Michael Van Hout: Wire
6/17, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
ACME Art • 711 N. 5th Avenue
Anyone who frequents the Aquarium at Fort Fisher is familiar with Michael Van Hout—at least, they’re familiar with his creations. The marine creature skeletons he bends into shape hang gracefully from the ceilings, wait in corners and sit on shelves, paying tribute to the animals living there. Yet, they are only part of a growing collection consisting primarily of simple black wire.
“I’ve been working in wire sculpture for 30 years,” he says. “I think that when most people think of wire, they think of whimsical stuff, like kids flying a kite. It can be kind of predictable. What I want is to have something that people are really captivated by, something with depth and texture like a sketch, that catches the essence of the subject.”
He points specifically to his face sculptures, which he models after his friends. “I’m really proud of that direction in my work,” he says. “For something like wire, I think I’m really capturing the essence of the people with their noses, eyes and cheekbones.”
Even more impressive is Van Hout’s ability to see the potential in something ordinarily used to hold together hay bales—stuff he played with in his childhood. It all culminated a fascination with art and sculpture, as he began working as a groundsman and picking up thin metal pieces whenever he could as a teenager. His hobby of twisting them into pleasing shapes eventually took a more formal place in his life when he attended UNC-Greensboro to study fine arts. He graduated in 1981, and today he still sticks to the most basic techniques. “I don’t use welding or anything high-tech,” he says. “It’s all based off folk art. I like to keep it simple.”
For such a long and distinguished career, Van Hout still considers himself a work-in-progress, as he constantly challenges innovation. He left his comfort zone on a recent project with UNCW.
“I had a chance to do a piece for their marine biology building,” he says. “I first proposed the idea of the fish mobiles, but they said that was something they had seen before. They were interested in something more original.”
So Van Hout turned to his sketchbook for a fringe idea. He finally found it on the back page. “I had drawn these spheres that reminded me of microscopic particles,” he says. “I translated that into pieces that are over 36 inches wide. They’re made of big, thick wires with lots of different cages and shapes.”
Ultimately, it came together as a mobile, moving and changing shape with the slightest gust of wind. “It’s probably going to occupy the whole center of the gallery,” he says. “I’m really excited about it. They are based on microscopic life, anything from pollen to seeds to diatoms. It’s a big change in subject matter for me, and the movement also adds a great element. I think the students will really enjoy it.”
For now, Van Hout has another presentation to prepare: a solo show at ACME Art Studios. The enormous space of the 5th Street location provides a perfect setting for his sculptural work.
“I also have stuff at New Elements Gallery,” he says, “but I really can’t show this kind of work there or at other galleries because I need a staging area. [ACME] allows me to show my larger pieces.”
One of his works is a wire version of a wall portrait, complete with frame and inner subjects. “I guess you could call it a ‘wall relief,’” he says. “Then I’ve got zoo animals, lots of them, the star of which is a big zebra.”
Also new to the mix is Van Hout’s attempt at figurative art, shown mostly in the portrait and in the busts of his friends. Van Hout seems pleased with the life he has given to objects that most people use for coat hangers.“This is a good direction for me,” he says. “But there is always room for improvement.”