One Man's Rubbish is Another's Art. `My philosophy? If I could tell you my philosophy, I'd be a writer'. JUNK SCULPTURE
NO, it's not a set from ``Sanford & Son.'' It only looks that way. Trash hangs from the walls, clutters the cement floor, and dangles from every pillar and post. If you're sure-footed as a mountain goat, you'll make it from one end of the room to the other - no problem.
This is Bill Heise's art studio, tucked in a back alley behind the cheese outlet store here in Burlington, Vt.
About three times a week Mr. Heise goes off on a shopping spree. Not to the neighborhood grocery store - to the local junkyards.
There he happily ferrets through mountains of trash and piles his truck high with bounty: rusty bed springs, old shovels, horseshoes, used farm tools, and broken, twisted plumbing. A recent excursion was especially fruitful: He came back with a box of old oil-can openers - eventual ears for cows. He shells out 8 to 20 cents a pound for the new-found trash, er, treasure, and dumps it in his one-room garage-cum-studio-cum shop.
Heise has a new twist on the old ``swords into plowshares'' theme: He beats plowshares into pelicans, people, and peacocks. For 22 years, Heise has lost himself in ``found metal'' - a euphemism for junk to the rest of us.
And at first that's all you see. But after your eyes adjust to the darkness of the studio, images begin to appear like ``Nina'' signatures in Hirshfield drawings or constellations in the stars. Creatures begin to rise from the rubble.
A small flock of life-size metal storks, aloof and elegant with raised scythe-blade bills and tails of rusty harrow teeth, stand against a wall. A pair of fighting cocks with prickly, hay-fork feet and shovels for splayed tails spar in a dark and dusty corner. Near the sliding garage doors, a herd of silly, pop-eyed cows are beginning to take shape.
MOST of Heise's work is breezy and whimsical. Although animals make up the majority of pieces, there is the occasional human figure. A huge crucifix - one of several pieces Heise says he won't part with - shares a wall with a springing buck deer.
``The body is from an old shopping cart someone ran over,'' he explains.
Working in found metal is no hobby for Heise. His works are crated and sent off to some 90 art galleries here and overseas, fetching from under $75 to thousands.
``The time I spend on a piece has nothing to do with what I charge,'' he says. ``Price is really determined by how `successful' it is.''
When he breaks for a workout at a nearby gym, he doesn't even have to lock the door. ``Look,'' he says with a grin, ``people don't even steal the finished stuff. Sometimes some of the local folks will come in, walk right through the place, look around, walk up to my desk and say, `OK, now, this is a machine shop. Right?'
``I've had finished pieces outside in the alley and someone has come and stolen the wheels off a trailer out there. They don't even see it. Besides, what's a thief going to do with a piece of sculpture?''
BUT a lot of people do see the sculptures, and like what they see.
Heise also exhibits at art shows around New England. ``I guess the comment I hear most is, `I'm going to go home and make one of these myself!'''
IT'S not that easy. Heise has been welding away at found metal since 1967. A degree in art education from the State University of New York at Buffalo probably helped a bit, too.
He works quickly, moving from piece to piece, welding a wing on here and a horn on there. ``It's sort of like sketching with metal,'' he says. ``Everything is very linear.''
For those who can see it as something more than fused trash, its appeal can be immediate, and compelling.
``I had made this Man of La Mancha [statue] outside my house that I had put together in minutes,'' Heise says. ``Well, this guy from New York drove up and said he had to have it. I told him it wasn't for sale. Well, he finally offered me $2,000 for it. I said `OK, I'll sell it, but it's not the money. You obviously like it better than I do.'
``After he bought, it he told me he had written the lyrics to `Man of La Mancha.'''
But does Heise have a philosophy behind all this?
``Philosophy?'' he muses. ``I guess if I could tell you my philosophy, I'd be a writer,'' he laughs. Then he adds: ``I'll tell you one thing. I don't feel guilty for what I do. I don't take anything from the environment. In fact, I clean up the environment.
``Besides, it makes people feel good. And then people like you come in and laugh at it, and that makes me feel good.''