The word "wire" trips on itself right out of the gate: Fraught with imagery of fences and telephone poles, it's all about boundaries--where one thing ends and another begins. But when it gets all twisted up, that's when wire can become downright dangerous, as you'll find when two different yet interconnected Old West-flavored exhibits open this week at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in conjunction with the center's annual cowboy-poetry fete.
To artist Reed Weimer, barbed wire--which he lazily refers to as "bob wire," just like the old-timers do--is the essence of what wire is all about. Weimer's used barbed wire texturally in his work for years, but if you want to see that, you'll have to wait: This time around, it's Weimer's corroded, undulating collection of barbed-wire display boards--a gift from his father, who bid on the thirteen-panel collection at an auction--that will grace gallery walls. The carefully platted rows of Watkins Lazy Plate, Wormley "Y" Bars and A.J. Upham Snail Barb, among others, rusting against a yellowing background, constantly remind the viewer that containment was the mother of their invention. "There's a lot of symbolic heaviness to bob wire--it marks the end of the free range and the cattle drives and the beginning of homesteading," Weimer points out. "The line between the two eras is a bob-wire line." Most of the samples carry patent dates from the late nineteenth century.
Weimer is a collector almost by accident and stresses that there's no obsession involved, though he'd always admired the barbed-wire boards he'd see on the walls of out-of-the-way diners and gas stations. "I thought they were cool," he recalls. "I'd run my finger between barbs. To me, they're like a little piece of art." But he originally collected only cast-off wire as an art material. "You used to be able to go around and just find them at the end of a fence--there'd be a coil hanging there," he says. (He also learned that "if you stack it on top of your car, it completely wrecks the paint.")
In contrast, wire sculptor Tim Flynn has spent his career transforming wire into flights of fancy. What started as a rainy-day activity using stuff in the kitchen drawer when Flynn was in the fourth grade blossomed when he studied art in college. "Everybody was doing bronze casting, and that was boring," he reminisces. "I always collected junk, so I pulled out some stuff and made a car I could steer. And I thought, 'Hey, wire's an idea,' and that became my medium."
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In not-so-stark juxtaposition to Weimer's wire collection, Flynn's Western-flavored sculptures, also on exhibit at the center, do their durnedest to break all those wiry rules. His Calderesque concoctions of horses on wheels, pistols, cowboy boots and a big old guitar are just a small sampling of items he's fashioned from the stringy lengths of flexible metals over the years. "I've made just about everything out of wire," Flynn swears. He's even made his own barbed wire, though he says he's never sculpted with it.
Flynn doesn't foresee the day when he'll tire of twisting wire freehand into the detailed shapes of animals, musical instruments and what have you. "I intend to do it forever," he says. Here's one guy who won't let wire fence him in.
Bob Wire: Barbed Wire From the Collection of Reed Weimer and Cowboy Wire by Tim Flynn, January 14-March 14, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 303-431-3939. Opening reception January 28, 7-9 p.m.