CREATIVE PEAKS: New Perspectives

By on October 13, 2015

Visiting artists bring objects and organisms to life

Andy Ralph’s inanimate objects and the hyper-realism of Cedra Wood land at the Artlab  this month. The artists give a talk Monday and an open studio Oct. 24.

Andy Ralph’s inanimate objects and the hyper-realism of Cedra Wood land at the Artlab this month. The artists give a talk Monday and an open studio Oct. 24.

Jackson, WY – Every day in Brooklyn, New York, Andy Ralph saw thousands of orange construction cones. They inundated the streets and tunnels. One day, Ralph spotted a tractor pulling a pallet of brand new shrink-wrapped cones that it deposited at the Lincoln tunnel.

Cones are the type of inanimate objects that intrigue Ralph.

“I love the form,” he said. “They are sleek, sexy and bright.”

And while you might laugh at his enthusiasm for their shape, you have to agree they are so common, everyone knows what a construction cone is and looks like. Ralph uses that recognition of everyday objects to help people relate to his quirky sculptures, which include spinning cones and lawn chairs propped high on twisting legs.

“There are these underlying messages and interests in my work,” he said. “But at least there is a common access point that makes it simple for someone to relate to immediately.”

Ralph and painter Cedra Wood are working in Jackson this month as part of Teton Artlab’s artist-in-residence program. They kick off the official second year of the program where artists from around the world come to Jackson and spend a month working and sharing their processes with the community.

Wood and Ralph will give a public talk Monday and host an open studio event Oct. 24, where people can see them in action.

The open studio is especially exciting, said Travis Walker, director and founder of the Artlab.

“It’s the only opportunity you have in this valley to do something and see something like this,” he said.

A jury selected Ralph and Wood from a pool of hundreds of applicants from around the world representing all art media.

Wood is a realist painter, using staged photographs with people in elaborate dresses and costumes. The New Mexico-based artist gets inspiration from organisms that survive harsh conditions in the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. She investigates human and ecological relationships, exploring ideas of belonging and survival in her work. She interweaves portraits of people and natural environments copying the form of better-adapted creatures to create paintings that are quirky, wistful and discomfiting.

“She’s almost a hyper-realist painter,” Walker said. “Her paintings are amazing. They are surreal and realist at the same time.”

Ralph’s work is best described as a whimsical take on found material, Walker said. He takes everyday items, like traffic cones or lawn chairs and adds his own twist.

“He has a good sense of humor,” Walker said.

And it shows in his work.

Ralph’s work is rooted in curiosity and joy.

“I like to make work that makes me laugh as well as makes me learn a technique,” he said.

He often looks at everyday objects and animates them in his mind. Then he sets to work figuring out how to build it.

For the cones sculpture, he had to call the manufacturer. It turns out you can’t buy industrial grade traffic cones at a local store. The manufacturer laughed when he heard Ralph’s plan and donated 10 cones to the project, he said.

Ralph then figured out how to make the cones spin. He appropriated motors from Shogun Shiatsu kneading massagers. Once motorized, the cones came to life and seem almost like sea urchins, he said.

The lawn chairs are physically static, but give off a pulsing sense. Some people find them inviting, while others find them a little creepy. And that’s OK, he said.

His goal is to bring these everyday objects into a different realm that is whimsical, disorienting, or even discomforting. He distorts the figure, but in a way that is technically precise.

Ralph has a background in carpentry and he’s proud of the craftsmanship that goes into recreating ordinary objects into something that looks unearthly.

He loves to tinker in his workshop. He’s driven by the investigation that goes into creating a sculpture, figuring out how to bring to life the vision he sees in his mind.

Then there is the end product.

“I just get a kick out of it,” he said.

While in Jackson, Ralph is working on surrealist images using massage boxes he’s covering in gold leaf drawings.

Ralph and Wood are working in Jackson in October. You can learn more about their work at the talk and open studio events Teton Artlab is hosting. PJH

Teton Artlab visiting artists Cedra Wood and Andy Ralph; artist talk, 7 to 9 p.m., Monday, 175 N. Center St., above E.Leaven, free; open studio 6 to 9 p.m., Oct. 24, 130 S. Jackson St., free.

About Kelsey Dayton

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