Magazine article Sculpture

Seducing Consciousness

Magazine article Sculpture

Seducing Consciousness

Article excerpt

Birds, butterflies, flying machines, and a sinister, wickedly abstract belt made of empty liquor bottles- Paul Villinski's works are one mechanized step away from chaotic, destructive motion. Though most of his sculptures are made with found materials, in 2014, he turned his process on its head by breeding live butterflies in a New York gallery. This delicate, thoughtful, and poetic installation has since become an example of how art can serve science. Among other influences, witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the ground in New Orleans has had a lasting impact on Villinski's work.

Robert Preece: Why is the idea of flight important to you? What sorts of memories does it evoke, and how do they relate to your work?

Paul Villinski: I was an "Air Force brat." I spent my first 14 years on or near USAF bases. I devoured histories of aviation and constantly built-and crashed-flying balsawood models. When I was 12, I bought a $5 set of plans for a DIY hang glider from the back of Popular Mechanics, built it in the garage, and then discovered that I wasn't strong enough to lift it. My dreams of soaring went on a shelf, and I found my way into the arts instead.

In my late 30s, I began flying paragliders, then highperformance sailplanes and single-engine airplanes. I can't glance out the window without studying the sky and wishing I were in it. So, much of my work has wings of one sort or another. As I grow older, I find that my ideas are increasingly rooted in my childhood. Passage, a skeletal, wooden glider form inhabited by 1,000 black butterflies, is essentially a stick-built model airplane like those I made as a kid, scaled-up to a wingspan of 33 feet.

RP: Despite your interest in motion as a subject, few of your works are kinetic. Is that because you combine flight with other compositional elements? You've also opted to make aesthetically beautiful works. Is that a motivating force?

PV: I'm moved by the intrinsic logic and visual rhythms found in nature-for instance, in the dynamic patterns created by a murmuration of swallows in flight. I frequently try to conceal my own hand-to compose in a way that looks accidental, but retains an implicit, considered architecture. I'm not sure that I actually "opt" to make the work beautiful, or that I have much of a choice, really. What interests me is a kind of beauty that comes through the struggle to bring things from a place of damage, darkness, and loss into a new life. I like the idea of "seduction"-engaging the viewer through a compelling visual experience, hopefully allowing some of the embedded ideas to percolate into consciousness.

RP: You began to use found materials in the 1990s. How did this interest develop, and what things have you learned over the years?

PV: I was still working with oil paint when I began to feel that our lives are choked with too much manmade "stuff." I had to reconcile my impulse to make things with the resistance I felt toward our culture of materialism and conspicuous consumption. I started to notice things that no one wanted, the detritus littering my grimy industrial neighborhood-crushed cans, shipping pallets, lost gloves. These things had a pathos about them that spoke to me, and I wanted to find out what they were capable of. I think of this work as "simple alchemy," an attempt to give these "worthless" objects a new identity, to amplify the stories embedded in them, and to find my own story there as well.

RP: What brought you to use found gloves?

PV: A lost glove is a strangely intimate thing-someone's hand has lived inside it. The hundreds of gloves that I found on the streets of New York became stand-ins for the people who wore them. In 1995, I hand-stitched a blanket, adding one glove at a time as I found them over the course of the winter. Shroud (1995) became a kind of "census" and an image of a ragtag community. "Hands" that were left behind, damaged, and alone came together into an object of protection and warmth. …

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