Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
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Patrick Dougherty's Stickwork

Jeffery Beam

Patrick Dougherty.
Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
208 pages, $36 (hardcover).
ISBN: 1568988621

Patrick Dougherty, my neighbor in Orange Grove, North Carolina, near Chapel Hill, has for twenty-five years built over 200 site-specific installations using minimal tools and a simple technique of harvesting, bending, interweaving, and fastening sticks and saplings into sculpted energies both fantastic and homely. This book, long-needed, with texts written by the artist, covers 38 of these legendary nests, cocoons, cones, castles, and beehives in the United States, Europe, and Asia. It places Dougherty comfortably in the ranks of environmental and land sculptors such as Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson. Constructed on site and most destined to disintegrate and collapse, Dougherty's constructs are built using locally harvested materials and volunteer labor. The designs are frequently completed within a self-imposed three-week period. Vibrant, in motion, elegant, artful, witty, hypnotic, ghostly sonic—they soar and swoop across the land or wrap around, through, or over trees or buildings or rooms. If tornadoes were artists these are the buildings they would make; or if humans were more bird-like these would be their homes.

Tangled and alive, intensely communicative—these Tolkeinish Ents testify to an imagination fed by a childhood exploring the North Carolina pine woods. Their titles suggest their whimsy—"So Inclined," "Restless by Nature," "Hat Trick," "Rip-Rap," and "Jug or Naught"—and the community engagement that frequently conjures them. Abundant color photographs document Dougherty's works, and Dougherty's text give a potent sense of the challenges and methods through which they form:

I imagined that I was developing an environmental cyclotron and that I would give the impression that a large particle, a "ball of sticks," had bounced down the stairs and arrived in front of that infernal desk [the receptionist's desk]. A little boy who was part of a school tour during my installation, described the event perfectly. He noted that the sculpture looked like an upside down plate of spaghetti and that the meatball had fallen down the stairs and rolled into the basement.

(Speedball, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, Washington)

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