WINTHROP — Rhys Court calls it his unfinished work. An ongoing project. An evolving outdoor gallery.
Bright reds, blues and yellows beckon you into a world of shapes and angles and texture. Of found and recycled objects. Arranged and reshaped. Some spin or sway in the wind. Others shine at night with solar lights.
The 4-acre grass field off a dirt road behind Court’s house outside of Winthrop feels like its own little world.
From a distance, this outside art studio looks almost like a carnival, or playground.
In the spring, it’s a haven for birds for nests and perches.
In the wind, it becomes an orchestra — a windmill screeches, a plastic pipe with holes topped by a glove toots out low, hollow notes.
Up close, to the casual observer, the more than 100 modern art sculptures may look like whimsey.
In one piece, a bright red tire sits on a pile of pink and black rocks; antennae-like sticks topped by tennis balls poke out from the tire’s center.
In another, bedsprings balance on a wooden stump and pallet, with upside down Perrier bottles lining the perimeter; an old, rusty push mower sitting on top.
But these are more than the whims of a playful artist. “What I’m doing is trying to be very specific about what’s going on in my life,” Court says.
“My art is my vocabulary. It’s how I communicate,” he says. “If you call it whimsical, it omits 90 percent of what I’m doing.”
Now 72 years old, Court grew up in the Methow Valley at a time when art wasn’t exactly a well-respected profession for a young man.
In high school, he became interested in photography, and discovered his love of art at Wenatchee Valley College, where he was inspired by an art teacher there. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in Fine Art at Central Washington University, and did graduate work at the University of Idaho, Montana State University, and the University of Oregon.
For years, Court worked mostly on canvas. He showed his work at several galleries, including the Confluence Gallery in Twisp, the Henry Gallery in Seattle, the Breadline Cafe in Omak, the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane and his own show at Gallery 76 in Wenatchee.
Eight years ago, he began building this new world in his backyard and started exploring different mediums.
For a while, he focused on rocks. “All summer long, I brought in about two tons of rock: River rock, that had no funguses on it,” he recalls.
Then there was his concrete era. “I did over a hundred of those. That took a year of very intense work. I’m tickled with some of them,” he says, adding, “Some have gone into the gallery, and I sold maybe 10 or 12 of them.”
For a time, he worked mostly in pastels, and now he’s into the bright, primary colors.
But he never paints the pioneer relics that are incorporated with other painted, everyday objects in some of his pieces. “I’m preserving our history, and doing it whimsically and creatively, I hope,” he says.
The rocks, too, will not be painted if they have lichens on them. “These are some of the oldest living things,” he says, explaining, “I am scientific, and a naturalist. Be careful of nature. And that’s what’s happening.”
He said watching his bird population jump by 50 percent was an unintended but welcome consequence of this outdoor gallery.
More recently, Court has been working with the wind, and adding solar lights to some of his pieces.
“I’m doing an earring series. I’ve done 21. That series is kinetic. It has a lot of movement,” he says.
He’s also working on a sculpture designed as a solar piece. “It’s something to light up at night. In the snow, it will just be a knock-out,” he says.
Through all of his phases, Court does not move from one medium to the next. “I incorporate everything that has gone on before,” he says. So his painted rocks of six years ago surround one of his newer sculptures of wooden pallets, representing a Native American council fire.
Court started creating his sculptures close to his home, not sure how people would respond to the sculptures he was creating.
“The reaction has been positive, positive, positive,” he says. People driving by slow to a crawl when they see the colorful yard.
To Court, each piece has to stand alone, and work with those beside it. It’s been his exploration of a genre called installation art.
“I have over a hundred standing art pieces, some are 18 or 20 feet tall, some are 8 feet and some are 3 feet, and they all need to be in harmony with each other,” he says.
Court says he doesn’t know where his art will take him next. But over the next few years, he expects to make his way to the fence lines with new sculptures.
“I was born an artist,” he says. “It’s a God-given talent that I must honor and respect. I take it very, very seriously.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have fun with it. He hopes others do, too.
“How do I hit the target on humor?” he asks. “The hardest thing I do, I think, is to show or demonstrate a sense of humor that is not trite or silly. That is actually a true universal. Where you don’t have to know the language. A Frenchman or a Guatemalan looks at it, and they’ll smile, too.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512