Tuesday, April 7, 2009

RichArt Yard Art...Centralia, WA

RichArt, aka Richard Tracy, will give you exactly five minutes of his time for free. Ask him anything, take a whirlwind tour, snap a photo. But when your five minutes are up, RichArt is done with you -- he has work to do.
Of course, if you endow him with a $5 donation, he’ll give you another 55 minutes -- the extended tour, even a little time to create your own art in his workshop. We’ve managed to squander our free five with pleasantries and camera equipment wrangling, so we cough up the five bucks (Rich sez if we mail him a nice photo or newsclipping, he’ll send a $5 rebate).
The number "5," not usually in the Top Five of numbers with mystical significance, is the unifying digit in all of RichArt’s calculations.
The outsider artist -- in the sense that most of his work is at the mercy of the elements -- turns out to be an affable though high speed tour guide, yapping with that manic Dennis Hopper Apocalypse Now velocity, pulling us along from sculpture to sculpture.
"This is rebar I got from the college. They had all this leftover rebar and I asked if I could buy some of it. When I told ‘em I wanted the bent pieces, they let me just take it." He shows us how the metal rebar bush is tethered to a real hedge -- "It's gonna pull that hedge right out of the ground."
The Art Yard wraps around Tracy's home like a narrow corridor starship, but open to the sky. Embossed schematics in pre-form styrofoam are glued to the walls. It's that blocky white stuff used to pack electronics and cameras.
Rich, now in his 70s, has been building his Yard Art for over 20 years -- since the early 1980s. He taught for 10 years in public schools. He also spent 30 years as a janitor for a Yard Birds home improvement store before the chain went bankrupt.
Rich has a compositional eye that is always on the move. He discerns patterns of form in the junk he’s glued together, and finds different ideas evoked depending on the light. "Light is everything," Rich says.
One sculpture, an unevenly tiered styrofoam high rise, is best viewed only in moonlight, Rich advises. It glows. "When you see it in moonlight, you go down on your knees and your spirit says 'wow, that's good.'" Our 55 minutes will expire long before the moon rises...
Among all the styrofoam and metal abstractions is a large mutant cartoon bird sculpture -- a Yard Bird! “Yea, that’s a Yard Bird. There were 20 of ‘em the company owned. They'd disappear and end up on the courthouse lawn or in a school yard. Someone would call the store 'Hey Yard Birds. Come get your Yard Bird.' We were all over bringing them back.”
The sides of the house itself are curiously devoid of his signature styrofoam. We mention how one of our readers took us to task when another tipster called it the Styrofoam House. "Oh no, it WAS a styrofoam house, until my wife came out and knocked it all off with a broom." His creativity isn't entirely unfettered.
His covered workshop is where visitors can try their own hand at creating art from foam, beads, and assorted scraps. Rich shows us a piece left behind by a 5-year old girl (it wouldn't fit in the family's car). He's amazed at how good it is. The girl was in tears, partly because Rich invokes a "No Talk" policy during creation. The girl and he communicated in sign language and scribblings on a slate.
Rich shows us his inner sanctum -- a basement workshop entered via steps leading under the house. He has a variety of art projects underway, some he's happy with and some not. "The magic has to work."
A handful of visitors stop by each day -- but they are quality visitors, Rich points out. "Earlier today, a man was here, in tears." "He said he really needed this... that it was like... and I said stop! Don’t tell me! Just keep crying." What is it about Rich and his Art that makes people cry? "Another couple came by, I liked the wife. The husband, he had a camera, and was all over the place, while the wife just stood here and wouldn’t come in, like she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But she was the one I liked."
Still dry-eyed, we realize our time with the Art Yard Man is almost up. A final revelation comes before we are dispatched: Rich says his Will stipulates that within five days of his death, a friend with a backhoe will come over and completely eradicate the Art Yard -- within a five hour period.

203 M Street, Centralia, WA