California || Junk Art in Sebastopol
Long, long ago, a part-time job took me to Sebastopol, Ca. to talk with my long-distance employer about becoming a full-timer in close proximity. He was the kind of guy that knew a lot about his town and was well-known in it, which meant we experienced a lot of "local bests"--food, drinks, live music, local art shows--all with compliments of the owner. Not a bad way to get introduced to a town, and I looked forward to introducing others in the same way. You know, all the best stuff for free.
But I can help you out with access to the art installation I saw.
Because, you see, it's in the artist's front yard. And also in his neighbors'.
Patrick Amiot is a self-described "junk artist" who hails from Montreal and started his art career as a ceramics sculptor. In 1997, his family sold all their stuff and drove a motor home across the continent, intending to settle in San Francisco. You can probably imagine how that ended for a family of artists, even in the '90s. They followed the hippie migration from Marin to Sonoma County, and settled in Sebastopol, a weird and woolly cow town cradled in the green hills left of Highway 101.
That's when Patrick's visions started to take a shift. He wanted to work bigger, but getting the materials he needed from Europe was too expensive. He wasn't getting the exposure he was used to in the big city. He had to borrow money
He had always liked the idea of making work from found objects, but didn't think there was a market.
You know...one of those things.
The art he's famous for now started as a just-for-fun thing--he made a fisherman out of an old water heater and a rowboat, and displayed it in his front yard. Far from calling the HOA, his neighbors loved it, so he made more, tapping the local landfills and flea markets for materials. His fans offered their lawns as display space. Now the entire two blocks of Florence Avenue serves as his gallery.
Patrick's works are entirely composed of metallic detritus--tin cans, alarm clocks, pots and pans, disembowelled appliances, and a wealth of car parts. Eyes are made of taillights and dials, fish scales or feathers are composed of overlapping coffee can lids, a waitress' tray features spaghetti fashioned from a tangle of clock springs and a bundt cake made of...well, a bundt cake pan.
Patrick's yard looks like a movie lot, crowded with a motley assemblage of figures. But his neighbors' lawns wear his works with equal bravado. These are not small pieces--many of them tower higher than the porch roof and overshadow their decorative hedges.
Example A: the White Rabbit, with a face made from a car bumper and feet that used to be Electrolux vacuum cleaners.
I've always wondered what it's like to be one of those people who has the misfortune to move into a "Candy Cane Lane" neighborhood--whether they go into it knowing that they'll be compelled to put up 200-kilowatt displays of Christmas cheer every winter, or if it's sprung on them once Thanksgiving rolls around.
This is about as far from that kind of situation as you can get. Not only are neighbors happy to display his work, they even bring him junk before they take it to the dump, in case he can use it for a new piece.
Patrick's work has gone from being a Florence Avenue showpiece to a stamp of identity for his whole city. You can find his work all over town these days, flanking fine restaurants, school gardens and civic buildings. It's put the city on the map as a cultural haven, and encouraged other locals to do the same thing, in their own way--food, wine, music, and more art. Amiot told one reporter that in the last few years, a lot more artists in his community have come out of hiding, encouraged by his bravado to release their "thing" into the wild.
"I think this expresses exactly how I feel. At the point I made these things, I knew what I wanted to do. And I felt happy about it. I still feel happy about it. It's simple. When people drive by, they get it. People slow down. They like what they see. I get that approval in the local community. Like everyone else, I just want to be loved in life."
His references run the gamut, from literary
to historical (ish)
and from mythical
There are also scenes pulled from everyday life on the street. The fireman who lives on the north block? His lawn sports a fire truck made from an old Ford hood.
I suspect there must be some hardcore Batman fans on the street, as well, because each block has its own homage--Adam West on the south end and Michael Keaton on the north:
Patrick still makes other kinds of work, but it's the "junk art" that has put him on the map. He's been written up everywhere from the Times to the Chronicle, and his fame is spreading all the way back to his native country, where his work enjoys frequent gallery showings and fantastic commissions.