In the throes of the re-use art movement, Colm McCool has both subscribed to and subverted the paradigm. I was immediately struck by his Re-Tread sculpture series, in which he’s taken organic material (salvaged Silver Maple) and made it look like industrial waste. The wood has been carved and dyed a deep black to resemble rubber tires, each of which is titled according to its particular tread: Tractor, Mudbuggy, and Belt, to name a few.
McCool uses natural materials – predominantly wood from stumps, fallen trees and telephone poles – to create sculptures that resemble mass-produced, prefabricated objects and machines. The result is captivating and beautiful, if at first confusing, maybe because we are used to seeing art that attempts to rehabilitate waste and make it pretty. The irony of McCool’s work (which is classified as “environmental art”) is that his deep commitment to ecological restoration and conservation is expressed through nature’s opposite. ?His ?industrial artifacts? go beyond literal associations?referencing environmental issues, commodification and industrial consumption, ” says Virginia Eichhorn, the curator of McCool’s 2005 exhibition tour, Salvation, in collaboration with artist Peter McFarlane.
McCool’s use of discarded wood for sculpture has evolved from his earlier profession as a tree-planter in the clearcut timberlands of northern Ontario. His body of work is diverse in its presentation, but always carries a thread of cultural commentary. Another striking work is a jet engine carved from wood and stained to resemble brushed chrome. “McCool establishes it as a metaphor for imperialism and oppression. The jet engine only functions on full blast. There is no middle ground. It represents cultural prejudices and phobias.”
McCool’s art is not so much trash-to-treasure as trash-to-trash. In turning the refuse of nature into scraps of industry, he produces works that are heavily laden with metaphor and criticism of our fast track towards environmental devastation. The wonder is that rather than feeling depressed upon witnessing this kind of metaphorical art, I am simply impressed by the originality and precision with which he has conveyed his message to the world.