The room where all John Whipple's materials are kept has a frosted glass window that reads "Surgery," and it seems apropos.
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That whole glass half empty, half full thing could get a bit complicated with someone like local artist John Whipple. The first two options are far too unimaginative, limiting. There are so many other possibilities.
I discovered John via his wife, Lynn, who I often cross paths with during her plein air painting stints in Central Park. I went to an open house at the McRae Art Studios space just off Webster Avenue and have been delighting in John’s creations since.
You grow older and often develop a greater appreciation of your own perspective. I don’t think that was necessary for John, or artists like him. They’re there to inspire the rest of us.
John, who just recently brought home Best of Show honors from the New Orleans Jazz Festival, describes his work as “assemblage style sculpture,” noting the limits of mixed media. “I try to keep the widest, broadest terminology because I don’t know from time to time (what I’ll be doing),” he said. For me his work is imagination on a slide beneath the microscope, equal pieces Albin Polasek, Jackson Pollock and Dr. Frankenstein, with some of History Channel’s “American Pickers” thrown in. He captivates and treats, and might just awake your inner child.
He says much of his current style began with “art cars” and the circus-inspired creation he made for an old Cadillac. He was given a woodcarving tool by his parents, which led to making a circus-looking figure that he used as a hood ornament, which dictated the fate of the rest of the car, eventually including wings.
“I made this little weird guy, really crude,” he explained. He continued on securing it to the vehicle, “As soon as you take that first empowered move of drilling a hole in your car, here we go… I bolted him on there and you could see people were like ‘What the hell has he got on that car?’”
Around this same time, Lynn was attending craft shows, including a large one in Baltimore each year. The show didn’t include paintings, which had been John’s primary focus. “So, I’m thinking that I’m already making these weird little objects, already spending the money to go up there, so the next year I just made up these little sculptures and did well with them.”
John’s attitude strikes me as one of a motivational speaker, explaining, “I think that you should be open to things. You have to allow yourself to be pretty bad at something for a while to get good at it.”
He’s recently acquired a welder and has begun making molds. With it brings talks of “another ball you throw into the juggling mix,” and “the excitement of learning something new and playing with a new medium. I want to be open to the possibilities.”
John, his wife and mother, primarily a jewelry maker, are now spread across five studio spaces at McRae. The room where all his materials are kept has a frosted glass window that reads “Surgery,” and it seems apropos. Inside the space are stacks, drawers and shelves of vintage items waiting for their next incarnation, from doll heads to machine parts, some with parts of items already used. He holds up a hockey mask that now has wheels attached and looks like a chariot. He talks of “launching points” with pieces and refers fondly to a piece I’d seen previously, which was a large metal architectural remnant or tool that had one of his delightfully peculiar wooden figures atop, perched and waiting to perform a belly flop into a pool below.
“My problem really is that I like to work out of the chaos,” he says. “It’s probably not the most efficient way to work but I see the need to have a lot of things going on simultaneously to get into the flow. Do I prefer it that way? I don’t know. But it seems like once I have five, six, seven, eight pieces going I can go to one, work on it. I’m seamless then. If I have just one piece going I don’t work well. Just a byproduct of how my brain works.”
“I’ve definitely tried to move myself into a childish zone,” he explains. “When I’m in that place, I’m laughing and good things are happening.”
In John’s studios, I’ll confess, I see nothing but good stuff all around.
Clyde Moore operates local sites ILUVWinterPark.com, ILUVParkAve.com and LUVMyRate.com, and aims to help local businesses promote themselves for free and help save them money, having some fun along the way. Email him at [email protected] or write to ILuv Winter Park on Facebook or Twitter.