Flamingo a-go-go . . . fixing a mistake.

If you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never tried anything.

Artist John Brickels was reminded of this when he agreed to decorate a pink plastic flamingo for a fundraiser to benefit the local arts community.  He incorporated it into one of his clay pieces, thinking he could bring his artistry to bear to “overpower the bird,” but the bird won.  The Flamingo Must Go

A typical Brickels work speaks to a bygone era, a gentler age of automats, voluptuous cars, and gas station attendants.  He recalls with nostalgic pleasure how people used to dress to go downtown, pert little hats and white gloves on the ladies headed to  Hudson’s, Detroit’s best department store.  He still vacations here to be closer to the automotive industry. As a young man, his dream job was to be able to carve the automotive models out of clay. Machines do it today.

Never mind. He would make his own machines, carved of clay. Gorgeous things, but without any birds involved, so when he learned that my husband bought this pink flamingo piece, he was anxious to get it back. “Bring me the bird,” he said in an email, and I dropped it off at his studio.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to pick up the piece, and it had been transformed into quite a beauty. He had removed the front grill, extracted the bird, and filled the clay cavity with hand-carved gears and screws. He added wires, a working gauge, and LED lights, as well, and the capstone was a masterpiece: a Rayethon tube, circa 1950s.

He flicked a switch, and the sculpture ticked, hummed, and glowed.  “It was liberating,” he said, his face alight as he reflected on weeks’ labor. Before me stood a very happy artist, and I think how only those who make mistakes can feel this joy.

Ten photos follow, the finished piece and elated artist at the end. Caution, several are gruesome, but gruesome moments can be part of the process when setting right a mistake.

Check out: http: www.brickels.com

Photo credits: Lead photo and the two of the artist by Michael Metz; other photos, property of the artist.

The Flamingo Must Go

It’s my good fortune to know a lot of visual artists. Painters, mostly, but also potters and printmakers, landscape architects, photographers, and people who work in fabric, stone, glass, metal, bottle caps, trash, and who knows what else in this rich community. John Brickels works in clay. All his pieces are brown.

In years past, he was interested in things in gentle decline, like his falling-down barns and beat-up cars. Lately, the pieces are sleeker and industrial-looking. Picture nuts and bolts, or castoff plumbing, or machinery, the purpose for which is unclear, and still of brown stoneware. Cocoa-hued and steam punk, as one reviewer put it. These things carry weight, have mass.

Recently, the organizers of the Art Hop, a popular art event in town, asked Brickels to turn his artistry to the decoration of one of its emblems: a plastic pink flamingo. Brickels, a nice guy, worked it into one of his sculptures. That piece was auctioned off at a fund-raiser, and my collector husband bought it.

But there’s a problem. When one looks at the work, all one sees is the foreign element. There it is: a bird in captivity, the head sticking out of one end and its pink plastic body a long way away.

The bird is a distraction. It isn’t Brickels. And, apparently, the artist has rethought the matter as well. His e-mail, arriving months after the event, was brief: “The bird must go.”

It will take two of us to get the sculpture back to his studio, where he will address the matter. What’s he going to do? Fire it? Melt the bird? Carve it out? Disassemble the piece and start over? He isn’t sure.

Meanwhile, I intend to keep the head and will add it to the flower pot in the corner of our living room where all the other flamingos from past Art Hop events reside. It’s a reminder to me as to what can happen when one ambles too far down the road in a direction that just isn’t true to the situation, to what the artist wants to achieve. Whatever else, an artist must be true to his vision.

I’ll let you know when the piece returns.

Check out www.brickels.com and www.seaba.com

Photo credit:  top – Donald Cook; right – Michael Metz