David Wells and Wally Edwards. James Brown, There It Is, 1980. Turntable, James Brown LP THERE IT IS, painted articulated corrugated cardboard figure, found mylar patterned plywood, motor, sewing speed control pedal, steel threaded rod and counterweight, carved wooden pulley and dowel adjustable eccentric mechanism, 60 x 96 x 24" (152.4 x 243.8 x 61 cm). Photograph courtesy of David Wells.
At the time of the Times Square Show, I was making anti-disco disco lights, made from motor-driven wooden parts, exposed mechanics, and broken mirrors that cast moving light around static figures. I had just made a motorized-panel painting mixing images of a modern man and historical conqueror. Then Wally Edwards approached me about motorizing pop-culture icon James Brown. Wally and I collaborated to make a dancing James Brown piece for the TSS. He used the image of James from the cover of his 1972 LP There It Is. Together we made it work. The main image was a sixty-inch-tall articulated James Brown puppet painted on corrugated cardboard. The puppet hung from the end of a counterbalanced lever, and was set in irregular, eccentric motion by an adjustable primitive wooden cam wheel. The mechanics were part of the presentation. The cutout danced against a gaudy, found mirrored Mylar pattern on plywood. On the floor in front of the panel was a foot pedal for speed control, a phonograph painted bodega blue, and the LP, which leaned against the panel.
The whole apparatus was available for any and all to use. The phonograph and the Singer-sewing-machine style pedal were reasonably familiar appliances. The sound that resulted was the irregular reverberation of the metal lever arm against wooden eccentric sprockets, the noise of the turntable, the LP recording, and some rustling of the articulated cardboard parts.
Two standout works that I remember from the TSS are David Hammons's broken wine-bottle glass around the edges of the show and Marc Blane's Night Train bottles with photographs of burned-out buildings inside. I remember asking about the work and Joe Lewis telling me how important it was that they were included in the show.
As told to Shawna Cooper, May 31, 2012
David Wells (b. 1955, Ogdensburg, NY)
David Wells moved to New York City in 1978 after graduating with a BA from the State University of New York at Potsdam. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he exhibited his sculpture at New York City venues including Fashion Moda and the New Museum in addition to participating in exhibitions organized by Colab and Creative Time.