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Fall 2016

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Artistic inspiration can be found in the most ordinary of materials. Artists Jim Arendt, Tim Woods and Charles Clary use drywall and wallpaper, blue jeans, and scrap metal to create masterpieces.

Artistic Transformations

Charles Clary has an imagination that could make Tim Burton jealous. He views the world through his own microscope, looking at ordinary things we regard as uninteresting in a curious and unconventional way.

Clary, an artist and the Foundations coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, merged his passion for art, interest in microbiology, concern for discarded items and strong childhood memories into something new: intricate, layered sculptures.

Charles Clary’s studio houses raw materials, a craftsman’s tools, and a lifetime of collected inspiration.

“Early on, I really wanted to be a microbiologist. I’ve always been fascinated by disease, mold, fungi and microbiology,” Clary said. “If you were to remove the context and what these things are, they are absolutely stunning. I started to think, ‘What if Dr. Seuss created a viral or bacterial entity that playfully inhabited his world? What would that look like?’”

As a resident in graduate school in New York City, Clary walked into a paper store on his way home one day and was blown away by the color choices. He admitted becoming obsessed with the colors, the fragility, the rigidity and the versatility of paper. He layers the paper into three-dimensional artworks reminiscent of the microbes by which he was so fascinated.

Clary meticulously fashions art by merging hand-cut, layered paper with drywall and wallpaper, game boxes, movie posters and more.
Clary meticulously fashions art by merging hand-cut, layered paper with drywall and wallpaper, game boxes, movie posters and more.
Clary meticulously fashions art by merging hand-cut, layered paper with drywall and wallpaper, game boxes, movie posters and more.
Clary meticulously fashions art by merging hand-cut, layered paper with drywall and wallpaper, game boxes, movie posters and more.

Although paper is still a medium he uses with frequency, Clary is now digging into the world of thrift shopping, discovering materials for his artwork that are not necessarily new, but new to him.

“I’m a connoisseur of Goodwills, thrift stores, flea markets, Habitat Restores and sometimes eBay if I’m looking for something specific,” Clary said.

Tim Woods in his home studio.
Tim Woods in his home studio.

“I’m a recycled human being.”

Inspiration comes in many forms. Clary found it in wallpaper and drywall. For Tim Woods, who recently moved to North Myrtle Beach, images and beauty emerge in piles of discarded, rusting metal.

Woods worked as a machinist before moving to South Carolina about a year ago. In his work, he’d scrutinize plans – flat, technical, two-dimensional drawings – as his guide for the product he was making. With only an illustration in front of him, he had to imagine the final product out of the flatness of that drawing.

“That takes an artist’s touch,” Woods said. “The machinist part of me was over. There was an artist in there.”

Discarded steel scraps and gears are reborn in Woods’ sculptures Gear Head (left) and Rooster (right). Discarded steel scraps and gears are reborn in Woods’ sculptures Gear Head (left) and Rooster (right).
Discarded steel scraps and gears are reborn in Woods’ sculptures Gear Head (left) and Rooster (right).

After 35 years in the machine shop, Woods was ready to confront that artist inside him. In the rusted heaps of twisted metal and in the patina of old, smooth sheets of steel, images would show themselves to Woods, telling him what they wanted to become.

“I look at a scrap pile and I see something out of it, and a shape on it will stand out. I pull that shape out, making it something new,” Woods said. “The first thing I made was an 8-ft. tyrannosaurus rex. It was a skeleton. It was beautiful.”

Scenes from Woods’ workshop, from production to finished pieces. Scenes from Woods’ workshop, from production to finished pieces. Scenes from Woods’ workshop, from production to finished pieces. Scenes from Woods’ workshop, from production to finished pieces.
Scenes from Woods’ workshop, from production to finished pieces.

Once Woods imagines a figure in the metal, he cuts it out and welds it together, making it come alive as a sculpture. With each piece, Woods said there’s a discovery, not in only the discarded metal, but also in himself and those around him. Converting random pieces of steel into artwork has helped him reinvent himself as an artist, and he realizes what he once con-sidered trash can now be made into treasure.

“We’re getting recycled every day as we’re growing. I’m a recycled human being,” Woods said. “We’re not who we were 10 years ago, and that piece of steel is not what it was when it left the mill. It’s going to be recycled into something new. It’s a transformation.”

Some of the images that have revealed themselves to Woods in old metal include crosses, roosters, pigs, palm trees and alligators. He’s also incorporating some stone into his works, like the simple but elegant ducklings that seem to glide through his yard. Most importantly, though, he’s reusing those materials to make something new and fascinating.

“It’s very important to me to reuse material. In my machine job, I threw so much away,” Woods said. “There were sheets of metal at a factory that trucks were running over. I picked them up and thought, ‘I need to make something out of this.’ There’s a lot of stuff around our houses that could be fixed or repurposed that most of us toss away. Since I’ve been doing this, there’s nothing I throw away.”

Artist Jim Arendt sews by machine, by hand and even with glue to create art from discarded jeans.
Artist Jim Arendt sews by machine, by hand and even with glue to create art from discarded jeans.

From Landfills to Museums

Clary and Woods use everyday objects, like wallpaper or steel scraps, for their renaissance. Jim Arendt, on the other hand, fashions art out of an American clothing revolution – jeans.

Jeans have been a staple in American households for decades. Invented in the 1870s as durable, practical “waist high overalls,” jeans had a humble beginning as clothes that could withstand hard labor. Over the last century, jeans became not only practical, but stylish and trendy. And now, many of these neglected, time-worn pieces of clothing are being transformed.

Arendt is an assistant professor of visual arts and the director of the Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery at Coastal Carolina University. He began his life in Flint, Mich., birthplace of General Motors Corp. As a child, he watched his family, neighbors and community struggle with their farms and lose their manufacturing jobs. Resilience and hard work ethic were sewn into the fabric of his soul before Arendt left the area to pursue college and his love of art.

Arendt saves every scrap of jean material, including buttons and rivets, to reuse in artwork (top). Although nearly obsolete, tools like this industrial World War II Singer sewing machine and 19th century tailor’s shears help shape Arendt’s artwork (bottom). Arendt saves every scrap of jean material, including buttons and rivets, to reuse in artwork (top). Although nearly obsolete, tools like this industrial World War II Singer sewing machine and 19th century tailor’s shears help shape Arendt’s artwork (bottom). Arendt saves every scrap of jean material, including buttons and rivets, to reuse in artwork (top). Although nearly obsolete, tools like this industrial World War II Singer sewing machine and 19th century tailor’s shears help shape Arendt’s artwork (bottom). Arendt saves every scrap of jean material, including buttons and rivets, to reuse in artwork (top). Although nearly obsolete, tools like this industrial World War II Singer sewing machine and 19th century tailor’s shears help shape Arendt’s artwork (bottom).
Arendt saves every scrap of jean material, including buttons and rivets, to reuse in artwork (top). Although nearly obsolete, tools like this industrial World War II Singer sewing machine and 19th century tailor’s shears help shape Arendt’s artwork (bottom).

“When I was young and my family was living through the farm crisis of the early 1980s, I remember my father sitting at the sewing machine, patching his Wranglers in the evening. He was making do, a concept of thrift and pragmatism that dictates you work with the materials at hand,” Arendt explained.

Combining his love of art and strong work ethic with those old, once-hardworking jeans that otherwise would end up in a landfill, Arendt creates three-dimensional works of art that speak to his memories of family hardships and his need to understand the shifting relationship with labor and work.

Arendt sews by hand, by machine and even with glue. Along with other tools, he uses his mom’s Kenmore, an industrial World War II Singer and tools that may no longer have much use in modern society, like 19th century tailor’s shears. His artwork reclaims people and memories from his past and celebrates lives that aren’t idealized or glamorized. It also reclaims that durable, practical material that has shown itself to be of great importance in American history.

Paul, Totemic Figure by Jim Arendt.
Paul, Totemic Figure by Jim Arendt.

“As an artist who is interested in turning stories of suffering into stories of resilience, I enjoy the transformation of something destined for the landfill into a work destined for museums,” Arendt said. “I think as an artist it is important to consider how the materials we work with affect the world around us.”

With this belief, Arendt said he questions whether people, including himself, can expand a material’s usefulness and make its second life as long as possible. He is constantly searching for ways to creatively repurpose material and transform waste into value.

“Usefulness and longevity are old-fashioned values, but increasingly important to cultivate as we all stare into a future of increasing resource demands, environmental degradation and population growth. Recycling is great, but the correct design question to ask is, ‘Why do I have anything to recycle at all?’”