Architectural Digest Posted August 31, 2014
Clare Graham’s Dazzling Found-Object Sculptures
Clare Graham’s dazzling agglomerations of found objects are on view in a new exhibition at L.A.’s Craft & Folk Art Museum
How does one characterize Clare Graham’s wild agglomerations of bottle caps and buttons, soda cans and Scrabble tiles, guitar picks and swizzle sticks? Are they art (Outsider? Naïve? Folk?), craft, design, or perhaps some newfangled hybrid? Those nebulous labels and the antiquated distinctions they imply don’t adequately describe the magical creations of Los Angeles’s beloved Da Vinci of Debris. Perhaps one should think of him as a modern-day Tony Duquette—a mad genius transforming quotidian bits and bobs into objects of pure wonder and delight.
Art aficionados and craft connoisseurs can now judge for themselves at a dazzling exhibition mounted by L.A.’s Craft & Folk Art Museum, “Clare Graham & MorYork: The Answer Is Yes.” Organized by finger-on-the-pulse curator Brooks Hudson Thomas, the show surveys the fruits of Graham’s obsessive collecting and object-making over the past 40 years, showcasing his work in an environment designed to evoke his kaleidoscopic studio cum wunderkammer in Highland Park.
Graham’s work is clearly informed by his travels in the worlds of art and commerce. He studied sculpture at California State University Long Beach and subsequently spent 25 years at the Walt Disney Company, where he was a senior art director for the brand’s global network of theme parks. Fun fact: He began his career at Disneyland in 1968 as a costumed “cast member” playing parts like Goofy and Br’er Bear.
“It was a seminal experience,” the artist recalls. “That job taught me that sweating for a living wasn’t really what I wanted to do.” Still, one has to imagine that there’s a fair amount of perspiration involved in making a chandelier with tens of thousands of old buttons meticulously organized by size and color. “That’s what I do,” Graham says with a chuckle. “I awaken people to the potential of garbage.”