Sandi was the official Field agent, but Erin was there, and our host was Clare Graham. Once upon a time, Clare was the head of the Entertainment Art Department at Disneyland. Now he is “retired” and can focus on his passion, recycled art. He religiously scours all the flea markets, swap meets, and garage sales in SoCal to get materials such as buttons, bottlecaps, and Scrabble tiles to build sculptures and furniture.
He told us about how it all started. He was the youngest of many, and had little to call his own. His most prized childhood possession was a roller desk where he could safely keep any oddities that he found and tinker with them. Skip forward a few years, and Clare spent “too long” in school, getting every art degree known to man. He said that a big part of the reason he was in school for so long was access — to ideas, but also materials and workspaces. While working at Disney, he would still tinker with found art, but only in the very little free time he had.
Now that he is retired, he enjoys being able to do only what he wants, at any time he wants. (Which is why he does not do commissioned work.) He has much more time to go find oddities, and now his roller desk is a whole building. The space is very interesting, it was a grocery store and a roller rink previously. It has wood floors and a nice high ceiling giving Clare lots of space to store his materials, completed pieces, and display cases of items he found and kept as-is.
I must have taken a picture of every surface in the building. I walked three laps of the place and found something new and interesting in every corner each time. Sandi told me she would like to hold a scavenger hunt event here because there is so much to look at. Here are some of the recycled art pieces that stood out to me:
One of the first things you notice when you walk in, this is a couch made from pop-tabs from aluminum cans. Clare also made a side table and a chair in the same style. The basic frame is made with rebar, then he laid chicken wire over it. The final look is accomplished by stringing the pop-tabs on wire and wrapping the wire around the chicken wire until it is packed solid.
This is a 60″ concave mirror made by Bausch & Lomb for the US Army during the Vietnam War. There was a set of three made, and they were mounted on vehicles driven out into the jungle and pointed into the sky. Recording the light in the night sky off the mirrors allowed the Army to triangulate the flight paths of North Vietnamese bombers back to their hidden airstrips. When Clare got it, he custom designed the mount you see in the picture so it can be cranked along two axes into any orientation. It is hard to see from this angle, but there is an arm extend from the base to the front center of the mirror where a crystal ball is mounted.
These two sculptures in the foreground consist of orbs made of stuffed animals tightly wrapped by plastic wrap and then held together by twine netting.
Perhaps the oddest of all, this is a cabinet lined with human teeth. Inside are various artifacts of health and fertility. Clare’s story about getting the teeth was very weird. In America, extracted teeth are considered human waste and disposal by dentists is monitored. American crematories burn too hot and bones and teeth are destroyed, but even if they were not, they would still be human remains and monitored. In India, crematories do not burn as hot and the teeth remain. However, importing human remains is again tightly controlled. So there are businesses that take human bones and teeth and make “art” with them. The art pieces can be imported freely. When you receive your art, there is a small instruction card telling you to break up the piece and boil it in water, which melts the other art supplies away from the bones and teeth.
Good to know, in case I want to fake my own death or something!
If you get a chance, you should take a look at this place. I have barely scratched the surface of all the weird and wonderful recycled art Clare has on display. Walk-ins are welcome whenever the front door is open, and they have regular neighborhood events such as live music.