carved the staffs out of locally sourced wood from the Ailanthus altissima tree or Tree of Heaven, which grow like weeds in Chicago. David used to tell his story about being called by a power higher to go outside to the ailanthus trees and cut one down (they are small trees). That was in 1971. It took him about one year to make his first staff. He went on to create 350 more staffs, which are now in collections all over the world.
Hello! Today we are rolling out our second interview from our artist interview series! Below is a recent interview with the incredibly talented David Greenhalgh of Green Phoenix Relics. David is an award-winning mixed media artist who works and lives in Los Angeles, California. He transforms vintage found objects and cast-offs into stunning works of art. Look at the intricate details of the artwork below! What an incredible way to repurpose things.
Uncommon Canvas: When did you start making art?
David: Having been brought up in a family of “Creatives” in Southern California, as far back as I can remember I was surrounded by people who were constantly making beautiful objects: My dad painted, made stained glass art and worked with photography while my mother made jewelry and shell ornaments/frames/baskets which she then sold in her gift shop in San Juan Capistrano. Our family also participated in The Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach, which was a great way to see all the local artisan’s different work. Besides my mom & dad, my mother’s sister worked as an animator for an Oscar-winning animation director and my brother designed surf clothing. The cool thing about being exposed to so many different ways in which to express oneself creatively was that I learned (and was encouraged) from a young age to explore any kind of artistic expression that piqued my interest. I think that’s why I enjoy working in 3-dimensional Mixed Media, because I get to incorporate almost anything I find interesting into my work. So, to answer your question, I’ve been creating since I was a kid.
When I first came across the work of Calder Kamin, my eyeballs nearly popped out of my head. The colors! By now, you probably know that I have a thing for art featuring woodland creatures (especially owls). I also love sharing art that is made from unconventional materials, like recyclable items. This is the perfect combination. Animal sculptures made from discarded plastics!
Calder is an artist, educator, and advocate living in Austin, Texas. Calder is passionate about advocating for the environment and teaching others, especially children, about the detrimental impact of waste. Through her workshops, she shows participants how to creatively transform discarded materials into art. Calder has spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship animals have with trash, and she has observed how they adapt (like birds using discarded materials to build nests). On her website, she states: “Nature never wastes. That’s why I reuse!”
View more of Calder’s work at www.calderkamin.com or find her on Instagram @calderful. Here is a video of Calder (and her cute pup) discussing her work:
Recycleart Sculpture Garden is located in Waldoboro, Maine. It was created by the late self-taught artist and welder, Nathan Nicholls. Through his art, Nathan encouraged others to think twice before throwing an object away. There is not an object out there that Nathan could not recycle into a beautiful artwork. He welded nails, tires, bike parts, and broken farm equipment into sculptures of owls, flowers, frogs, and cats. Even the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance in his garden.
Nathan was originally from Massachusetts. He moved to Maine after his teenage years. He took on odd jobs, from harvesting blueberries to repairing lawn mowers and motorcycles. The latter job introduced him to the beauty of scraps and discarded objects. Inspired by these objects, Nathan started making sculptures in the 1990s. In 2003, after his mother passed away, he began devoting even more time to his art in order to comfort himself. After many years of creating art, his 5 acres of land is now covered with sculptures.
Nathan passed away in 2014, at the age of 52. His family is working to preserve his artistic legacy. They are in the process of figuring out how to ensure the safety and longevity of his art, especially during the Maine winters. Ideally, it is best to keep an art environment as the artist left it but this leaves the risk of the artwork being destroyed. We hope they come up with a solution that works for them because his sculptures are truly unique and inspiring.
For more information, please visit the Facebook page for the site.
We recently returned from a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, where we got to see the work of Kevin Sampson – an incredibly talented self-taught and community based artist living in Newark, New Jersey. His work is currently on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum as part of their artist residency program.
During the summer of 2018, Sampson stayed on a boat docked near the museum as he and the staff worked on preparing the exhibition. Community members and museum visitors were invited to learn about his work and process.
“Like the pottery archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?
– Jo Atherton
Artist Jo Atherton is the perfect example of an artist using non-traditional materials to create art. We also love that she is bringing awareness to environmental issues.
Atherton creates her art from discarded materials collected along the UK coastline. Using the energy of the sun, she makes gorgeous cyanotype prints (also known as sun prints) of the items. She also weaves tapestries from the items that she discovers.
Atherton believes that we can learn a lot about our past through these washed up objects. Some of the items she finds are 30 years old or more, like old plastic toys. It’s interesting and sad to see what happens to these items when they are no longer loved or needed. In the artist’s words:
“I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.”
Her images are stunning and beautiful, yet they also serve as reminders of the disturbing amount of trash, mainly plastic, that is accumulating in our oceans. The artist cannot solve the issue on her own, but she is doing a great job of bringing awareness to the problem. Through her process, she also recycles items that would otherwise be garbage into meaningful artworks.
Greg Corman is a landscape designer and artist living in Tuscon, Arizona. He creates his work from recycled or salvaged wood, found objects, and steel. The above images are examples of his bee habitat sculptures, which are functional forms of art. The sculptures have holes and tunnels drilled into them to provide bees with brood chambers for their babies. He states on his website that these functional artworks are nesting spaces for native pollinator bees and do not attract honey or killer bees.
To go along with my recent post about toothpick art, I have found some fun projects for kids. I love the idea of working with nontraditional art supplies that are either lying around the house or affordable to buy. Toothpicks are definitely easy to come across. Loosely inspired by the work of artists Scott Weaver and Wayne Kusy, here are a few ideas I came across. (The project credit goes to the links under each photo.)
Scott Weaver is a San Francisco-based artist who creates elaborately detailed artwork using only toothpicks and Elmer’s glue. Scott began creating toothpick art in 1968, at the age of 8. His most famous toothpick sculpture is called Rolling Through the Bay, a kinetic sculpture which was constructed using approximately 100,000 toothpicks over the course of 37 years. Scott estimates that it took over 3,000 hours of his time to create the sculpture. The sculpture is 9 feet tall and 7 feet wide.
Wayne Kusy of Chicago is another incredible toothpick artist. I had the honor of meeting him several years ago and helping him with a toothpick art workshop at a Chicago gallery.
Wayne was inspired to start building with toothpicks in fifth grade after completing a school project using his chosen medium. Wayne started small and eventually worked his way up to building toothpick versions of ocean liner models, ranging in length from 4 feet to 25 feet. His largest toothpick sculpture is the 25 foot Queen Mary, which was made using 814,000 toothpicks and 19 gallons of Titebond II.
The Uncommon Canvas is an arts blog that focuses on increasing visibility for artists. We also hope to bring awareness to mental health in the arts. This blog includes interviews, artist spotlights, and art history beyond mainstream narrative.