As part of his show at the Community Arts Partnership gallery Gerry Monaghan is showing a video he made to capture one of his sculptures, crafted lovingly with chair cane, toothpicks, latex paint and Elmer's glue. It rests several feet away against the window of Center Ithaca space, twirling slowly on its single string, the color of cantaloupe, crafted like a spider web.
“When you see the movement—you get the sense that they just don't ... ” he breaks off, and we watch it spin slowly on the screen, intricate geometric forms, like a kaleidoscope, forming and reforming before our eyes.
Monaghan has been working with toothpicks since he was twelve, crafting “little Buckminster Fuller kind of tetrahedrons and geodesic kind of building,” he explained. “That's what all kids do, you know.”
His work still reflects those miniature forms, but now uses chair cane and coffee filters; his pieces press into windows and dangle magically from the ceiling.
The theme of this show is “Bowery and Basketry,” which reflects what Monaghan has been thinking about in recent years. A bower is a Dutch word that means home or farm. Bowerbirds, a species from Australia, create opulent “bowers” to attract a mate.
“A lot of what I've done with my art, with my life, has been about creating a beautiful home for my wife and my children,” he explained. “Obviously my sculpture kind of relates to basketry, but [also] represents the history of people in my life. In a sense these are all a commentary on that idea of building community, interrelating people. You, and him, and her, and somehow we all end up with something that's complete and whole.”
This idea drives Monaghan's process as well. Starting with a square base, to get a sense of the dimensions of the piece, Monaghan curves the chair cane into the desired shape and then carefully installs the toothpicks. It usually takes over 100 hours from start to finish. He knows he's done when there's “the sense of balance.”
“Nothing can be added, and nothing can be taken away. It's just—it's done,” he says.
Recently Monaghan has been experimenting with mobiles. One, resting far above us, reflects conversations Monaghan had with a performance artist friend in New York City, who was thinking about astronomy at the time.
“The onion is optional,” Monaghan said, referring to the vegetable skewered in the center of the piece. He gave the vegetable a little push with an umbrella, and it spun into life.
“It's the sun,” he explained, as it whirled frantically, pushing surrounding circles into motion. Finally the two larger figures outside of the planets began to move. “These are two figures, they're in a dance ... They're always twirling, unaware of what the planets are doing to us.”
The mobile is held together with beads, unlike the other sculptures. Recent pieces rely on innovations like beads to work with “yin, with rhythm and meter.”
“It's added a whole other level to the work,” Monaghan said.
Monaghan has also installed a piece outside of Center Ithaca on the Commons. Above painted board around the new construction site, several different shapes made from half-inch dowels create their own bower. He hopes to make it into an art clothesline, and to put a table in front where passersby can paint and draw.
“I love when people say to me, “Oh I can't draw!” because it's not about drawing for me, it's about making marks that add up ... It's a collection of marks ... If you look at Rodin's figure drawings, it's all splishy slashy, washes of colors with inks, and then he'll find the figure in the marks that he made. He'll articulate by just adding a line or two, and then ... Stop! That's genius.”