Frozen in time

U&lc: Upper and lower case: the International Journal of Typography published by International Typeface Corporation, was one of the publications that I received while in college and for a few years afterwards, though I was not a graphic designer. This tabloid size journal printed on newsprint ran upwards of 100 pages each issue and celebrated the benefits of new type design featuring experimental typographic compositions, along with illustrations, cartoons, imagery and stories. Production ran from 1970 through 1999. I eagerly awaited each issue though my father, a food industry businessman, made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t going to pay for college and have me graduate with a “worthless” art degree. I remember the day very well when he made his decision known. It was fall 1972 on parents weekend at college. We were walking around the campus and we arrived at my favorite class: sculpture. I had shown my parents two pieces I was especially proud of: a clay and wooden piece that looked like a piano keyboard, and a black Naugahyde and styrofoam sculpture I had created in David Smith’s studio.

The sculpture I was most proud of consisted of 88 clay keys on a wooden plank.  It was a piano keyboard. But the keys were squished and misshapen because I had “played” Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the soft tan colored (clay) keys, and had then separated the keys one by one and had them fired in a kiln.  When hard, they were re-assembled and super-glued onto the flat brown wooden plank. The notes had been played on the keys and were transformed into permanent hardened shapes.  The new squished keys gave tangible form or expression to the musical score.  They were frozen in time. The keys were no longer rectangular, as they had changed shape and form as they were malleable clay and not stiff ivory. The sculpture depicted the effects of time and aging by using a musical score.   The keys were originally soft like a baby’s face, hands and skin. Once soft and smooth, life occurred and the misshapen keys became expressions of loss, hardship along with some joy.

My mother was totally supportive of my self-expression and creative endeavors.  One construct that comes to mind was my first outdoor sculpture made of construction materials stolen from a nearby home construction site.  To this day, I don’t know what the materials are called, but they were each about four feet long, rusted metal with ceramic nubby rounded pegs about 1″ long.   There were probably forty of these pegs on each row and there were four or five rows on each total piece weighing about ten pounds each. I painted each of the pegs rainbow colors of green, red, blue, yellow, orange, alternating. I in turn took each unit and tied them to a vertical metal bar.  My mother loved it and the entire assemblage about four feet square was positioned in front of an unsightly air conditioner unit which was underneath one of the several wraparound wooden decks of our modern one floor, flat roof house.

Inside the house, next to the piano in the living room, hanging on the light greenish-grey grasslike colored wallpaper was another rusted metal piece of art.  I guess this was my rusted art period!  Shaped like an “L” with weld marks around the entire edge, it was about three feet long and about 10″ wide at its maximum width; otherwise it was only about three inches wide.  At the bottom was a small two inch metal wheel with hard rubber on its circular edge. It was permanently affixed to the bottom right side of the metal.

On some Saturdays when I wasn’t taking piano lessons, my mom would drive me in her first car, an Opel, to a scrap yard nearby in Framingham, where I would climb and scrounge around the scrap heap looking for objects I would take home and work with for other artwork, and pay for with my own money.  I liked being on my own free from others exploring. Other days after school while waiting for my dad to return from work and we could have dinner, I toiled away in the downstairs basement, and just to see what happened, burned large blocks of white styrofoam into black plastic shapes that woukd harden in front of my eyes.  I probably burned some of my brain cells at the same time by smelling the toxic fumes.  Maybe this explains why I am the way I am.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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