The Flamingo Must Go

It’s my good fortune to know a lot of visual artists. Painters, mostly, but also potters and printmakers, landscape architects, photographers, and people who work in fabric, stone, glass, metal, bottle caps, trash, and who knows what else in this rich community.

John Brickels works in clay. All his pieces are brown.

In years past, he was interested in things in gentle decline, like his falling-down barns and beat-up cars. Lately, the pieces are sleeker and industrial-looking. Picture nuts and bolts, or castoff plumbing, or machinery, the purpose for which is unclear, and still of brown stoneware. Cocoa-hued and steam punk, as one reviewer put it. These things carry weight, have mass.

Recently, the organizers of the Art Hop, a popular art event in town, asked Brickels to turn his artistry to the decoration of one of its emblems: a plastic pink flamingo. Brickels, a nice guy, worked it into one of his sculptures. That piece was auctioned off at a fund-raiser, and my collector husband bought it.

But there’s a problem. When one looks at the work, all one sees is the foreign element. 

There it is: a bird in captivity, the head sticking out of one end and its pink plastic body a long way away.

Photo by Milin John on Unsplash

The bird is a distraction. It isn’t Brickels. And, apparently, the artist has rethought the matter as well. His e-mail, arriving months after the event, was brief: “The bird must go.”

It will take two of us to get the sculpture back to his studio, where he will address the matter.

What’s he going to do? Fire it? Melt the bird? Carve it out? Disassemble the piece and start over? He isn’t sure.

Meanwhile, I intend to keep the head and will add it to the flower pot in the corner of our living room where all the other flamingos from past Art Hop events reside. It’s a reminder to me as to what can happen when one ambles too far down the road in a direction that just isn’t true to the situation, to what the artist wants to achieve. Whatever else, an artist must be true to his vision.

I’ll let you know when the piece returns.

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