Monday, June 1, 2009

A variation on Kim Adams' Square/Round/Square

I first saw some of Kim Adams’ art work back in the 1980s in Toronto on Queen St. Yeah, the piece in question was actually out on the street, by the curb. It looked like an oddly painted backyard satellite dish mounted on a trailer. It was parked in a parking spot right there on Queen St, and there was a guy in a lawn chair – which I now assume was Mr. Adams himself - sitting beside it answering questions from puzzled passers by. Dave and Vince and I were some of them. I can’t remember what he said when we asked what it was, and I can’t remember what we replied, but we were still young know-it-alls and I do recall we weren’t impressed with this thing and went on our way.

But I was dumber then than I am now – or at least I like to think so – and over the years I’ve seen lots of pictures of Mr. Adams work, and the more I see, the more I like it. Here are a few links with some biographical information about him and his work: Canadian Encyclopedia entry, Canadian Contemporary Art’s Database entry, here’s an interesting interview, and here’s his entry in Wikipedia.
I’m hardly an art critic, so take this with some caution, but it seems like there are two dominate approaches in his work: one deals with repurposing and re-jigging everyday things into unexpected and fascinating new things; and the other uses scale model components and toys – again, not in the way their manufacturers intended - to build equally fascinating table-top size sculptures and dioramas. Apparently, his masterpiece is the ‘Bruegel-Bosch Bus’, on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Hopefully, I can get down to Hamilton this summer to see it. You can see examples of both types of work at this link to the Wynick/Tuck gallery along with other examples of his work.

As I mentioned, most of these works I’ve seen only in pictures. Other than the satellite dish piece – which I now know is called the ‘Curbing Machine’, naturally ! – I’ve only seen one other piece up close and personal, and, once again, that was also quite by accident. I was attending IETF-70 in Vancouver back in December 2007, and saw this sculpture – called ‘Squid Head’ - on the lawn at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

[Squid Head on the lawn at the Vancouver Art Gallery]
When I saw it I didn’t know who it was by, or what it was called, but I’d seen enough pictures of Mr. Adams’ work by then to strongly suspect it was one of his. I can’t say why I like it, I just do - apparently, I’m still a philistine.

What do these sculptures and dioramas mean? I can’t say that I know, but I like how they look and what they do, and also, since I’m an amateur model builder, I’m amazed by the new ideas he comes up with for the kits and things I’m familiar with. All the ideas embodied in the works resonate with me. Maybe that’s all there is to it.
When I was browsing the Wynick/Tuck site I came across this piece called Square/Round/Square.

[Kim Adams' Square/Round/Square at the Wynick/Tuck gallery; image: Wyne/Tuck gallery]
I recognized that the Round part was built from the Rix HO-scale Quonset hut kit. I had used one on the HO-scale municipal truck garage I had built a few years ago, and I had used the left-over corrugated panels to make the sheet metal embossing tool in the Bunn’s Feed and Seed project.

[My old municipal building kit-bash]

I decided I was going to build a version of Square/Round/Square for this railroad. I wasn’t sure where it was going to fit in, or explain what it was meant for, but I was going to build one. At the very least I’d get some education in how Mr. Adams does what he does in sort of the same way classically trained art students learn how the masters work by copying works by the masters.

The first thing I learned was that Mr. Adams must get his parts wholesale! To get started, I purchased the following major components at a local hobby shop:

1) Two Rix HO scale Quonset hut kits @ $17.99 CDN each
2) Two HO-scale shipping containers @ $3.99 CDN each
3) A 2-pack of trailers for the containers for $19.99 CDN
4) A package of HO-scale railing for $4.99 CDN
5) A package of fine aluminum mesh for $5.99 CDN
6) Paints, glue, and misc. styrene pieces I already had in my workshop, maybe add in $5 to cover this stuff.
Total cost = $79.93 CDN (I have no idea what the asking price for Mr. Adams’ original is)

Just to be clear, I built a variation on Square/Round/Square (SRS) and not a copy, so the cost shown above is only an approximation. As well, with my variation, I made it shorter than the original since space is at a premium on the layout, made the front and back of the structure the same since I couldn’t see the back of the original, changed the colours a bit, cooked up a structure for the lower platform since it’s a little blurry in the photo, set the structure on a base so it’s easy to handle, and used a different type of railing on the upper porch.

Turns out, it’s relatively easy to build.
To get things started, here are the basic components, pristine in their unopened packaging.

This is what you get in two Rix Quonset hut kits. From studying the photos of SRS, I think Mr. Adams built the R part by constructing an entire circle from the Quonset hut components to form a long cylinder instead of gluing two half-circle Quonset huts together – hence the ‘R’ in SRS. I, on the other hand, took the crazier, more laborious route of building two huts, as per the instructions, and gluing them together with a plastic panel between them to represent a floor structure. Since this building was to reside on a model railroad, I thought it should have a floor. In hindsight, I probably should have did myself a favour and taken the easier route.

Here are the assembled rings waiting to be glued into a single semi-cylinder. The length was sized so that it was close to the length of one of the HO scale shipping containers that will be the Ss of SRS. It turns that 5 rings are just slightly shorter that one container.

Once the rings are assembled, they need to be ground and sanded down to give a smooth, uniform bottom edge. I found that it helps to place a piece of fine sandpaper on the work surface and rub the structure over it until the edge is uniform.
The floor is made from 0.060 inch styrene sheet reinforced with styrene I-beams. As I mentioned above, I thought a floor might be needed to help enhance the illusion that the balconies actually lead to a floor through the doors.

The mini bar clamps come in handy when gluing the floor to one of the Quonsets, and again when gluing both halves of R together. I bought these clamps years ago in a $1 bin at Canadian Tire. I should have bought more than two.

I didn’t take many – or any – pictures when building the loading dock platforms and the balconies. Basically, the loading docks are freelanced structures built up from pieces cut from 0.020 styrene sheet. The balconies are built from the HO scale railing material and some angle styrene for the floor support. I used the fine aluminum mesh for the floor. I thought I saw a mesh-like shadow cast on the platform in the SRS photos, so I speculated that the balcony floors were mesh. The mesh is easily cut to size with scissors and held in place with super-glue.

I cut a base for the structure from 0.080 inch sheet styrene and scored it with squares to keep up the square theme in this model. It’s painted Tamyia light grey.

R is spray painted with Krylon red. The balconies, garage doors and bottoms of the loading docks are painted with Tamyia flat aluminum. The person doors and window frames are painted with Tamyia light green. The inside surfaces of the window panes were painted with Model Master Acryl gloss black. My Qunoset hut kits didn’t come with clear plastic sheets for the windows, so I had to supply my own – no problem, but it took some precise cutting to get the windows cut to size and glued in properly.

Once R was completed, it was glued in place with the shipping containers and their trailers on the base with white glue.

I still haven’t figured out how this building is going to fit in on the railroad, but going through the process helped me see my kit stash in a different light, and gave me some ideas for some different kinds of structures – maybe I’ll be able to at least get them started this summer.

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