Artist Andres San Millan has been collecting driftwood along the Hudson River shore for years. Initially attracted to the material because it was free, he became enamored of the twisted, abraded forms and the wood’s connection to the Earth’s natural rhythms: the elemental forces of gravity and inertia that cause the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, the Moon’s orbit around the Earth and the tidal flow of the river, a movement of water inscribed on the wood itself. The driftwood also sparked the Barrytown artist’s interest in the history of Native Americans and their harmony with nature. He began relying more on intuition in his artistic process – “putting this stick together with this stick and seeing what happens.”
Five or so years ago artist Rita Dee commissioned San Millan to create a rider out of wire for one of her equine driftwood sculptures, a project that led to the making of his own modestly scaled driftwood pieces. San Millan’s latest work, however, is without precedent in size and concept: a colossal 13-foot-high crouching figure, which he has titled simply MAN.
Based loosely on a small clay sculpture, MAN reflects San Millan’s classical training with the figure as much as his feeling for nature. Unlike most colossi, which tend to be monumental, MAN is sprightly, inherently active. Knit out of driftwood sticks that resemble lines, loose strokes that describe forceful movements through space, he is energy anthropomorphized. The body is carefully articulated, the tension of the muscles palpable. Balanced on the toes of his flexed right foot and his left forefinger, he seems to spring from the earth, even as his left foot is planted firmly on the ground. The left arm thrusts downward, muscles tensed and the hand spread, with forceful, pointing fingers, expressive as a Broadway dancer’s. The aquiline nose and full lips, formed from carved pieces of driftwood, resemble the features of an ancient Greek warrior, jutting from an armature of sticks that suggests an Attic helmet.
San Millan said that the size of the figure was predicated on the plentiful three-foot lengths of driftwood that he found, which comprise the straight areas of the limbs. Larger pieces were used for the spine and torso, which support the sculpture’s weight. While he initially planned not to tamper with the wood at all, in the end he cut and sanded some of the pieces, and attached them with screws. “I said to myself, ‘Andres, you’re 54 years old; do what you’ve always wanted to do,’” San Millan explained. The piece, constructed in his driveway, where it towers over the garage, took about two months to make, with finishing touches still being applied at presstime.
On Saturday, January 26 at 2 p.m., MAN will take to the road: He’ll be moved from San Millan’s Barrytown home to Taste Budd’s Café, in Red Hook, a mile-and-a-half away, where the sculpture will be displayed through 2013. San Millan said that he and 20 or so friends will push and pull MAN, which a neighbor estimates weighs 400 pounds, on six-inch casters (if that doesn’t work, San Millan has a backup plan to construct a cart with large wheels). If you would like to help move MAN, contact the artist at (845) 758-0695 or email@example.com. San Millan said he didn’t feel right “just putting it in a truck, as if art were a product. Art can be the way we live, not something that’s produced in the studio and sold at a gallery.”
He noted that the muscle-powered journey from Barrytown to Red Hook will be a kind of performance, akin to an ancient ritual, in which men humbly transported their sacred images on foot to the holy place, as a way of reinforcing the tribe’s identity. “The physical aspect of people working together creates community,” San Millan said. “There’s a bonding element of people doing something together, as opposed to being isolated and surrounded with electronic devices. This thing may not mean much logically, but it has a certain force.”
A public reception will follow the arrival and installation of MAN on January 26 at Taste Budd’s Café at approximately 4 p.m. Kazio Sosnowski will film the event. The snow day is January 27. San Millan and his wife, Marguerite, are the co-founders and creative directors of the Cocoon Theatre, a nonprofit visual and performing arts organization based in Rhinebeck. For other examples of San Millan’s work, visit www.figureartscape.com.
Installation of Andres San Millan’s sculpture MAN, Saturday, January 26, 4 p.m., Taste Budd’s Café, 40 W. Market St., Red Hook, (845) 758-6500. For more about the artist, go to www.figureartscape.com or call (845) 758-0695