Sculptor Michael Van Hout prefers to work under the wire, quite literally. The artist works stealthily beneath hanging wire sculptures in his studio at Acme Art, making last-minute tweaks to his newest foray: galimotos.
Traditionally, the whimsical push-toys are of African origin. Children fashion the playthings from sticks, wire and fabric. Similarly, Van Hout uses annealed wire to craft sea creatures and seabirds. He mechanizes their fins and wings so their wheels turn, and it looks as if the sculptures are swimming or flying. Opening at Acme on Friday, art-goers will have the opportunity to test out the toys for themselves using ramps Van Hout plans to fashion between each pedestal.
“It’s such a simple idea,” he explains. “The mechanism and materials behind galimotos lend well to my sculptures and love of creatures.”
Anyone acquainted with his work will see his clear muse. The artist is known for larger-than-life installations, like his shimmering fish at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher or the wire-frame giraffe at Greenfield Lake Park.
Most recently, Van Hout has been moving toward more dynamic sculptures. It started with his series of hanging mobiles, and a bicycle-powered project in progress for DREAMS Center for Arts Education. At DREAMS Van Hout serves as a teaching artist and teaches arts education free of charge to Wilmington youth in need.
His galimotos series piques his curiosity of the kinetic. Sea turtles, sanderlings, flamingos, seahorses, a manta ray, and even a small school of fish move whimsically up and down, back and forth, as the artist demonstrates how the gadgets work. “You know, the idea for this show is one that has been gestating for a few years,” says Van Hout, who actually received his first galimoto about 10 years ago.
The 20-plus year Acme denizen invited two local artists, Trey Moore and John Fennell, to showcase work alongside his own. Fennell first met Van Hout when he was a student in Van Hout’s wire class at the Cameron Art Museum. Van Hout happened upon Moore’s work at nearby Folks Café.
While Fennell and Moore prefer flatter mediums, like canvas and paper, their playful colors and subjects show well next to Van Hout’s waist-high sculptures. “The work really complements each other in interesting ways you couldn’t even plan for,” says Moore, who also teaches engineering and design at New Hanover High School. At school, he works with students to construct and deconstruct architectural and mechanical models.
Moore’s subjects in the show range from portraiture to graphite drawings of everyday objects like pencil sharpeners and packing tape dispensers—mechanized objects in their own right. Inspired by Neo-Dadaist Jim Dine, who notably sketched objects like hammers, saws and pliers in his Untitled Tool Series, Moore has a keen eye for the seemingly mundane.
“Sketching these items is certainly a way to practice,” he notes. “But it’s also a way to cultivate interest in things that you might otherwise take for granted.”
It’s Moore’s simple approach that makes his work so compelling. The viewer is forced to examine objects up close. The artist even takes on portraits and landscapes with a zoomed-in lens. Forms and landmarks fill the canvas with large strokes of color. Take “Raven Rock,” for example, which features angular blocks of browns against the pastel greens of spring leaves.
Artist John Fennell has a similar process. He starts his work with large blocks of primary colors, reminiscent of Matisse’s famous cut-outs. To make the colors pop, Fennell usually coats his pieces—composed of latex paints—with a layer of gloss.
DOWNLOAD THE VIDEO OF MICHAEL VAN HOUT’S GALIMATOS: IMG_0441.
Fennell arrived at latex as his medium of choice interestingly. Call it familiarity. As the former chair of the fine arts department at Cape Fear Community College and a lifelong teacher of the arts, Fennell unknowingly began his career in the visual arts by painting set after set for school plays. Cans of latex paint, he says, always had a way of making it back to the paint store. While the colors may not have been right for a customer’s living room walls, the free paint always seemed right for Fennell’s sets.
“Volunteers would ask me, What color are we using for the set? And I’d always answer: ‘I’ll tell you when I get back from the paint store,’” he wisecracks.
His work matches his joviality. Abstract swaths of neon colors contrast against jagged black forms. Even the Fennell’s earthier tones emanate heat. In his piece “Desert Solitude” (latex paint on canvas), a pale moon hangs over desert mountains, while the sandy earth radiates the lingering warmth of the evening sun.
“I’m fascinated by what colors do next to each other,” he states—though hesitant to call his work “representational.” Those same desert mountains are merely curvatures when the painting is flipped vertically. “For me, it’s all about the juxtaposition of color to create forms,” he remarks.
The same is true for Moore’s work. For Van Hout? It’s right down to the wire.