Arts & Culture

Bluffton artist uses rust, the elements in eco art project

The shrimpers coming off the May River wondered what Roxanne Lasky was doing.

She stood atop a ladder on the steep bank leading to the water near the Bluffton Oyster Co. and wrapped white fabric around an old I-beam.

The beam, formerly a winch, had come off an old shrimping boat. It was suspended about a dozen feet in the air on four legs, giving it the appearance of an overgrown swing set. Until about three weeks ago, it sat on the bank in chest-high grass, surrounded by outboard motors hanging from trees and kept company by a worn-out boat someone had beached.

The beam was rusting. Lasky, an artist, knew it would make an ideal canvas.

“I have no control over what’s going to happen here,” Lasky, a Bluffton resident, said Monday morning. She stood in front of the beam, which sports a jerry-rigged sign – a piece of driftwood with black marker lettering – that reads “ECO RUST PROJECT.”

The beam is partially covered in 225 feet of vinegar-treated muslin cloth that Lasky hopes will react to the rust and elements. She’s hoping for rain. She’d like to leave the fabric in place for another month or two, or as long as Larry Toomer – the oyster company’s and I-beam’s owner – allows. Lasky can’t foretell the end result – the product – of the art project. And that’s the point.

Lasky and her husband of 39 years, Stuart Lasky, moved to Bluffton from Connecticut about a year and a half ago. But she grew up in New York City, “in a family where everything was so structured.”

“We weren’t allowed out of our yard with a bathing suit on,” she said.

She recalled her childhood Catholic school, where “art was every Friday, out of an envelope, crayons and a pad.” Her mother, she said, kept art supplies in a closet, but they were only brought out on rainy days.

“I was driven by this,” she said, “and sometimes mystified by how I was able to surmount those things, to want to be an artist.”

In the 1960s, when she was 7, she saw an orange, abstract oil painting by her uncle. That’s when she knew.

She started out as a painter, a fine artist, but gravitated to “common man’s, common woman’s art” – stitching is her expertise.

“(Creativity) shouldn’t be only for the artistic or the talented,” she said, explaining that stitchery has “a very plebeian character.” It’s “not high art.” It’s “approachable,” a vehicle through which folks can tap into their creativity, find a voice and share it with others.

She’ll stitch something, at some point, with the muslin cloth that clings to the beam on the bank. There are seven total sections of fabric, she said, some of which are wrapped in a shibori pattern – a Japanese technique that renders three-dimensional effects through bending, scrunching and knotting. She might initially make a wall hanging, one smaller than the 30-by-45-inch pieces she typically stitches. But 225 feet is a lot of fabric – it could sit around for months. And that’s assuming it even reacts with the rust.

It’s a serendipitous project, she said, one that will take time. Whatever results from the rust will be skillfully handcrafted, she said, but it won’t be perfect. Perfectionism can be an obstacle to starting a project – she wants her work to draw people in and encourage them to try.

“It’s fairly new,” Stuart Lasky said about his spouse’s attraction to rust. “About the last month, six weeks, she’s been on a rust binge.”

Roxanne Lasky, who once owned a fabric shop and taught middle school and high school art, became a full-time artist in January. She recently got her first tetanus shot in 20 years.

“There’s a Japanese philosophy called wabi sabi, where decay is elevated to an honor,” she said as she stood near the Eco Rust Project. “And letting things evolve into their natural beauty is kind of another angle, rather than always wanting everything to be perfect. Because nothing’s really perfect.”

“You’re letting the process take over,” her husband added.

“Yes,” she said. “Communicate with the process, communicate with the cloth and let a story unfold.”

So we’ll have to wait to see what becomes of Lasky’s project. And the I-beam.

It’s rumored to be going back into service aboard a shrimp boat.

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston