Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Marcos Smyth, Ephemeral Sculptor, Tells His Story




After many years of working with welded metals, creating sculptures, I returned to working with wood and mixed media. Driftwood that I collected on walks along the Potomac River shores held a fascination that spoke to me. These forms suggested relationships to each other that inspired me to assemble them into abstract structures.

As negative spaces emerged in these structures, I incorporated other materials to enhance the form and add structural strength. Copper sheet has been a favorite material for the negative spaces. This became a very satisfying alternative to welded sculpture as my current studio was not fireproof.





Some of the wood I found on the Potomac, near my home in Fairfax County, Virginia, was too large and cumbersome to transport easily. I was also running out of room in my yard, so I started assembling structures on site by the river. It was gratifying to work with the materials where I found them, and to relate the sculptures to the surrounding environment. The Zen experience of meditation and “mindfulness,” allowed me to respond to the materials, the site, and harmonize with Nature.

These works were temporary and meant to eventually fall apart and be reabsorbed into the environment from which the materials came.  I made a point not using hardware to minimize the impact on the site. This also precluded the need for storage, rendering the works ephemeral in nature and saved only through photographs and documentation.





A few years ago, an article in the Washington Post, about an artist building a “shipwreck” out of driftwood, caught my attention. Robin Croft was also sculpting ephemeral works in natural settings not too far from where I lived. He was approachable and very receptive to collaborating. Working together made it possible to work faster and bigger, thus supporting each other’s vision. We shared concern for migrants who were being victimized by smugglers and by countries where they were not welcome. (A link to the Washington Post story is at the end of this blog post).


Drowning Refugee, Smyth & Croft, Potomac River

One of our projects was a group of figures walking through the water, at high tide, as if reaching the shore. They could also be seen as marching on Washington, D.C., up river in the near distance. Our most recent project responded to the thousands of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach a better life. We created a figure’s arm and head rising up from the water at high tide signaling for help.

Our collaborative work starts by sharing ideas and agreeing on a theme and site for our project. A sketch will often elaborate on the general structure. When our site is on the Potomac River, the tides are an important consideration since there is a three to four foot affect on water level. Most works on this site are built at low tide so that it stands in water during high tide. 





Collecting driftwood up and down the shore is our first job. Any wood we can carry and use is piled at our site.  Heavy logs “planted” in the gravel anchor the structure. By tying smaller driftwood with sisal cord and weaving additional materials to the anchor, we build a structure that hopefully will survive the rise and fall of the river for a while. Our river site is visible from the George Washington Parkway between Alexandria and Mount Vernon in Virginia. 

We are planning on a new project this summer in a young grove of trees near the water. It will be one of Robin’s “ghost ships.” This site is not visible from the Parkway. We plan on giving the coordinates for those interested in GPS hunts. We’ve had some articles written about our work, so we may get some coverage again.




This summer, I will be installing a welding studio in my backyard, where I can again safely work with metals without burning my house down. Though I will continue to collaborate with Robin and work with wood, I look forward to being able to use the full range of my skills on other works. I am developing some ideas that will combine wood and welded steel, which may be a possible evolution of my forms.




This is Week 17 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Marcos' story today. To connect with Marcos and see more of his work, please visit the following links:

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Washington Post Article