Usually, after I’ve finished a major deadline, I need to take some time off to regain both physical and creative energy. This month was no exception –after completing work for a show in New York AND creating new work for Open Studios the following weekend I was exhausted!
Mare Island Naval Shipyard
In my search for fun and new ideas I decided to visit Mare Island – an old naval base on a peninsula in the San Francisco Bay opposite the city of Vallejo. I had visited once before with an architect friend who had to survey the old barracks building which was slated to be turned into luxury condos. (Followers of my work may remember a series of paintings I did back in 2004 of the empty spaces I found in the dormitories, classrooms and shooting range of this rather grand Italianate building.) Since then the recession hit and most of the development on the base ground to a halt. On this visit I was hoping to take photos of old industrial buildings and the dry docks on the East side of the peninsula where the shipbuilding industry had been located.
A friend and I parked just off the freeway and got on our bikes to explore the base. The first thing we noticed was how deserted some parts were and how “edgy” it felt. I was glad that I wasn’t alone. Old buildings stood empty – some burned out and most with their windows smashed. But in other parts of the base there were lovely old colonial style buildings on a small university campus; a beautiful wooden chapel with Tiffany glass stained windows; enormous industrial steel and glass factories which used to house the steelworks for the ship-building; and smaller scale Victorian brick industrial buildings. There were cranes galore and lots of old de-commissioned ships being taken apart. The nicest surprise was when we approached the old barracks building, as yet un-developed, to find hundreds of goats on the adjacent hill - if the sky had been blue it could have been a Palladian villa in Italy.
Barracks building with goats
I took lots of photos of general “urban decay” – peeling paint, old equipment, stained brickwork etc.
And then I discovered my next source of creative inspiration: fragments of old pier structures which had been pulled out of the water and were lined up along the roadways by the shipyards. Old blocks of concrete with rusty bolts, water stains and old wooden fixings adding a surprising anthropomorphic aspect. As soon as I saw them I knew that they would find their way into my work. I’ve been wanting to work on paper for a while and hopefully these Pier Fragments will be my springboard.