Michael Heaton

Nothing can save your life like a really good art attack


I have a collection of heavy metal on my desk at work.

It's not heavy metal music. It's actual heavy metal. Most of it is not that heavy. It's rusty washers mostly. I park a couple of blocks from work. Every morning on my walk in, I look for heavy metal objects for my collection.

It's my art project. I call it "Heavy Metal Part One."

I'm still sad about an art project I never followed through on. During my daily runs I would always find writings on the ground. I collected them. There were love letters, grocery lists, notes to the mailman, driving directions, homework that fell out of kids' backpacks. It was just the stuff of everyday life. And I saved it. I had an idea to hang the pieces of paper on mobiles the way Alexander Calder did.

They would hang in a darkroom illuminated from above by small spotlights. People could come in and examine the random writings as they spun. They would walk away feeling a sense of the world, the old and the young, students and parents, people coming and going. The installation was my way of taking "trash" and turning it into a vision of the world. Then one day I became fed up and pitched it all.

Which is why I'm not an artist.

I always thought that if I won the lottery I would become a painter. I would paint pictures of Jesus and my wife naked. Not together. Those would be my two themes. Artists need to have themes. There's the heavy metal theme, too. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with the metal. But I'm determined not to pitch it. I just need a couple of welding lessons.

My initial interest in collecting the detritus of life to make art was the result of my meeting with poet, collagist and assemblagist Steven B. Smith a dozen years ago. Looking at his work made me realize what a treasure I had thrown away in that paper collection. Smith woke me up to the availability of opportunities to make art. He finds stuff in the street and makes it art. He sees art in the everyday. Smith attempts to make sense of the jumble of images with which we're bombarded everywhere we go. At the same time, he loves to bombard the senses with his phantasms of plastic, paint and found objects. It's great stuff. You can see some of it yourself by going to www.agentofchaos.com.

Smith has an exhibition coming up May 3 called "Sacred Lies - Love, Honor, Truth and Family - New and Used Work" at the Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood. I visited his studio and asked Smith to tell me about what he does and why he does it.

The 57-year-old first gave me a little background. He was born in Wallace, Idaho. He was in the Navy, attended Loyola College in Baltimore, majored in English and philosophy. His art life began with poetry. The idea for assemblage came one day when instead of painting a key on a canvas, he picked it up and pasted it on the canvas. I'll let him tell the rest.

"My life has been one filled with error, and yet overwhelming beauty. I seem to be one of the luckiest people I know. Art, poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction - to me it's a helping hand. So many times, something one of the greats (Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens) wrote in the past has reached out, showing me I was not alone in this journey. I'd like to offer the same helping hand to others. My art purpose is to make life better, more moral, more fair.

"Sometimes I scold the greedy, bad guys; sometimes I praise the good. My art is like a spiritual signpost for others on the journey. I finally learned that sometimes it's OK just to make people smile or show them something beautiful, because both beauty and smiles help smooth the nastier ripples. I want to do good. I want to be good. I want to spread goodness about me. Unfortunately, I've the same mean darkness within that the bad guys I'm scolding do, so it's somewhat the pot calling the kettle black. I do art because it talks to me . . . I write poetry because it eases my soul. I've made 13 pieces of art in the last three weeks, and I've just felt high the whole time."

The night I returned home after visiting Smith's studio last week, I was in the kitchen washing a pan when I looked at a painting on the wall by our friend Mariah Winniarski. It's an oil painting of a cat sitting on a table between a vase of flowers and a bowl of oranges and lemons. It looks like a Cezanne. Then I noticed in the next room our cat was sitting on the dining room table by a vase of flowers and a bowl of fruit.

I don't know why, but it made my night.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

mheaton@plaind.com, 216-999-4569

© 2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

agent of chaos    what's new    collage    poetry    artcrimes
10 top fotos   10 top collages    10 top illustrations   10 top poems