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2017 April 24 - 03:26 pm

Ill. Professor Says Sculptures Started With ‘Dumb Ideas’

McAvoy Finds Inspiration in Literary Classics


NORMAL, Ill. (AP) — Ask Michael McAvoy where he got his inspiration for a series of sculptures based on literary classics and he will say, “They all started with dumb ideas.”

But those “dumb ideas” have taken shape in several smart ways, providing new twists on “Frankenstein,” “The Time Machine” and “I, Robot,” among others.

It all started with “Frankenstein and the Inhuman Genome.”

“I was sitting at home reading Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and, because I’m kind of a geek, I had PBS on,” said the associate professor of art at Heartland Community College.

The program was about the human genome and McAvoy began thinking, if Dr. Frankenstein were alive today, he would be working with DNA.

That molecule of an idea gave birth to a mixed media sculpture with an artist-bound book on a wooden pedestal of walnut and poplar with a representation of the DNA spiral included.

Like Dr. Frankenstein in the novel, McAvoy cobbles together different items to make his creations — such as an old upright clock he found at Monster Pawn that became the base for his “Time Machine” sculpture.

His most recent piece in the series, “iRobot,” was the center of attention during a recent Heartland board of trustees meeting.

Board members and others at the meeting took a “field trip,” walking to the Instructional Commons North building, to see the sculpture — a clear torso of cast resin with a spine made of cellphones and a Nook tablet for a face.

Programmed using an EZ- Robot micro-controller and software, the head of the sculpture follows people around the room and the face changes expressions. Those actions caused mixed reactions, from smiles to fascination to a little discomfort.

“I was totally taken aback,” said board member Don Gibb.

As a former science teacher, Gibb liked the mixture of science and art in “iRobot” and the other pieces.

“Any time you can take two different fields and put them together makes it more interesting,” said Gibb. “I was very impressed with that and very impressed with him.”

But “iRobot” nearly didn’t make it to completion.

“When I realized this was going to be robotic, I kind of dumped it,” said McAvoy. But a sabbatical from the college gave him the time he needed to fully immerse himself in the project without interruption or distraction.

Sometimes he would awaken at 4 a.m. and work until midnight, he recalled.

“You can devote all your mental and physical energy,” he said.

He takes many of the techniques he uses in his sculptures and teaches them to his students.

“Something I try to instill in my students is that, with multimedia art, I’m not limited by my medium,” McAvoy told board members.

McAvoy describes his works as making “art about my romance with science.”

The idea for “The Invisible Man” came to him while he was seeing a new doctor. The doctor never made eye contact with him, McAvoy recalled, and “I wondered, ‘Was I invisible?”‘ “The Invisible Man” mixedmedia sculpture, which includes McAvoy’s own MRI and X-rays, speaks to those who feel invisible to doctors and insurance companies, he explained.

The purpose of the pieces go beyond the melding of science and art.

“Because I was dyslexic and had a hard time learning to read, I want to inspire others to read,” McAvoy said.

A young boy at an exhibit of McAvoy’s work peppered him with lots of questions about the sculptures and the books that inspired them, he recalled. As the boy left, McAvoy heard him tell his mother, “We have to go to a bookstore.”

“To me, that’s what it’s all about,” said McAvoy.

Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

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