Sculptor fashions compelling works of art from ordinary things


Jim McFarland sees beauty in the ordinary.

A mound of dirt with brown grass, a mountain pass on an overcast day or a wasp's nest on a post become ideas for compelling sculptures.

They have simple names like "Nest" (1994), "Watch" (1991) and "Perch" (1991). They're made of such materials as concrete, metal, rocks, bamboo and wood.

"I think of myself as a constructionist sculptor. . . . I put pieces of material together to form artworks," says the bearded sculptor, who is an art instructor at Harford Community College. "The material's just as important as the form."

Mr. McFarland is exhibiting several of his works in his first solo show in Washington at the International Sculpture Center, through Aug. 11.

He also calls himself a referential sculptor, because his works refer to objects and landscapes. They are abstracts of structures, Mr. McFarland says.

"I play around with a sense of the organic and natural in conjunction with man-made structures and forms," he says.

For instance, his work titled "Shift" (1991) displayed in the college's art studio, is a three-dimensional relief which represents a mountain that has been sliced to make room for a road. The horizontal rectangle that Mr. McFarland has formed depicts a scene of sky, ground and below ground with materials such as slate, wood, wire and ceramic pieces.

"I think he really has a way of making objects, simple shapes, into abstracts that become metaphors for human feelings and experience, says Sarah Tanguy, an adjunct curator at the International Sculpture Center. "The surfaces [of Mr. McFarland's work] are very tactile . . . You want to touch them."

While other artists' abstracts may be appreciated for their formal qualities, Mr. McFarland's works can be appreciated for both formality and warmth, Ms. Tanguy says.

"There is an engaging, endearing quality about Jim's sculptures," she says. "They create an empathetic link with the viewer."

The 35-year-old sculptor is no stranger to exhibiting his works. They have been displayed in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

"As far as a professional venue, this [Harford County] is a wonderful place to be," says Mr. McFarland, who lives in Bel Air with his wife, painter-sculptor Kathleen O'Brien, and their 17-month-old son, Grant.

The Michigan native arrived in Harford County in 1990 to teach at the college after he received his bachelor's and master's degrees of fine arts at Michigan State University.

"I always knew I'd be applying to be a faculty member [at a college]," he says, adding that his move to HCC has been good for him.

"The art faculty is really strong," he says. "Also, it allows me to work on my own work and inspire students to do their own dreams."

Mr. McFarland isn't working on any particular piece now, having just completed two sculptures prior to the June 23 opening of his Washington show.

"Ideas develop over time," he explains. "Sometimes it's a year or two before [a work] comes to fruition."

He and his wife also are adjusting to having a child in their lives.

"Right now, we are seeking a balance between creative time, work time and child-care," he says.

It can take him from 35 to 300 hours to complete a piece, he says. Depending on the size, his works range in price from the upper hundreds to $2,000 or $3,000 each.

Mr. McFarland says he is always looking for source material -- "whatever tickles the Muses." For instance, a construction berm at the college tantalizes him as "a visually and tactically beautiful form, structure and experience.'

As Mr. McFarland gets ready for the start of the fall semester next month -- he teaches five classes, including studio art and commercial art courses -- he says he won't be in this area forever.

"There are things I'd like to accomplish," he says with a smile. "But I haven't accomplished everything here I'd like to."

The International Sculpture Center is at 1050 17th St. N.W., Washington. The center, in Suite 250, is open to the public by appointment from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Information: (202) 785-1144.

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