Mack Dryden & Albertus Gorman
Cross Currents: New works by Mack Dryden and Albertus Gorman
February 3rd through February 28th, 2017
Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile is pleased to present the art of Mack Dryden and Albertus Gorman. Louisville residents Dryden and Gorman are united by their shared love of rivers which they view as a metaphor of life’s journey. Both artists frequent the Falls of the Ohio State Park in nearby Clarksville, IN and utilize this dynamic environment for materials and inspiration. While their approaches to art making are different, Dryden and Gorman have a deep respect for natural processes and for revealing the inherent beauty found in river born materials.
Until recently, the only “art’ in my woodworking was the aesthetic I expressed in
practical pieces like tables and cabinets. Then I visited The Falls of the Ohio and was
overwhelmed by the mind-boggling volume and variety of driftwood that had floated
there. I collected some and made a heron, a fleur-de- lis, a fish, then realized I had turned
stunning pieces of wood into awkward representations that diminished their inherent
beauty. I began to experiment with celebrating the beauty of the wood as I found it–
shaped and burnished by years, even decades, in the river. On impulse I collected a
rather ugly chunk of charred wood to see what it looked like inside. My table saw
revealed a radiant, golden grain and opened a new world of possibilities. I tried
embellishing some pieces with various tints and stains and realized I was violating the
purity of the wood, not to mention my own aesthetic. Now I only use natural (clear) stain
to bring out the true color of the wood, which once grew in the earth, then fell, floated
untold miles, was pummeled by storms and baked by the sun. It has had numerous “lives”
by the time I attempt to give it a final one that hopefully will gladden someone’s heart.
Since 2003, I have been exclusively making art in its many forms at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana, across the Ohio River from my adopted hometown of Louisville, KY. The park is a significant, dynamic, and living space with an extensive, natural and cultural history that I often reference in my works. Both John James Audubon and Lewis and Clark are associated with the Falls area. It is their early 19th century journals describing a world that no longer exists that I count among my influences. Two hundred years later, these famous explorers might be challenged to find something familiar about our home. Of course, the Falls area had been sustainably occupied by the first Americans for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived. The work that I make and document in the park is both an aesthetic statement and a historic record of change during our place and time.
The world famous Falls of the Ohio fossil beds are a perfect setting for my work. The fossils preserved on site are the remains of creatures that were the high point of life as it existed over 400 million years ago. It is sobering to reflect upon these rocks and consider our relationship to life. We are relatively speaking still a new animal and yet we view ourselves from a position of high privilege. It is interesting to think of ourselves as an experiment in life. Whether intelligence and sentience are an evolutionary advantage in life is still open to debate. The numerous ways we have altered the very substrate we and other life forms depend upon would suggest we have much to learn. Having clean water, air, and soil are aesthetic concerns by definition.
I believe there is an environmental imperative that art can help address. Part of my artistic drive is to work as sustainably as possible. All the materials I currently work with have been cast off and swept into the park through periodic flooding along the Ohio River Valley’s watershed. All my sculptures and installations incorporate both natural and artificial materials. Over time, I have evolved a vocabulary of forms and materials that I utilize. Chief among them is polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), plastic, coal , glass, and driftwood, but I use other bits of our material culture as well. I see the metaphoric possibilities and contradictions in some of these materials. Styrofoam, in particular, while being organic by definition will far outlive its useful purposes. It embodies an out-of-sync absurd quality that in my view also describes our current relationship with nature.
My work is an odd, transient species of public art happening in a public space. Usually, the work I make on site stays on site. I arrive on location with a collecting bag, walking stick, pocket knife, and camera. These are my only tools. I work throughout the year and in all seasons and local conditions. I search the riverbank for new items that have washed ashore and I pay attention to the life around me. Over the years, I have maintained several outdoor studios where I make works and cache materials until the river floods again and rearranges the landscape.
I think of my process as being a collaboration with nature and as such try not to alter my found materials to any great degree. I especially appreciate and respect the power of the river to shape and polish forms in ways that I can not. What happens to these forms depends on what they suggest to me. I use wooden pins I fashion to join pieces of Styrofoam together. Many of my installations feature sculptural models that are recognizably figurative referencing both the absurdity of the human condition and creatures that are or could be relational to the Falls environment. These pieces act as focal points to call attention to the contexts they inhabit which often includes other detritus that accompanied my work.
Because I work outside with nature and document my work through photography people often describe my art as being similar to Andy Goldworthy’s art. While I do think we share some commonalities the differences are more telling. Chiefly, I don’t travel the world looking for pristine places and I use our material culture to create my mostly figurative art. Pristine does not describe the world I find at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. In fact, the environment at the Falls demonstrates a world that has been heavily impacted by us. So far, I have found inspiration and everything I need to create my art within the confines of the park.
Another artist I find to be a more useful reference is the work of the late Walter Inglis Anderson. For several decades during the mid 20th century, Anderson found inspiration for his work at a single place, Horn Island, which is off the coast of Mississippi. He documented his experiences through his watercolors and by journaling. Anderson is of interest to me because he used his art to evoke a sense of place for one natural area he deeply knew and loved. My relationship to the Falls of the Ohio is very similar to Anderson’s feelings for Horn Island. I also take great pleasure in being considered a local artist who works within his community.
Typically, after I photograph a site specific piece…I will leave it to its fate. Long ago I realized that I couldn’t take all the trash I found home with me. The challenges are to try to make something that speaks about the day and place. What I do is a form of alchemy where I take something that is base and worthless and try to create something that has potential value. Although more often than not, visitors upon encountering my work will bluntly destroy it…I have also successfully created awareness and inspired people to play along and add to what I have started. If my work proposes or inspires any solutions to our problems it lies in my idealistic belief in the value of universal human creativity. We will need everybody’s creative abilities to help shape the future in positive ways.
Of course, the river in its many moods will eventually carry away projects. I have found parts to works I have made before and recycled them into new pieces. Although I prefer seeing my work in the context of their creation, I’m also asked to participate in gallery shows more frequently and I have saved a few of my more successful sculptural models which I exhibit alongside photographs of my work in situ. This allows me to extend the conversation I started in the park to a more formal gallery setting.
While acting locally with my art, I also have a global reach through my Artist at Exit O Riverblog hosted by WordPress. Exit 0 is the exit off of the I-65 interstate that leads to the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Since the most extensive record of my activities are the photographs and stories I write to document my installations, I am able to publish all my Fall’s related projects online becoming my record of choice. I started my blog in 2009 and thus far have published nearly 400 posts and over 4000 photographs. Yearly, my blog has been visited by people living in over a hundred countries and has generated over a thousand comments.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than going to the park and not being able to find new junk in which to make my art. I already have a difficult love/hate relationship with the materials I use and nothing would make me happier than to be put “out of business”. Somehow, I don’t think this will be the case during my lifetime. As long as I continue to find inspiration in the park, I will remain the Artist at Exit 0.
Sentry of the Shallows
Long Day's Journey
The Crying Indian
dye sublimation print on aluminum 30"x40"
La Belle Riviere
dye sublimation print on aluminum 30"x40"
Petrochemical Color Spectrum
colorful plastic oil containers mounted on shelf