Simone Wilson thinks plain old junk is beautiful: rusted oil cans, ancient tin ceiling tiles, broken pieces of antique furniture, barn doors, bed springs, second-hand nuts and bolts. “I’ve been a scavenger and a collector since I was a kid. It’s my love of old stuff, all the salvaged materials from old buildings that are no longer standing or are falling down, all those materials that would normally end up in a landfill. I just can’t stand the thought of that. So I snatch it up and save it,” the self-taught Asheville artist says.
“I’m an assembler. I don’t see a chair. I see something else. I think of ways of bringing back the lives of these parts. If each individual piece in one assembled work of mine could talk, there would be so many stories. Each piece has a story to tell. That’s what inspires me and, I guess, why they became these figurative pieces,” adds Wilson.
Her pieces, while sharing the salvaged components common in found object art, are unique, taking the form of marionettes. “They’re art. I call them marionettes for lack of a better word and people seem to know what marionettes are. They do have moving parts. You can position them however you like, but they’re free-hanging pieces,” says Wilson.
Wilson’s didn’t start out creating marionettes. It developed over time, beginning with her experimentation with found objects as a budding artist in Athens, GA. “I would just cut wings out of metal and put them on a spindle and turn them into a garden bug. It just evolved into what it is now, more figurative and more anatomically correct, taking on more and more personality,” she continues.
Her favorite sources for parts are junk yards. “It’s got be rusted. What draws my eye is the old stuff. If it’s shiny, I’m not interested. I love the texture and color…old color, peeled paint, old steel, antique ceiling tin,” she says. Close behind is her love of old furniture, turned wooden pieces, old carved chair and table legs, which end up as arms, legs, feet, shoes and heads of her figurative pieces.
“When I was younger and had a little more free time, I would go into old barns and people would let me take out stuff. Now, I have people dropping off chairs and stuff on my front porch. Buckets of found objects that they think I can use,” adds Wilson.
To begin a marionette, Wilson sifts through her found objects and starts assembling, creating a personality as she goes along. “The materials for each piece dictate what happens. The marionettes essentially come to life as I’m building them. It’s all done by hand. I use a plasma metal cutter. I cut up the metal pieces and fashion them into clothes and wings. I use wood tools to cut up pieces and turn them into arms, legs and heads. Everything is pretty much wired and screwed together. I want a moveable, kinetic thing, so I use wire, screws and bolts,” she says.
About halfway through, when her figures start to come to life and take on a character of their own, Wilson starts the process of giving a piece its name. “The names are really important. People respond to them more when there’s a story and when there’s a story, there has to be a name. They mean so much more to me if they’re named. Suddenly, they beg a personality. I’m a Southern girl and my family had some doozy names. I love all the old Southern ones. Some are made up; some may be people in my life who’ve inspired me. Sometimes it’s not a person, but a personality,” she says, while rolling off some of her character’s names: Queen Beeatrice, Bobby the Bee Charmer, Curtis the Ice Cream Man, The Reverend, The Guardian, The Dancer.
In addition to her marionettes, Wilson works in other media, especially painting when the weather’s too cold to comfortably handle metal working tools in her outdoor studio. “There’s actually some cohesion between my marionettes and my paintings because of the subject matter. I often show my work together,” she adds.
Even so, assemblage is her favorite. “There’s satisfaction there, pulling all these pieces together and turning them into something else, giving them new life. When I lose myself in the studio, these works just happen. There’s familiarity there that makes people feel good. That, and that they’re different. To me, that’s worth it. When people get it. I just want people to be happy when they see them,” she says. “There’s so much negativity in the world, that I hope I can make people forget about it for a little while.”