How Shooting a Gun Changed the Trajectory of William LeGoullon’s Art

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Shooting photographs has long been a part of William LeGoullon’s art practice. But about three and a half years ago, the trajectory of his work changed after LeGoullon tried his hand at shooting a gun.

“I went out shooting with some friends,” he says. “It’s a strangely seductive experience.”

They’d hit the desert for recreational target practice, letting LeGoullon borrow their guns so he could do a bit of shooting. “It felt weird,” he says. “It was fun, but also violent and destructive.”

During these outings, LeGoullon discovered desert landscapes dotted with discarded objects, many riddled with holes made by other shooters. “I started collecting these things,” LeGoullon says. “I began with vessels and tanks.”

Now his images of 100 of the vessels he’s gathered, from a fire extinguisher to a propane tank, are featured in an exhibition titled “(Un)Intended Targets,” which continues through Saturday, February 13, at Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix.

His Vessels comprise five sets of 20 images presented with white background and frames. The symmetry and clean lines of his presentation starkly contrast the mangled and misshapen nature of the objects he’s photographed.

“I want to make work that is still beautiful and attractive,” LeGoullon says. “It’s my aesthetic choice to keep it very clean, making these objects almost sexy and seductive.”

One particularly striking image features a spent shell set against a deep black background. Like other objects he’s photographed, the shell conveys an intriguing mix of beauty and horror – leaving viewers to wonder how something so lovely might have wrought real destruction.

But there’s also the photograph of a skull decorated with pink glitter, the head and what remains of a torso for a male mannequin, and a cactus pad shot through with a single hole at its center.

The newest piece in the show includes dozens of photographs grouped together and mounted under orange plexiglass. “It’s a risk,” LeGoullon says of bringing in the bright orange that’s prevalent in shooting culture. But he’s eager to experiment with using more of it.

He’s no longer taking part in desert shooting sessions with friends, but LeGoullon still enjoys recreational shooting now and then, although he’s not a gun owner. “Doing the project made me wake up,” he says. “Now if I’m going shooting, I go to a range.”

“There’s a responsible and an irresponsible way to do it,” says LeGoullon, who is dismayed that so many people take items into the desert for target practice but don’t remove them once they’ve finished. “Shooting causes great harm to these parts of the landscape,” he says.

LeGoullon still spends time culling the desert for objects to photograph, and expects to spend several more years creating works involving found objects. “I spend more time collecting than making the work itself,” he says.

His favorite finds are the most unusual ones. “I don’t do a lot with objects like tin cans or TVs,” he says. “I look for the stuff people aren’t expecting to see.” Nowadays he’s trying to figure out how to photograph some of the larger objects he’s found, including an aircraft windshield.

So what becomes of all these objects once LeGoullon captures them with his camera?

LeGoullon says there’s no reason to keep most of it around, noting that the 600-square-foot condo that doubles as his studio isn’t large enough to accommodate such things. For a long time, LeGoullon was taking found objects to a Tempe scrap yard, earning a little cash for his trouble.

But one day, he ran into Joe Willie Smith, an artist and musician who delights in turning found objects into works of art and unusual musical instruments, at the scrap yard. Smith offered to take the objects off his hands, so now Smith gets LeGoullon’s discards, and another round of repurposing takes place.

LeGoullon is also working on other bodies of work – each with a desert connection. “I’ve always been fascinated by the desert,” LeGoullon says. “It’s always a drive for my work.” For a time, he studied in the San Francisco Bay Area. “I missed the desert,” LeGoullon says, “but I couldn’t quite figure out why.”

LeGoullon studied under Mark Klett and William Jenkins at Arizona State University, earning his BFA in 2009. LeGoullon’s works have been shown in solo exhibitions not only at Modified Arts, but also at Eye Lounge, monOrchid, the Icehouse, and ASU’s Step Gallery (before it was relocated from Tempe to Grant Street Studios).

His solo exhibition last year inside the Hot Box Gallery, one of several shipping container galleries located in Roosevelt Row, gave viewers a chance to shoot spherical clay pigeons. Several photographs of clay targets are also included in the “(Un)Intended Targets” show.

He’s shown works in several group exhibitions as well – including several of Randy Slack’s annual “Chaos Theory” exhibitions at Legend City Studios, and the "Arizona Biennial" at the Tucson Museum of Art. In April, his work will be exhibited at Gebert Contemporary gallery in downtown Scottsdale.

Still, LeGoullon’s shooting experience has influenced more than his art practice.

It’s deepened his “awareness of the bizarreness of shooting culture,” in which destruction is a form of recreation. And it’s challenged his assumptions about those who embrace it. LeGoullon says most of the shooters he’s spoken with about his work are supportive, telling him that “a small group of irresponsible people trashing the desert give all of us a bad name.”

It’s even raised questions about common stereotypes about artists. LeGoullon says that although most people assume all artists are liberal and thus opposed to guns, that’s not the case. “I’ve met and talked with people I didn’t expect would be connected to shooting,” he says. “Significant people in the art world own guns.”

“(Un)Intended Targets” continues through Saturday, February 13, at Modified Arts, located at 407 East Roosevelt Street. A free artist Q&A takes place on February 13 from noon to 4 p.m. The exhibition is part of PhotoTapas, a series of photography-related events being held through February 29 at various locations (most located in metro Phoenix). Find more information on the Modified Arts website.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated from its original version.

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