Last week visiting artist Patrick Dougherty and his crew—Hawai‘i artist Leland Miyano, museum staff, volunteers—harvested a forest’s worth of invasive strawberry guava saplings from the periphery of Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden. (You can read about it.) There were delays due to crazy rain, but they hauled back their green booty all muddy and a bit bloody and bruised. Then by Thursday they started creating the sculpture.
Dougherty & Co. started off drilling a pattern of holes in the lawn. The artist worked out a plan on paper, and used an empty coffee bag as a 3D model, bending it this way and that to create shapes.
“They are modified squares,” says Dougherty, talking about the foundation saplings stuck in the ground, “like a rectangular frame.” And the structure will have a series of windows facing the street, inviting people to come and explore it, and a series of doors in the back.
“It will have a vaguely human form that has a gesture, a posture—bad posture,” chuckles Dougherty. “We’ll enliven the surface with works so it will have a vitality.” As with all his “stickwork,” Dougherty also intends to give the tower of twigs a “sense of swirling—like an eddy on the side of the road, reacting to the movement on the street.”
Right now the base is complete, and scaffolding now surrounds the budding sculpture like an exoskeleton—and while Dougherty has a form in mind, the work’s final shape is determined as the project progresses. “We only hope the materials do a certain thing, but we have to rely at times on serendipitous behavior.”
The process is a lot like painting, seeing what emerges and going with it. “We’re kind of building a canvas, then painting on it,” says Dougherty.
The tall, white-haired artist sees a volunteer placing a sapling in a red-dirt hole and calls out “Hey, you can cut that off some.” What looks like a crazy tangle of strawberry guava saplings is something very precise to Dougherty, affable, observant, and economic of word. He’s like a character in a Tom McGuane novel (though he lives in North Carolina, not Montana).
Dougherty doesn’t name his pieces until their character emerges. “Once we start seeing what it is, then people say, ‘Oh, it looks like…’ Or someone will say something clever—the title usually arrives that way,” he says. He likes a name that “characterizes it but doesn’t burden it.”
To see step-by-step progress on Dougherty’s artwork, go here. We’ll post a new image each day. Work continues through Feb. 24.
You can hear Dougherty talk about his work himself: Come see and hear his free lecture on Thursday, Feb 16 at 4pm in the Doris Duke Theatre.