The Quicksilver Mine Co.
© Sonoma's Own
Judson King Smith
November 16—December 30, 2007
I was 4 years old when I became fascinated with the "Crash Bam Garage." Down the block on the corner was a vacant lot with a boarded up and dilapidating garage. I was intrigued by the mysterious interior of this derelict structure. I wanted to see what was inside and part of the appeal I suppose was that it was spooky. It was Los Angeles, 1973. I regularly implored my parents to take me on a walk to the "Crash Bam Garage" so I could peek inside the window and gain an insight into its mystery.
My curiosity with places like this had begun. I spent the better part of my youth venturing into vacant buildings, train yards, decommissioned quarries and movie sets. I was attracted to places that were off limits and dangerous. I liked places that had a story; a sense of history that was visceral and evident in its physicality. The past was intriguing to me. Understanding the past I could somehow know where I fit in and make sense of this big world.
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I was also curious about death and the passage of time. Dinosaurs signified the understanding for me of the concept of "along time ago." When I was 10 years old I had two formative experiences; my father took me to Utah to Dinosaur National Monument and I saw the Treasures of Tutankhamen at the LA County museum. This was the point at which I decided that I would grow up to be an archaeologist.
About then I started building models with my dad. He probably thought it was just something we would do for fun, slap together some sloppy glue covered jet planes and that would be the end of it, but my interest and ability in model building grew beyond a hobby to a level of detail, accuracy and skill that for my age was impressive. I became the youngest member of the International Plastic Model Society, a club of mostly middle-aged Vietnam vets and retirees. This was the first time I felt that I was good at something. This was the point that I decided that would I grow up to be a miniature model maker for the movie industry.
Then I grew up. I ended up in art school at CCA in Oakland. I still had the idea I might graduate and get a job with George Lucas or move back to Hollywood and find a job in the industry. However, Art school didn't have a track for my idea of job placement in the movie industry and the focus became all about the process of making art. I chose my major to be sculpture. My inspiration was the industrial landscape of Oakland and an exhibit I saw of Michael C. McMillen's work at the Oakland Museum. These were points of departure for the formation of what became the theme of my sculpture and a lifetime of exploration.
The aim of my plastic model making as kid was to create authenticity. I focused on WW2 tanks and dioramas. These vessels of war were worn and beat up. Metal was rusty and worn. Paint was faded and chipped. I educated myself about how things age. I looked at how manmade things dilapidate to learn how to recreate the effect of realism in my models. The aesthetic of wear and tear; of history; of a sense of time became a key aspect of my sculpture. Everything I made looked old as if it had a history as a once functional utilitarian object. I became particularly interested in industrial archaeology. The port of Oakland was my playground in the search for sculpture materials and ideas. I wanted to create an experience of the industrial places id been exploring; of a sense of finding treasures of the previous century's industrial revolution. For my senior project I created a large-scale installation disguising a white walled gallery space as a dilapidated abandoned corrugated warehouse. The effect was dramatic. I essentially revisited the "Crash Bam Garage."
In my years after art school I combed the waterfronts finding wrecked boats and maritime detritus. I recalled an article in National Geographic about the Truckee Lagoon, where a major battle had occurred in WW2. At one hundred feet below sea level lay a graveyard littered with aircraft carriers and fighter planes. These became ideas on the shelf for years until I discovered a couple books about lost and discovered submarine wrecks. The first book, Lost Subs covered the history of submarines wrecks and the stories of submariner's lives. The second book, Shadow Divers told the true story of an unidentified U-Boat found off the coast of New Jersey. These books were the precursor to the concept of "Icarus Down." I had wanted to make boat forms, either sculpturally abstracted or realistic since my days in Oakland. I was intrigued with the notion of being the first to lay eyes on a shipwreck, to be a hardcore wreck diver feeling the rush of adrenalin at the discovery of an unidentified submarine. The idea of a miniature scale shipwreck needed to be explored. Though my days of model building were behind me the next step in my sculpture’s evolution seemed to be in the construction of a welded steel miniature submarine wreck. And so it was.
Since its completion in 2005 "Icarus Down" has been exhibited at the Willits Center for the Arts and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
—Judson King Smith