A Story of Artistic Obsession

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Part II - Pinball to Carpo

The gifted van is gone now—to an ignominious end which didn't do it justice. But at the time I received it, it had been several years since the Vision By the River, and this gift seemed like the answer to a prayer.

Its original name was Pinball. I first used it to pinch-hit for an ailing pickup that hauled the cuttings and clippings from a gardening business. It was one of those vans where you sat up high on your perch with a thin metal screen behind you that, in my case, held back a tangle of foliage.

As soon as that old pickup was able to resume its duties, Pinball’s transformation to art vehicle began. First, I made a scale model representing how I wanted the finished piece to look. Next, using a fine-toothed, metal-cutting blade, I removed a big rectangle from one side. That’s where the 4' X 6' proscenium frame would go. Pinball was becoming Carpo.

The electrical work—connecting four outlets to an inverter that transferred energy from a couple of marine batteries—was donated. A nautical seamstress stitched together four pieces of dark, water-resistant cloth to make a big tent for the audience. A sculptor friend lined me up with a welder who fabricated the couplings for metal pipe to frame the tent.

It took about three months to get Carpo outfitted and I loved every minute of it; there was always an interesting problem to solve. For example, after imagining and sketching Groucho the Flying Fish, he had to be appraised against Carpo for size, and then sculpted. The billowing cloud upon which he was mounted was jig-cut from a long narrow board. Then it all had to be waterproofed (with what? where to buy it?), and attached to the top of the van in a manner that would allow the whole assembly to be raised and lowered quickly and easily, both before and after each show. At every step, I learned and practiced unfamiliar skills.

Groucho himself was a blast to make. I became very familiar with a small, circular sandpaper attachment to the Dremel hand tool that allowed me to fashion the fish's overlapping scales. Its body was sculpted from a friendly medium called Cellu-Clay. What amazes me most, in retrospect, is where all these wacky ideas were coming from. A flying fish with the face of Groucho Marx? Giant clam shells dripping pearls from a pirate's booty? Head of a goldfish swollen a thousand times its natural size? What beings we are to have creations such as these spring from our minds, eyes and hands!

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