Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Lilliputian Sculpture Garden

Hello, elves. Greetings, goblins. Welcome faeries, leprechauns and pixies, to the Lilliputian sculpture garden.

High up in the Berkeley Hills, in the front yard of an unassuming ranch house, some Sunday sculptor has planted a knee-high assortment of shrubs and flowers to complement his small clay statues. Heads peek at you from behind bushes. Hands rise out of the mulch. Female nudes hide behind veils of flowers. The effect is mysterious and a bit disorienting. The first time I stumbled upon this garden, I felt like the fifty foot woman.

It's not like you've discovered the visionary oeuvre of some suburban Howard Finster: the sculptures lack the naivete and insular confidence of outsider art. Despite their classical aspirations, the pieces feel a tad amateurish. They're lacking in detail, and the proportions are off. It's the kind of work a talented high school student might bring home to mom.

Displayed on a coffee table or bookcase instead of their landscape setting, these works would lose some of their charm. But the sculptures manage to communicate the artist's love of the process, and of people. The figures may be awkward and anatomically off, but they've got soul. And their artful placement in an otherwise ordinary front yard is an invitation to take a little detour through a small, quiet world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Art Lovers

I'm doing as much yoga as my body will allow, yet inner peace continues to elude me. I get emotionally involved in current events, and the ignoble behavior at the McCain rallies has me tearing up, ranting and obsessively checking my yahoo landing page for news. I am becoming an expert in right wing hate groups and the Alaska secessionist party (whose founder was a right wing hater in his own right). As they say in yoga speak, I need to get centered. I can't spend my days wringing my hands over the fate of our nation and the character of a goodly number of her citizens. The only antidote to this vast, existential big-picture worrying is focusing on something really small and deliciously petty. So I am going to tell you about something I encounter regularly on my hill walks.

The thing in question is a sculpture that recently landed in someone's front yard at a very prominent bend in the road. I think it's made of white sandstone (I'd have to trespass to get close enough to tell) and, counting the pedestal, the statue stands about eight feet tall. A stylized representation of a man and a woman locked in an embrace, it merges the couple into one sihouette, like giant conjoined twins. You can identify the male twin by his broad shoulders. The female half of this unholy fusion has a huge, paleolithic fertility goddess rump. The effect is Henry Moore-wanabe meets Baby-got-back. Tackier yet is the stylization of the two heads, coming together in the unmistakable shape of a heart.

Every time I pass this monstrosity, I cringe. Its size and artistic intentions elevate it beyond the status of your garden variety lawn gnome or pink flamingo. And yet it's every bit as kitsch. So bad, it's good. It's simple. It's corny. It has just enough subtext for the artistically naive - you may need a few seconds to pick up on that giant heart head. If Hallmark saw it, they'd pay off the artist, trademark the piece and mass produce it as a white porcelain music box that plays "I'll stop the world and melt with you" while the mutant paramours slowly revolve in an endless circle of love. Just picture the possibilities. Giant ice sculptures for celebrity weddings. Hand-carved wood copies made in the Philippines, perfectly sized for the mantelpiece. Vanilla-scented soaps - watch the lovers literally dissolve into your bath water - and each other. Hell, you could do a chocolate version - available in white, milk or dark to mirror your ethnicity. What a classy way to say "Will you be my valentine"!

If the world gets wind of this thing, it could be as ubiquitous as Durer's praying hands. I'm starting to think I should never have told you about it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Off By Two Grand

Just a brief Needlefoot update. Our son finally had the needle removed from his heel. The kid was very macho, allowing himself to be I.V.'d and injected without complaining, and entertaining the nurses with his dead pan humor. The surgery took an hour and a half because the needle, weakened from the weight of a 5'10, 170 lb teen, had broken into four pieces. Three stitches later, our son's foot is swaddled in cloth bandages and protected by an orthopedic boot. We were discharged with a $200 pair of crutches which the kid refuses to use as they don't fit his image. He's walking on that foot far more than he's supposed to, and we are hoping his heel doesn't burst open like an overripe fig. The boy has, however, happily heeded the warning about not getting his bandages wet and managed to avoid showering for three days. Last night, he wrapped his foot in two plastic bags and decided to get clean. I think he was starting to smell himself.

I underestimated the cost of the surgery by $2000 - we are now up to $7000, with two follow up visits to go.