Visual Arts

Waste Not

With all this talk of going green and cleaning up our carbon footprints, it's no secret the world is knee-deep in trash. Changing old wasteful habits can prove difficult, particularly in a world of heavy industry. But leave it to an artist to find a way to appropriate scrap metal (that would otherwise be left to rot in Fat Albert's junkyard) to create enticing sculpture. Blending heavy scraps with a Native American vibe, the show at the West Valley Art Museum — "Industrial Tribalism: The Art of Dave Kowalski" — takes the influence in an unexpected direction, using found scrap iron, hair, animal skin, cut glass, feathers, and neon. The works are definitely Southwest, but the use of industrial objects produces a modern and fresh aesthetic.

Spring Dancer is an irresistible work made from a rusty car jack and other found metals. A large metal spring rests on the top corner of the car jack. With the spring as its torso, the diamond shape of the car jack acts as the funky legs of a small, horned man who carries a staff and shield. The little guy is adorable and looks like a cross between a Kachina doll and one of the cookie factory gadgets in the movie Edward Scissorhands.

One work that really sticks out is Cactus Wren From Hell. Here, Kowalski uses a branch stem as the base of a lamp. A gnarly knot plagues the otherwise beautifully sleek piece of wood. Instead of smoothing it over, he embraces and plays with this formation. In the knot's crevice, he shoves a glass eye. The simple addition turns what was a naturally occurring shape into a snarling psycho bird. The wrought iron lampshade sits atop the branch. The opaque metal blocks the glowing yellow light from escaping except through small, jagged holes. It may not be the most functional lamp, but its soft glow and hilariously creepy bird make it curious and definitely enjoyable.

Not every work dazzles. Ode to Jethro is a metal post from which furs, beads, and leather tassels hang. Simple and pretty, sure, but it lacks the charisma of the other works. The used materials are obviously of Native American influence but, in the end, the piece looks like a dismantled dream catcher.

It's a small hiccup because, overall, the show is beautifully executed. And, thanks to Kowalski, the city dump is no longer an eyesore — it's a pile of potential.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi