Artist makes analog clock sculptures from found items


Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.53.57 PMLA GRANDE — A new exhibit at Art Center East will pay homage to all things analog. “New Works by Stephen Wadner” features analog clocks made from found objects.

Wadner, of Union, pushes back against the increasing digitization of the world by using items that wander into his life from post-consumer waste streams — thrift stores, garage sales, the recycling bin.

Wadner transforms them from something discarded into something desired with calculated artistry, according to a press release by ACE. Clock-making is an old art form, one that is part engineering and part aesthetics. It’s this combination that draws Wadner to it.

“I think about clock-making as a design problem more than an artistic problem,” Wadner said. “I start with items that I am drawn to for whatever reason, then ask myself, ‘I know I like this, now what can I do with it? How can I make this stuff look like it belongs together?’”

To answer those questions, Wadner employs a technique called associative thinking: he seeks out connections between the aesthetic elements, the nostalgic and cultural associations, and the less tangible charms of his selected materials.

Wadner said he has a strong interest in design principles. By paying close attention to the way things — such as color, line, texture and shape — enhance or detract from each other, he builds a conversation between them, full of subtle cues to the viewer that add depth and cohesiveness to the finished piece.

“It’s harder to do than it looks,” according to the press release.

Wadner said his associative thinking process is similar to the “yes, and” rule of improvisation.

Consider improv comedy, where a team of comedians perform a series of humorous skits without a script or even a basic outline. They begin by asking the audience for a word — something that happened to them that day, something they saw or ate. The audience shouts out a few options, a team member quickly selects one, and the show begins. The first person to think of something jumps to the center of the stage and initiates a scene based on that word. As they see opportunities to build on it, other team members join in, fleshing out the details (and, if all goes well, the comedy), sticking to the golden rule of improv: “yes, and.”

It’s basically forbidden for an improv comedian to jump into a scene and say “no.” Refuting or challenging the existing story kills the comedy and the momentum. Improv of any sort (jazz, poetry, dance) is about building from what you have, not forcing it to be a certain way. The “yes, and” rule is just as valuable to the visual arts.

Wadner uses the same principle — constructing a relationship between unrelated objects, capitalizing on their intrinsic qualities instead of bending them to his will. This requires Wadner to do a lot of close looking — peering beyond an object’s established identity to the shapes, textures, colors and undefined characteristics lurking underneath what he already knows about it.

“The result is a collection of highly original, polished, often whimsical clocks, each with a unique story to tell,” the ACE release said. “Looking through Wadner’s exhibit, it’s fun to dissect and identify the different parts of each clock — like the 1950s vacuum cleaner body and the speedometer joined together to create the piece, ‘Fast Idle’ — as well as the more subtle artistry Wadner incorporates into his work.”

Wadner said he takes pride in the fluidity of his work.

“My goal is to make it look seamless,” he said. “I’m happy with a piece when it looks like all of the parts make perfect sense together.”

Getting that result is integral to his design process. Half the art of Wadner’s clocks is invisible to the viewer. In order to create the facade of effortlessness he wants each clock to have, Wadner must devise fasteners and structural components that are, by their very nature, hidden.

“Part of the magic of his work, part of what makes the clocks look so ‘right,’ is that Wadner leaves behind no evidence to remind you they were constructed at all,” the release said. “In this way, his timepieces become timeless: ticking away in a place that is as oblivious to its cast-away past as it is to its re-imagined present.”

The exhibit will open with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 2. The exhibit runs until Feb. 23. ACE is located at 1006 Penn Ave., La Grande. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit and opening reception are both free and open to the public. For more information visit or call 541-624-2800.

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