Flamingo a-go-go . . . fixing a mistake

If you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never tried anything.


Artist John Brickels was reminded of this when he agreed to decorate a pink plastic flamingo for a fundraiser to benefit the local arts community.  He incorporated it into one of his clay pieces, thinking he could bring his artistry to bear to “overpower the bird,” but the bird won.


A typical Brickels work speaks to a bygone era, a gentler age of automats, voluptuous cars, and gas station attendants.  He recalls with nostalgic pleasure how people used to dress to go downtown, pert little hats and white gloves on the ladies headed to  Hudson’s, Detroit’s best department store.  He still vacations here to be closer to the automotive industry. As a young man, his dream job was to be able to carve the automotive models out of clay. Machines do it today.


Never mind. He would make his own machines, carved of clay. Gorgeous things, but without any birds involved, so when he learned that my husband bought this pink flamingo piece, he was anxious to get it back. “Bring me the bird,” he said in an email, and I dropped it off at his studio.


A couple of weeks later, I returned to pick up the piece, and it had been transformed into quite a beauty. He had removed the front grill, extracted the bird, and filled the clay cavity with hand-carved gears and screws. He added wires, a working gauge, and LED lights, as well, and the capstone was a masterpiece: a Rayethon tube, circa 1950s.


He flicked a switch, and the sculpture ticked, hummed, and glowed.  “It was liberating,” he said, his face alight as he reflected on weeks’ labor. Before me stood a very happy artist, and I think how only those who make mistakes can feel this joy.


Ten photos follow, the finished piece and elated artist at the end. Caution, several are gruesome, but gruesome moments can be part of the process when setting right a mistake.

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© 2019 by Sam Madden