An artist that I keep bumping into, unwittingly, is Patrick Dougherty. Dougherty makes temporary sculptures comprised of twigs and sticks woven together to create towering, curvaceous forms. Most recently I encountered both his sculpture, and unknowingly at the time the artist himself, on a visit to Oahu. Early one morning, I was standing outside the Honolulu Museum of Art (waiting to visit Shangri La) when I came across a group of people assembling his latest sculpture, Footloose. Déjà vu. I still haven't placed it, but I'd been there before. I had seen this. Some memories float in quite clearly, for example, standing on the lawn of a university in the fall watching other assistants cut and place twigs under careful instruction. Other bits remain fuzzy, like where I was exactly and what year it might have been. The full memory hasn't returned to me, but having encountered Dougherty's work three times now, I can't shake the feeling that it wasn't just luck. Fate keeps bringing me back to his works in my travels. It just can't be by chance.
Looking through Dougherty's body of work, I quickly realize that travel is central to their creation. Unlike most artists, Dougherty spends most of his time on-site creating his sculptures, rather than in a studio. He travels across the globe, encountering a new set of volunteers each time, overseeing his vision and educating passersby. The final result is a beautiful, intricate object to study and view, but its creation is just as engaging. More so even, as you encounter a work's construction not knowing what is going on. Your mind waffles between whether this is an ordinary event or a special occasion. It makes you stop, look and reflect on what's going on in front of your eyes.
His work is best experienced, in my opinion, when you are travelling yourself. Dougherty's sculptures, made from organic materials, are ephemeral and only visible for a short time. Our experience with his sculpture, unlike one in a museum, is the same.... a finite moment. You can't go back. So much of our travels are like that, whether or not we realize it. It is a fleeting moment and an experience that can't be recreated. Relationships change, we change, and the world changes around us. Ok, this may seem apparent, but it's so easy to be in the moment or so concerned with making the memory, that we can overlook that this is an unrecoverable moment in time. How easy it is to forget, as I did, if it even happened.
The experience of art is a highly personal one and open to interpretation. Sometimes I walk by and just appreciate a thing's beauty, but I'm more satisfied when a work of art can make me stop, think, and realize something about myself and the world I'm in. It may happen while standing in front of the work, or it may happen back at home, in reflection. I know that the next time Dougherty's work confronts me on a trip, I'll stop and admire its beauty, but I will also remember that this is a moment. One that won't happen again. Next time, I won't forget.
Find out more about Patrick Dougherty, including where to see his work right now on his website. Also, for a better understanding of his life and work, this New York Times article provides great insight.