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.

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