Originally created 01/30/05

Artist tries to make creations from chaos

Not one for clay or casting, sculptor Patrick Dougherty believes in the simple power of sticks.

For the past two weeks, the Chapel Hill, N.C., resident made his home on a slender slice of real estate outside Augusta State University's University Hall. There, with an all-volunteer crew of about 100, he has constructed an organic piece from sticks, twigs and switches. It started as a simple plan, rendered in masking tape, and has evolved into a compact labyrinth of doors, dead ends and softly undulating walls.

The piece was built by carefully weaving and winding the twigs and branches into an elaborate lattice of crisscrossing lines.

"I used the model to set some parameters, a basic ground plan," Mr. Dougherty said, "but from there we really had to define how it would work, how the limbs would bend. Then I could see the form begin to emerge. I could begin to sense the wholeness of it. From that point, it just becomes a process of staying consistent."

Since 1988, Mr. Dougherty has been building site-specific works that use natural wood found and gathered near the site. His pieces, sometimes architectural and sometimes abstract, evoke a sense of respect for the natural world and man's relationship with his surroundings. Mr. Dougherty said that there is a primality in his art, a looking back toward man's most primitive building skills.

"The skills of messing around with sticks can be found in our childhood," he said. "It's sort of a throwback idea to another period of our lives and perhaps humanity in general.

"I mean, the first building materials for humans were sticks, so it really isn't such a big jump to believe that we all know a little something about sticks."

The ASU piece, like all of Mr. Dougherty's work, depends on the flexibility of his found materials. No string, nails or binding agent is used in constructing the pieces. Instead, they depend on the medium's natural tendencies.

"There is a thoroughness to the concept," Mr. Dougherty said. "There is a certain honesty and, yes, something of a challenge. But the truth of it is, these pieces might be easier to construct this way, because the nature of sticks is to entangle with one another."

Mr. Dougherty said his pieces are intended to be temporary treasures, with a life span dictated by the wear and tear inflicted by the elements. He said most come down within about two years.

"The line between trash and treasure is very thin with these works," he said. "In a public space, a person has to be fairly conscientious to take a piece down while it still looks good, otherwise it will look very bad."

Mr. Dougherty said he developed his technique in his yard after a long search for a material he felt comfortable with.

"I was looking for a method of working that I could feel familiar with," he said, "and I discovered a real resonance with sticks.

"Also, every interstate around every city has acres and acres of land that have already been logged and have all these smaller, no-account trees. So it's a system that works very well, at the moment."

Unlike most sculpting, Mr. Dougherty's creative process isn't a private, internalized affair. His public constructions put his system of working on display. He said that interaction among himself, passers-by and the volunteer crews that help him construct his pieces is part of the process.

"I consider the people that come out really a secondary gain," he said. "I mean, I could have had one person helping me and we probably would have gotten the same thing done. But that wouldn't have been as much fun."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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