2013-06-05 / Arts & Entertainment News

The fanciful art of Lawrence Voyteck

Souped-up Strats, streamlined cars and found objects

WEATHER VANES, USED BRUSHES WITH PAINT permanently crusted in the bristles, car fans, pieces of wood: what most people would instantly categorize as junk, Lawrence Voytek sees as something more.

He sees their possibilities.

And he creates visual magic with them.

Twenty-eight of his pieces are on exhibit at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery in Fort Myers, in a solo show.

“For maybe 12 years, we’ve hosted the annual Arts for ACT (artwork for auction),” says Ron Bishop, director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery & Special Collections Gallery at Edison State College. “And Lawrence would donate a piece that was one of the most interesting pieces in the show… I know what an amazing fabricator he is, and how technically accomplished he is.

“I think everybody wanted to see more of Lawrence’s work. And this is a nice opportunity to do so. It fits well in that space,” he says, referring to the gallery in the campus’s Rush Library, where the gallery is temporarily housed.

Captiva Relic Lottery by Lawrence Voytek 
COURTESY PHOTO Captiva Relic Lottery by Lawrence Voytek COURTESY PHOTO “It’s very good work. It’s fun work. He thinks outside of the box, so it’s fun to see.”

When asked what he calls his works — sculptures or assemblages or something else, Mr. Voytek replies, “Bob (Rauschenberg) thought of things as combines, a combination of stuff.”

And that’s what his work is too: odd, whimsical, unexpected combinations of various materials, often metals.

“We live on this planet, we have a relationship with stuff, materials, what things are made of,” he says. “We have certain tastes in what we love or are attracted to. I like to put unusual components together.”

Mr. Voytek, who worked as a fabricator for the internationally renowned artist for 30 years, says he divides his life into three sections: before Bob, during Bob, and after Bob. (Mr. Rauschenberg died five years ago, on May 12.)

“With Bob, I was lucky that we worked together on making his art and making sculptures,” he says. “He was a huge influence on what I thought about the world, and what matters.”

Mr. Voytek was also influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades, in which, for example, the artist used a bottle rack as a sculpture, and placed a bicycle wheel on a stool.

And he loves the work of Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, who made motorized sculptures.

“Tinguely made a machine (‘Homage to New York’ in 1960), that was in the Museum of Modern Art garden, that destroyed itself,” he says. “It spewed out drawings, it started a fire. There were motors, things spinning, things breaking off. To hear Bob tell the story, he was one of the guys helping to make it. He made a machine that threw out 50-cent pieces.”

Mr. Voytek studied at the Rhodes Island School of Design and at the San Francisco Art Institute, but after school, much of his learning came from working with Mr. Rauschenberg. His impulse to tell stories with his work also comes from Mr. Rauschenberg, he says.

“He always linked unusual combinations of ideas in his work, so you’d come up with your own fresh interpretation of what’s going on,” he says.

But still, hearing background stories about some of the pieces on display can be fascinating.

“Super Strat,” a violin with a model of a Chevy racing motor attached, belonged to his daughter Alexa. The violin is a student grade instrument he bought at a flea market for $50, he says.

“It was missing pieces and parts,” he says, but it was perfect for his purposes.

He added a figure at the top of the neck that he purchased in Nice, France — a blue figure with a devil tail and a golden headpiece.

“This is like hot rodding stuff,” he says, adding, “The sound of a V8 engine is just as musical as the sound of a Stradivarius.”

A nearby piece, “Titanium Toy,” is a steam shovel.

“My son, Zachary, would play in the sand with this,” he says.

The cylindrical base of the machine is a titanium AMRAAM missile part. He bought it years ago when he saw an ad for scrap titanium in the American Society of Materials magazine. Though security is even more stringent now, back then he had to fill out a letter giving his name and address and explaining what he intended to use the material for. He said he wanted to make art and toys out of missiles.

Ironically, though many of the works are interactive and have moving parts, signs in the gallery forbid touching the artwork.

“Lassie Wondering Which Way to Turn” shows a titanium toy collie on top of a metal tower with a tire at the base. Mr. Voytek spins the piece, demonstrating that Lassie can indeed, turn 360 degrees.

At the show’s opening on May 17, Mr. Voytek drove a car to the gallery, which he then parked outside. He’s thinking of bringing it back on the show’s last day, June 22.

“It’s an art car,” he says of the postal jeep he purchased for $1,000. After buying it, he removed as much as possible from the vehicle. The car, which includes titanium headlights and steering wheel, looks like the very definition of streamlined motion.

“Duchamp said a speeding automobile is as valuable a piece of art as is the Pieta,” says Mr. Voytek.

‘Captiva Relic Lottery’

One of the more recent pieces on exhibit in the show is “Captiva Relic Lottery,” created in 2012.

It has a mesh lottery tumbler in a wooden frame, with a base that includes a chunk of wood and a cooling fan from a car.

“A lot of the pieces and parts were Bob’s,” Mr. Voytek says. The wooden piece of wood, with bent nails and peeling white paint, came from his old fishhouse.

The tumbler contains little objects: one of Mr. Rauschenberg’s erasers, a welding torch head, a yellow light bulb, shells from right outside his Captiva studio. There’s also a toy alphabet block the artist kept on his table in the studio, as well as a small chunk of concrete from the studio itself.

“I backed into the studio by accident,” Mr. Voytek explains.

The tumbler also contains a small white feather that blew in when Mr. Voytek was assembling the piece.

On top of the wooden frame holding the tumbler is a weather vane with a paint brush at one end, and atop that, a bird with outstretched wings and a light bulb for a head.

Another recent piece in the exhibit, “Maybelle’s Song,” pays tribute to another Captiva artist: the late Maybelle Stamper, who referred to her own paintings and prints as “songs.”

Created with brass and bronze, and an antique pressure gauge, the piece is a head with a giant conch shell and a slender, elegant leaf emerging from the brains, with an antique pressure gauge on top. From the round O of the open mouth extends a flower, with its stamens aggressively sticking out.

Ms. Stamper was an artist in New York City in the ’40s, he says, but her husband left her and she moved to Captiva, where  “she lived like a hermit.”

Her property abutted Mr. Rauschenberg’s, and when she couldn’t pay her property taxes anymore, the artist took care of them and paid them for her.

“Bob had immense respect for her,” Mr. Voytek says, “her prints, her drawings, her little sculptures.

Her art was very spiritual, mysterious. She needed things fixed at her beach cottage. But during the day, she didn’t wear clothes. She didn’t hear well, so when you went there, you had to yell, ‘Maybelle!

Maybelle!’ Then she’d wrap a towel or tablecloth around herself.

“She could tell if a storm was coming in two days’ time. She was a really mystical person. She’d walk the beaches, and she’d give me pieces of metal that she’d find.”

He looks at the work.

“It has a lot of Maybelle’s Captiva spirit going on,” he says.

He looks around at the gallery.

“I like mixing metals,” he says. “I like the nature of what metals are. Each metal for me has its own kind of engineered possibilities.

“I find things, I cut them up and use them (in different combinations.) “I didn’t want to make art to sell, I wanted to make high art. I wanted to go beyond and feel something that is close to who I am than what the market would support.” ¦

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