Artist in the Hardware Store
I know I am not alone in finding trips to the hardware store an essential part of my artistic process. The contemporary artist uses any and all materials- and sometimes you just need to stare at rows and rows of them to see an idea take shape.
I can periodically be found wandering the aisles like a madwoman in a dream- holding up first one thing, then an unrelated thing. Making gestures, talking to the air, measuring things out with my body and against the room… it is a dance of imagination as I create a shape in my mind.
How will this or that object fit into a piece? How could this one transform it? Will it ring wrong when I place it in my imaginary projection or will it sing?
I usually start with my local hardware store, Cliffs Variety. It works on so many levels. Firstly it’s small, but as the name suggests it has a great variety. This means that instead of the miles-long trek from one department to another I can see objects from unrelated departments nearly side-by side- chain next to copper piping, lighting next to tile wood. This not only saves my feet, but it helps me associate things more widely. Also as a landmark of the famous Castro neighborhood, Cliffs is a pretty unique, and more used to the eccentric. Not many hardware stores sell feather boas and rhinestoned eyelashes even if they do manage (as Cliff’s does) to include the more general-store items like fabric and gourmet quality pots and pans.
If I can’t find the perfect thing there I can usually get an idea of the basic category of a thing and I can find it in a bigger store. Also they are used to a wide range of behavior, used to me and I don’t constantly get asked “can I help you?” by people who think I may be trying to lay pipe in my house. I simply have to say “I’m working on a piece” and they leave me to my gesturing and rambles.
“Can I help you?” No, no one can intentionally help an artist think (at least not this one) at this particular stage. Specifications on how a given object will perform maybe. Better if they can give me a good guess as to how unrelated materials will mix. But “help”, no. This is a solo part of the dance.