E s s a y   o n   t h e   p o l e p l a n t e r ,  h u n t e r  s  t h o m p s o n   a n d   t h e  g r a v i t y  o f  e n s e m b l e s  


by    T y l e r  R.  F e n n



'Poleplanter' is an example of me turning myself inside out. An impetus for this exercise, at the time, was the news that Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had shot himself.

I had recently arrived in Britain from the Caribbean and like a good Englishman, I went to the pub with companions at 4:15 every day. The pub was a hub, a hive of discussion, deliberation, singing, rumour, backslapping, riotous laughter, backstabbing and hearsay (all of the beautifully common and familiar attributes of a small town pub and perfectly English) Especially on a drizzly day.

Most would leave at around seven for a proper English meal of fried cod or sausages, mash, and mushy peas. We never did. We ate bouquets.

I was in a funk with my sculpture. The ideas and forms that I was self conditioned to making and reworking and reinterpreting were not transferable to a different place, another country. The animals, the things, and the environment of Antigua could be carried into the rural blanket of England, but for me they were no longer relevant.  I was making sculpture that was familiar to me, a bag full of ideas from elsewhere, instead of making work that was informed by my immediate surroundings and experiences (This is very difficult for an artist; these abrupt breaks, changes. But I suggest it. Try yourself and your work against different backdrops. Even the Brits beloved Bacon was lost outside his comfy London)

So I was making nice sculptures, but man, where was I?  I was in ancient Greece because that is where artists go for ideas when they can't walk outside and sketch cows.

It is imperative that an artist applies pertinence to their art. An imperative of art is to contain pertinence.
Pertinence is an imperative of art.
 'centaur and sphinx' England 2006

And then somebody informed me over a picnic table outside The Vaults that Hunter Thompson shot himself in the head and was dead
I rebooted, took leave of my companions and the King Arthur's of Uppingham, "I'm going to go make the most pitiful sculpture I can" I said.

And I did. I tried. I worked the night in a factory the workers said was haunted and would not be caught there after dark (they weren't keen on day either).
I had set myself the goal of consciously expressing  feeling in a sculpture. I generally make what I see, and let my 'inner' come out through the process of creating. This time I reversed it, and purposefully pursued building emotion.

The sculpture that's called hunter, or 'fledgling minotaur' (it remains untitled) was the first result of this. It was modeled in one long night and, though my curiosity was somewhat piqued by the sculpture, it wasn't...enough. What I wanted to show was of no importance, what I couldn't help but show was what materialized. The 'fledgling minotaur' is a mature figure, exhausted maybe, but certainly surefooted.

As a sculptor, you study your object carefully (both the object in front of you, and the object of your endeavor) but also you concentrate equally as carefully at the space that the object encompasses.
The negative space of the fledgling minotaur is an irregular polygon or a trapezoid, in fact it's almost a perfect parallelogram and therefore quite stable, unchanging and tranquil.


The Staff. The Stick. The Pen.

Hunter Thompson was a personally damaged man, no different to most. He utilized crutches to compensate. His attire, his sunglasses, his cigarette extension, his guns, his booze...all crutches. But his biggest and best crutch was his typer, his pen. His pen is what propped him and allowed him to share himself; and he threw his pen into his field of journalism like a lance. The third leg of a staff, though an easy gadget to get a two legged sculpture to stand up, took on more importance because of these considerations in these two sculptures (it is also my own personal nod toward Moses...a real Moses that I knew in Antigua, but that's another story)

So the Poleplanter was my second attempt at forming the hopelessness and exasperation and dismay at hearing of Hunter's suicide into a sculpture.
The Poleplanter is not a portrayal of Hunter Thompson. It is an abstract that came from my psyche after hearing the news of his suicide, which just so happened, in its timing, to amplify already exasperated feelings.

I made it, or more precisely, 'sketched it out', over the second and third nights, when the pounding of stamping machines, the gawking of employees and the glare of naked poster girls were drowned by dark. The sculpture inherited from its predecessor, in its form, the abdomen. The severe cut that crosses the gut of 'fledgling minotaur' is more severe in Poleplanter. In fact, the guts of Poleplanter are completely carved out. But unlike the first sculpture, the second thrusts at the viewer a scalene triangle, the severe change of the delta.
 'fledgling minotaur' England 2006


'poleplanter' England 2006

Poleplanter is not my title, it is the description that my friend Glen gave to it early on...it stuck. His naming of the sculpture reminds me of somebody staking a claim or planting a flag, which actually portrays confidence and is completely opposite to the intended attitude. I could consider the sculpture a failure in this respect. It doesn't completely portray exasperation, or dismay, in fact, quite possibly the opposite. The figure, though crumpled, is still on its feet. (versus being on its knees which is a common cliche that artists lean upon to express woe)
It is the hero in Jean Giorno's novel 'The Man Who Planted Trees'. This is one of the wonderful things about art.

The Poleplanter is 26 by 26 by 73cm tall and weighs about 20 kilos. I've been told that it would take a strong room to hold it. Great compliment.

I've also been reprimanded over it; My friend Scrimmy in Antigua, after seeing photos of it, chastised me;
'You need to make that figure stand up!'...which I subsequently did.
'standing figure' England 2006

I like the Poleplanter and I like that others like it, or at least respond to it. This is very important to an artist and anyone who tells you different is a liar. The Importance of Poleplanter, for me, was that it broke a chain tethering me to my past, and allowed me to go on investigating my work with a different attitude, a freeness. I was able, after this piece, to go on and make what I consider to be seminal pieces. Work that speaks to the industrial and ancient past of Britain. For example, these two little guys; I refer to them as monolith tablets, and call them 'miniliths' (think Telford, think Stonehenge)

Miniliths' hand and band saw cut steel, palm sized, England 2006

The Poleplanter reignited within me a childlike fascination with my medium.
What did Nietzsche say? Something about how the goal of an adult should be to achieve the seriousness of a child at play?


What was once the 'hunter' has become the shepherd. 

While renovating my cottage over the last couple of years I have been living with my sculpture; staring at it, moving it, reconsidering it, re-purposing it (through necessity or through play) and many pieces that were once individual sculptures have gravitated towards others over time and are now part of ensembles.  The 'fledgling minotaur' finally found its place amongst the field, the fold.




A most important thing about art for an artist one that any artist would do well to keep in mind

Is that one can be (and should be) terribly impressed by the work of others, but it is one's own work that truly teaches
Picasso always stressed when asked that it was his own work that informed his next

Now back to Hunter S. Thompson, look at the result of his actions

Elevated above the cows and grinding gears, stabbing a lance into the land of Woody Creek

And the Poleplanter? 

Burying seeds in the gray matter of my attic.



'the pastoral' Wales 2013  view as triptych


 tylerrfenn 2007/2013

b a c k