OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Have you ever stumbled upon an old piece of wood or a rusting metal object, something discarded or trashed, and you saw some kind of beauty in it? Maybe you noticed some interesting pattern in the wood’s grain, or maybe you just recognized its potential as a canvas, a base, or a jumping-off point for your imagination.
That mentality is at the heart of burgeoning arts collective Creaturerealm Oklahoma, a group of tightly-knit veteran artists and creators bringing a showcase of their collaborative works to Oklahoma City University’s Norick Arts Center from April 8th through May 27th.
The group works largely with found objects and reclaimed materials, not just because of the inherent aesthetic potential, but also because of what the materials themselves can represent.
“A lot of it has to do with environmental objects and spending a lot of time with reclaimed and reused material and making them valuable again, making them expressive of human nature,” said painter, sculptor, and Creaturerealm co-founder Nick Lillard. “It almost always revolves around biological living, the concept of being alive, the ‘creature.’ That’s where it all ties together.”
Mind and Body
Exploring that concept of organic form and biology is a central theme throughout much of the work on display in Creaturerealm’s showing at OCU, even in the more abstract or esoteric pieces.
The first work to greet visitors entering the gallery is the powerfully colorful “Grow Glow” by Chris McDaniel, painted, like many of the artworks in the show, on a slab of reclaimed plywood. It meets your eye as a wild, pastel-colored explosion of sharply edged shapes against an almost fiery, pink-hued backdrop, but a second glance reveals a tree, its trunk grown crooked but its branches reaching up and bursting with floral life represented in all the colors of the Oklahoma springtime.
The same can be said of the oil works by October Merrill, focusing on what at first appears to be twisting and overlapping cords or wires, but the title “The Mother Provides” quickly changes the perspective, conjuring instead a full spectrum of biological possibilities from the umbilical to the worms beneath the earth.
“It hits some darker tones,” Lillard admitted. “We can really make some weird creatures, but I just love to make something that takes on a life of its own. That’s my favorite thing.”
Form and Function
Nothing in the gallery takes on a life of its own better than Cosimo, the Celestial Wizard.
Cosimo is a massive, ten-foot, animatronic “sculpture” that Lillard designed and built largely out of reclaimed materials as varied as milk jugs and even Lillard’s own older paintings, the canvases chopped up and collaged together to make the wizard’s flowing robes. Buried lighting elements shine through to form his eyes, and strings of lights entwine throughout his clothing.
Currently, for display purposes inside of the gallery space, Cosimo’s head has been removed and placed next to the towering body where it can be better displayed and appreciated for the materials and mechanisms that went into creating him. This is by design for this show to focus on Creaturerealm’s processes and sensibilities, even though the Celestial Wizard has made appearances in his completed, moving, gesticulating form in the past.
“We do these performance pieces that are kind of like sculptures,” Lillard said. “Cosimo did some small stuff, for example at Tinker Fest for Science Museum Oklahoma. That was our first real interaction with the public as Creaturerealm.”
“The People’s Chair”
In order to showcase the group’s ability to create something interactive and inviting for visitors inside this delicate gallery space, they’ve built what Lillard refers to as “The People’s Chair,” a backlit, wrought iron throne surrounded by huge illuminated panels. These panels, artworks in their own right titled “Asteroid Leaves,” are comprised of numerous carved, sculpted wooden pieces, each painted and forming a fluid-like visual atop a foundation of clear plastic “clouds.”
Built into each panel is a collection of lighting elements, illuminating the full pieces from behind. A small coil of copper wire wrapped around the throne’s arm acts as a button to change the coloring of the lights, allowing guests some control over the aesthetics and ambiance of the room itself.
True to the group’s style, even this huge, multi-piece, interactive installation is still built primarily from reclaimed materials.
“It’s probably at least 80% reclaimed materials,” Lillard told me. “The wood panels on the front are plywood, the plastic elements are milk jug plastic, even the wrought iron in the chair itself is made out of an old gate that we found and repurposed.”
Though the planning of this show is intended to spotlight the materials and processes that the Creaturerealm Oklahoma artists use for their creations, Lillard makes it clear that the group has much larger philosophical intentions as well, starting with raising awareness of the importance of reclaiming and recycling .
“There is a relationship between what we do and the concept of the places where we live,” I explained. “Thinking about how people are going to be living in the future with limited resources and not much at their disposal, but they’ll probably have things like plywood, and so here’s how we’re going to carve it and make it interesting in a way that can be unique or aesthetically pleasing.”
Teaching people about the possibilities of art and how it can be found in the world around them is an ongoing part of Creaturerealm’s goals, from Lillard’s own work as an arts teacher for students of all ages to member Ashley Morrison’s work with diversity training and activism with the group.
“A lot of what we’re talking about is making things accessible,” Lillard said, “trying to make things like sculpting accessible and applicable to people’s lives.”
Lillard explained that that was the thinking behind the group’s name from the beginning.
“We’re all creatures. It’s all about being a creature and finding your own space, you know,” he said. “And I like the fact that you can almost hear ‘create your realm’ in it, too.”
“Creaturerealm Oklahoma” is on display at Oklahoma City University’s Norick Art Center from April 8th to May 27th, free and open to the public from 9am to 5pm every day.
Thursday, April 14th will see an official opening event and reception for the show with the artists themselves available from 5pm to 7pm.
Last Updated April 8, 2022, 10:15 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor