A n aged pair of beige high heels sits atop New Haven sculptor Silas Finch’s workstation, their insoles covered in rose thorns collected, cut and placed by tattooed fingers. A 1930s vintage brassiere lies to one side, soon to be thorned as well.
With these pieces, Finch intends to capture “pain, pressure, the uncomfortable and the balance of acceptance.” They represent a portion of the work Finch will have on display this July at Cassandra Complex Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which will be followed in August by a different Finch collection featuring his gonzo found-object sculptures.
New Haveners are lucky; we generally don’t have to travel far to see Finch’s work. He takes appointments at his studio (39 Church St, just below Crown) and currently has several items delighting passersby in the front windows of The Grove’s annex (71 Orange St). One of those pieces, an airplane built around a metal electric fan base (others in the series feature metal pencil sharpeners as their “engine” casings) and poised atop a repurposed wooden tripod, is part of a series of aircraft sculptures. The plane flies an oversized banner emblazoned with various mini-portrait photos of Richard Nixon on one side and John F. Kennedy on the other; a triumphant Nixon cutout, with arms raised, sits in the pilot’s seat.
Sources of inspiration and sculpture material include old Life magazines, Hartford Courants and 1940s-1970s photojournalism in general—and the aircraft’s photos are no coincidence. “The life saga of the Kennedys and the Nixons is of huge interest to me,” he explains. On at least one occasion, Finch’s artwork added, if only a footnote, to the saga it referenced: a relative of Stavros Niarchos, shipping rival of Ari Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy’s second husband, bought a Kennedy-themed piece from Finch as a gift for his mother.
Magazine clippings are a component of many of Finch’s works, including his skateboards, which harken back to the artist’s skater youth. Various objects are Frankenstein-ed onto different boards: vintage view cameras, tea spoons, small lanterns, medical tools and supplies. Clippings, however, are a constant among the skateboards, with Finch using them, sometimes integrated with the added objects, to “try to create a three-dimensional story.” Some of his earliest works are figurines—for example, a hulking menace with pipe fittings for shoulders, small light cans for wrists and tufts of white and grey hair popping out from the edges of a masked, wolf-shaped face. Two columns of beautiful old dining knives stick blades-out along a curve from the mechanistic beast’s back. It’s a toy every child would be desperate to play with, and which absolutely no child should.
A studio tour is crucial. (Email first to set up an appointment.) In person, you can’t help but be struck by the ingenious engineering of Finch’s sculpture. He eschews welding, preferring not to permanently alter a component’s form that way. Instead he employs his hands and simple tools to make a work’s elements fit and stick together (piano keys are one of his most-used “fasteners”), sometimes even spending weeks to find the best natural bond. Found objects comprise the bulk of the materials behind Finch’s sculptures, and you can find them all over the studio—hung high on walls, stowed in cubbies and drawers, splayed out on tables. You can also find jars of bolts, screws and nuts, and whatever strange materials—for example, those rose thorns—are piquing his interest at present.
Finch’s studio proves that he’s a multitasker, as several projects are in progress simultaneously. Retro clippings surround a skateboard on a table in the center; a pile of molted horseshoe crab shells fills the corner of another table; the thorned heels occupy his desk on the other side of the studio. He says he works best when he is working on at least three sculptures at a time.
Sometimes taking a break from a piece is enough to help him realize it’s not working. “I’ve quit on a piece, picked it back up, turned it upside-down, and found a direction to something great,” Finch says, and that’s a pretty good if inadvertent summation of what he does with the world’s discarded and undervalued objects.
39 Church Street #3H, New Haven (map)
Studio open by appointment.
Written by Will Gardner. Photographed by Dan Mims.