Artist in the Elm City

On a late September evening Silas Finch’s three-room studio on the third floor of the Gotham Arts and Commerce Building at 39 Crown St. is empty save for the artist. Low rock music comes from a stereo in the back of the room as Finch sands away at spoon handles inlaid with varnished newspaper that he plans to attach to a beaded necklace.

The scene would be lonely were it not for the population of antiques and found objects littering the walls, the floor, every table surface. In the shadows of the orange lamplight, they take on their own lives, telling their own stories, speaking to the artist.

Barbara Hawes, who has since sold Finch’s work at Hull’s One Whitney, the gallery that she curates, said she was amazed when she met him in his studio at last year’s Citywide Open Studios, an event to showcase New Haven artists in their studios. “I walked in, and I knew I had walked into a totally unique world,” she said. “It was like walking into somebody’s mind.”

Finch shares the building with a community of artists who he says have been a support and have provided him with inspiration ever since he came to the Elm City.

Finch says he tries to let the objects and collections of objects he stores in his studio suggest how he should fashion them into an artwork:

“Most of the time the aesthetic [of my pieces] is me finding an idea,” he explains across his work table. He gestures toward an airship made out of newspapers and mounted on a wooden tripod.

“The whole top to this hot air balloon is [newspapers from] World War II from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima — the idea is that somebody collected that themselves and then I create it.”

SKATER TO SCULPTOR

Now Finch says his new work deals with objects and news from the ’50s to the ’70s.

But Finch barely lived the ’70s, let alone the ’50s; he was born in 1978 in Washington State’s Wilbur House Christian Commune, “an old run-down brick hotel connected to train tracks bolted right against the building.”

When he was 5 years old, his family decided to travel in the back of an old Suburban across the United States to Cape Cod, Mass., where they settled down. Despite barely making it through high school, he believes it was his senior art class that first ignited his passion for art and introduced him to the medium he now uses to make a living.

Finch’s early 20s were spent as a pro-skater, a profession he says has had a great influence on his style: “I use the skateboard almost like my signature,” he explains. “It’s a perfect canvas, perfect shape.”

Aside from his art there is still something that suggests “skater” when you meet Finch. Apart from his tattoos, ear piercing and tightly cropped hair, his television throwing the washed blue light of films from his childhood like “BMX Bandits” speaks of a bygone era.

After Finch’s skater years, he ran CAPES, a juvenile detention center in Cape Cod for five years. During those years he built his collection of found objects and started making his creations; Finch finally decided to up and leave and came to New Haven’s artist commune at Daggett Square three years ago to start his career as an artist.

INFLUENCE AND TECHNIQUE

It was New Haven’s strong community of sculptors that attracted Finch to the city and continue to inspire him. Indeed, “sculptural” is a word that one could use to describe many of Finch’s works — his pieces have a strong emphasis on sculpting, even if they are not made of traditional materials. In one piece, pins serve to mold a leather jacket around a mannequin, with newspaper clippings pasted on to give a greater sense of the spaces in the folds of the jacket.

He believes it was an early exposure to nature sculpture and artists like British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy that shaped this aspect of his work. But his father, an antique dealer, also had some impact: “I’m very drawn to not necessarily the antique store but the collectors’ aspect [of antiques].” Every weekend, Finch can be found at his favorite Wallingford, Conn., flea-market, The Redwood.

This collectors’ aspect is behind every work; all the objects are collected and kept meticulously, suggesting some narrative to the artist. He then studies that story and mobilizes it in the artwork he produces.

For example, a piece about Charlie Whitman, the perpetrator of the college shootings at the University of Texas in 1966, shows Whitman as a smiling Boy Scout. The whole piece is framed by a skateboard with an aerial photograph of UT Austin pasted onto it. The faces of the 16 victims dangle on wires above the places where they were murdered.

“I’m not trying to make a political statement,” Finch explains. He pulls out a stack of LIFE magazines he has gathered from the Vietnam era for his next artwork.

Says Finch: “When I start doing pieces on Vietnam I want them to be accurate so it causes me to learn, it causes me to study more — I want there to be at least truth behind what I’m trying to put together.”

‘A CONNECTICUT ARTIST’

Finch has thrived in New Haven: he had an exhibition of his works at Hull’s One Whitney Gallery last year and has been featured in several Artspace exhibitions and events. Currently his works are on show at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s exhibition “Heavy Metal” on Audubon Street, and he is opening his studio for the Citywide Open Studios this weekend.

Yale’s Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 has known Finch since they met at an art opening three years ago and has watched his success on the New Haven scene with interest.

“I was struck immediately by his quiet intensity and timeless individuality,” Morand said in an e-mail to the News. “I’ve come to know him and his work well over the years and have been impressed by how he creates quirky delight out of the discards of others … I find his pieces deliciously provocative.”

Finch says he is working on another zeppelin piece this time with Apollo 11 and lunar landing news cutouts. What then, New York? He says maybe. He was recently accepted to Silvermine Guild Art Centre in New Canaan — something that he describes as “a good step towards New York.”

But Finch says he wants a solid base of art in Connecticut — he has exhibited in Boston but not yet attempted to break into the New York scene.

Admits Finch: “I’m really focusing on Connecticut — I’m a Connecticut artist, and I’ve got to push it as much I can in this city.”

Comments

  • BillyBonebrake

    Silas still rips the stuntwood.

  • Jean Finch

    Hi Si – what a fabulous article – you are giving a lot of pretige to New Haven
    art works. Just so happened that on the same page as your article, there is a picture Of Jodi Picoult, writer of :My Sister’s Keeper” which I just finished. It was one of the finest books I ever read. She was having a book show this coming weekend in New Haven. Keep up the great work – some day you can support us all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Love Grandma

  • BillRy

    Way to go Si! And it is true Silas is one of the best skateboarders I’ve ever seen in person.

  • yalegrad1

    This is ridiculous… Who would ever let this be published.