July 22, 2014 - 07:20
     
The Bucket Man had vision

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Article Author: Ed Ditto


Danny Hoskinson’s art might have been blurry, but his vision was anything but.

I didn’t meet Hoskinson—“The Bucket Man”—until the night of Friday, July 11th, a few days after he’d passed on. My phone rang and my friend Kevin told me they were holding a memorial service for Hoskinson out behind the Hippie Chic on Highway 64, and I should come down.

There were over a hundred people there. Gentle folks with beards and long hair and body-piercings, many of them smiling and some weeping and others madly twirling hula hoops. Most of them drinking beer and all of them hugging one another.

And everywhere stood blurry plastic sculptures that looked like someone had burnt them out of a recycling bin, en masse, with a flamethrower.

I thought: If this is his memorial service, I wish I’d known the man.

If you didn’t know Hoskinson, you might still remember his art. For a couple of years his—what? Studio? Store? Cosmic landing beacon?—was a waypoint for a lot of us who wandered through Polk County. A sort of weird highway marker that said not, “Here Is Where The Fun Is,” but instead, “Fun Is Where The Here Is.”

In front of his studio, and all around it, was his work. Fantastic figures, human and otherwise, molten and stretched and charred from a medium as humble as I’m told Hoskinson was himself. Grotesque faces like your own reflection in a funhouse mirror. At the very least you couldn’t help slowing down for a closer look.

I guess I should have stopped and talked with him. As he wrote in his “Artist’s Statement”:

“When people see my art for the first time they ask, ‘How did you come up with this idea?’ Actually, my torched plastic has been in development since July 4th, 1987, when I was living in Atlanta. Some friends and I went to Lake Lanier for a picnic. Since my brain already had art on it, I took my lighter and began burning and shaping the plastic picnic utensils. I was fascinated by this medium, and experimented with it for about four years until my needs grew and I graduated to the plastic bucket.”

The single-mindedness he hints at in that paragraph is one that many people chase after and few actually catch. To have “art on the brain” and to spend four years welding plastic cutlery with a cigarette lighter before “graduating” to the plastic bucket—well, it hovers over the edge of craziness.

But there’s a narrow borderland on the edge of crazy, a place artists inhabit, and last Friday night at Hoskinson’s memorial service, I could see the proof of a man who felt right at home in that borderland.

I saw it most clearly in his friends. My God, how they loved him.

They’d set up a few rows of chairs behind the Hippie Chic, and I was sitting and watching a video of Hoskinson describing his methods when a guy with brown dreadlocks walked up to me.

“What’s up with Danny, man?” he asked.

“Um—you didn’t know?” I stammered.

“No, what happened? What is all this?” And he looked around at the people.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “But I’m the wrong guy to be telling you. This is a memorial service for him. You need to find one of his friends and ask them what happened.”

He nodded vacantly and found somebody else, and later on I saw him stumbling around the party with tears in his eyes, devastated.

As I said then and I say now, I’m the wrong guy to be telling you about Danny Hoskinson. But there are good people here in Polk County who knew him well. They’re devastated too, and they’ll tell you why.

Or maybe Hoskinson still can. As he also wrote:

“I have hitchhiked from TN to CA five times before I was twenty years of age. I have lived in ten different states—twenty-two different places and I’ve always called East Tennessee my home.”

And:

“I am challenged to create as I watch these “opportunities” come to life. When I am working, I like to think that I am teaching the plastic to be art and the plastic is teaching me to be an artist.”

Ultimately, though, you have to look at Hoskinson’s figures and try to hear his voice speaking through them.

If you believe God’s an artist, then it follows that we’re exactly what he made us to be. From base matter, surely, and with our fine points and our flaws, but his hand was always deliberate, never unsteady.

Hoskinson’s figures seem to tell us that, with their blurred forms and their big, sad, too-human eyes. We are as we were made, they say. And if you see us as ugly, it’s because you’re looking for ugliness. We’re reflecting your own mindset back at you.

It’s a beautiful idea. We need more people like Danny Hoskinson to remind us of it.


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