Works of art often go on a journey before they arrive before your eyes. It's a transformational process that carries the artist along with the work. Artists will sometimes share the process by which they shape their work, as well as their own inner journey. Mixed-media artist Dave Borba's unveiling of a new artwork—in addition to his detailed documentation of the process that allowed it to take flight—are intended to be equally illuminating.
The 35-year-old Salt Lake City native didn’t start creating his mixed-media sculptures until several years ago, when he made a hand-painted devil ventriloquist doll, with a lever that made the mouth move, as a Christmas present for a friend. From there, he was off to making similar items—some based on the theme of devils, some including hearts or other themes at their center. He first displayed his works at the 2008 Utah Arts Festival and has shown in other galleries locally. He was at the UAF this year, repeating from 2010 as a returning award winner.
His works, constructed of wood, metal and other materials, are often whimsical, yet symbolic. “The Butterfly Feeling,” for example, is a human heart with butterfly wings. “It’s about falling in love, that spark on the inside,” he explains.
Borba has worked as a finish carpenter, in commercial and freelance photography, graphic design, illustration and fine art and most recently helped a local industrial lighting company get off the ground. With no formal education in the arts, Borba has been “winging it,” learning from mentors like local metal artist Adrian Prazen.
“The Flight of the Wounded Bird”—the work that is the subject of the evening in The Journey of the Wounded Bird, at Brand32 Design—came to him as an idea in January 2011. While making his way through the local singles scene, Borba says he came to realize, “We’re all wounded in a way; we all have our histories. We’ve all had our hearts broken, [and] run into obstacles, but something drives us to carry on and persevere.”
As with most of his pieces, the bird itself is interactive. You can turn a crank on its base, which in turn rotates a flux shaft, which transfers energy to the ornithopter. The bird, its wing bandaged, pedals a mechanical device to make artificial wings flap. Borba says it’s dedicated to the human spirit’s enduring hope, perseverance, determination and ingenuity. “Even though the bird is wounded, he’s figured out a way to carry on with his journey,” he notes.
In addition to the emotional resonance of the work, there’s something scientific about the piece and his method. All of his sketches and 138 photographs of the work in progress will give an intricate view of his methodical, meticulous process in constructing the piece, which took about six months to bring to completion. His pieces are all completely handmade, including carving, mold-making, assembling and painting. For this piece, he even made his own screws.
There’s something reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of flying machines here, as well as a nod to the folk-art tradition.
He does hope people will interact with the work and not just look, ignoring the warning drilled into our heads of “don’t touch the art.” “We are so detached from each other with the online world,” Borba says, “that I feel any time we can interact with something on a basic, physical level we can get closer to a sense of community again.”
While working on the bird, it became more and more apparent to him that it was a self-portrait, but his perspective on this side of the process has also been transformed. “The original theme of using an artificial means [of flight] is less appealing to me now than the concept of dealing with our wounds and tending to them, and not escaping them,” Borba says. Healing takes time, and perhaps with the distance emotionally from where he was when he began the piece, things look different. But the injured bird on his flying machine is still a brilliant metaphor for the “work-around,” how to keep moving forward in the immediacy of encountering difficulties and could also serve as a symbol for the artistic process itself.
“The Flight of the Wounded Bird” will make the journey from the Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City, where it was part of the Faces of Utah Sculpture exhibition, an annual event in which Borba has been featured before. But this evening, in its transience, is an opportunity to find out what makes an artist tick: “That one night will allow me to be present, in the moment, and answer questions about it, if people want to delve a little deeper.”
DAVE BORBA: THE JOURNEY OF THE WOUNDED BIRD
335 W. Pierpont Ave.
Friday, Aug. 19, 6-9 p.m.