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54 Year Old · Male · From Indiana, PA · Joined on September 14, 2006 · Born on March 9th
15
54 Year Old · Male · From Indiana, PA · Joined on September 14, 2006 · Born on March 9th
15

www.genefenton.com Im sometimes shy and at others forward.I like to bike and swim when possible.I like peanut butter and chocolate.I like people with a sense of humor.

54 Year Old · Male · From Indiana, PA · Joined on September 14, 2006 · Born on March 9th
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Gene Fenton: A sculptor with a "monster" talent



Copyright 2001 by Jesica Johnston Butler. All rights reserved.

Originally published in Small Town Life Magazine





Looking as if they’ve just plodded off the set of a classic monster movie, the creatures in Gene Fenton’s menagerie are colorful, fantastic - and intentionally a little disturbing. They bring together a medium and a subject that most of us may never have uttered in the same breath before: paper maché and dinosaurs. As incongruous as that sounds, Fenton has used this unlikely combination to fashion his own species of imaginatively-styled monsters.





A "Natural" Choice



Fenton, a lifelong resident of Indiana, Pa., graduated from IUP in 1993, with a major in Sculpture and a minor in Printmaking. Sculpture, he says, was "a natural choice" for him. He had begun doing modeling clay sculptures back in grade school, and even then, his subject matter came easily: "I made dinosaurs, and painted the clay with car paint." He got the paint from his father's company, ICRS, an auto body and repair shop in Indiana, and recalls that he once spilled it all over the floor at home, to his parents' horror. "Let's just say…it was not a happy moment in the house," he notes dryly.



After his undergraduate work, Fenton attended graduate school at Long Island University, where he received his Master's Degree in Sculpture. He had done paper maché on and off while at IUP, and began making dinosaur-like creatures while living in New York. He moved back home in 1996, taking a "day job" in his father's auto shop. It was then that he started working seriously in paper maché, which, as he explains, "isn't always a medium that people necessarily look up to - it's considered a 'craft' rather than 'art.'" Does the somewhat dubious stature of his chosen medium bother him? Fenton just grins. "Well, it's a little late now," he says with complete practicality. But he is fully aware of how odd his work can sound. "When you say 'paper maché dinosaurs'…do you have a good memory of paper maché in school? I can safely say I don't. As a kid, you don't have the patience. It's messy, and it's fun for about five minutes. But there's some discipline behind working in paper maché."



The reasons he chose the medium are, typically, born of practicality. Just as he used leftover paint from his father's shop to paint the clay dinosaurs he made in grade school, Fenton, as a working artist, chose paper maché for sculpting because it was free and readily available: "I didn't have the clay." He also points out that paper maché can be done anywhere, as it's not a material for which the artist needs a separate studio. "You can do it in front of the T.V." His main workshop is the cavernous basement of his parents' home. (It's amusing to imagine the surprise of anyone who wanders unawares into Fenton's herd of teeth-baring, eye-bulging creatures - especially if the lights are dim.)





The Monster Gallery



There are 15 or so monsters in Fenton's current collection, the oldest one having been created about five years ago. Fenton says his work "used to be a lot more abstract," but that for the past year or two, he's been moving toward a much more realistic look. He is inspired largely by black and white, classic "monster" films: "Most of my work has that Godzilla-like flair," he says.



After so many years of monster movie fandom, Fenton has even distilled the various "rules" about how such creatures should look. First, he says, there are "always tons of horns, spikes and plates, exaggerated and coming out of ridiculous places. There's always something that glows, like Gamara's eyes. And in every good Godzilla movie, the monster shoots a laser."



Looking at his work, one can clearly note the cinematic influences. "Sometimes I am going for the deliberate 'hokum' look, like in B-movies," he says. "You know, like the guy in the rubber octopus suit in The Green Slime. In cases like that, I'm not taking the piece, or myself, too seriously."



His other inspirations include comic book artist Jack Kirby, creator of classic Marvel comics in the 1960s, which showcased monsters rather than superheroes. "The arms and teeth on my creatures, especially," he explains, "show the Jack Kirby influence." Another source for him is the work of Theodore Rosak, an artist who did semi-abstract bronze sculptures in the 1960s. Looking at these various sources as a whole, it's easy to see how their styles and elements overlap and influence each other. As Fenton points out, for example, "The design of Rodan in the Godzilla movies was heavily influenced by the spikes Rosak designed for his bronze creatures."







How They're Hatched



How do the creatures come to life? Fenton says he sometimes, but not always, does sketches before beginning a creation. He often uses balloons to create a quick "body." The creatures' arms and legs are composed mostly of simple paper maché - newsprint, flour, and water. And it's not only his medium that's different - it's what Fenton does with it: he treats it like clay. (The "rule" for paper maché is that only one layer at a time should be applied, but Fenton prefers to use several layers of thick paper maché that make the material easier to mold with his hands.) He says the dinosaurs with protruding horns and body armor intrigue him the most, "because they give me the greatest opportunity to experiment with texture and color…the details are left to be filled in by my imagination, combined with the imagination of the viewer."



The necks and tails require extra support, which is provided by armatures inside, made of newspaper and masking tape. Fenton painstakingly fashions each creature down to the smallest detail, including individual teeth, toenails, and wrinkled skin, an effect he creates using paper towels, which he then scores with a knife or molds with his hands. Sometimes certain parts of the piece are reworked by sanding, or by trimming the paper maché with a knife. "There are moments," he says, "where you almost have to fight with the paper maché. Arms are tough, and so are teeth." Another challenge is the eyes: "It's hard to get them to have that snake-like look in the eyes; a certain intelligence, but also that primal, brute force. I spend a lot of time working that out."



Despite his detailed approach during the creation of the piece, Fenton says he's usually still unsure what he'll get until the very last stage. "I don't always know if something is going to turn out until I paint it. It's all bone-white before that, so it's hard to tell if you've actually got something," he explains. All the monsters are painted with a combination of flat house paint and car paint, as Fenton has determined that car paint alone produces a finish that's too shiny to look like authentic skin. He estimates that it takes him about three weeks per creature, on average.



Fenton is currently working on a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a piece already earmarked for a customer in Pittsburgh. He's also completed a six-legged bug - "there was a lot of stress involved with that. Bugs are complicated because for paper maché, the legs are dainty." Other current projects include a two-headed lizard and a spider, but "it's gonna take me awhile to do (the spider). It'll have to have eight legs, otherwise no one will know it's a spider." Fenton's recent creations can mostly be categorized as either dinosaurs or insects. However, he's now toying with the idea of combining the two distinctly different creatures into one - to create a monster that's half insect and half flying dinosaur. "I have some really complicated paper maché nightmares in mind right now," he says.



That's not surprising, given that Fenton has even made his own "wearable" creatures, some consisting of elaborate pieces that fit over his head and wrap around his body like extra appendages. His costumes are highly anticipated at the big Halloween party he attends each year. However, he doesn't always wear something he's sculpted, because life-size paper maché is surprisingly heavy. Still, says the friend who hosts the party, "Gene always comes as something creative. Horrifying, usually, but always creative."





The Scream Queens Rule



Fenton often fashions creatures with curved tails that will "hang" from a ceiling or wall. While on his way to a Pittsburgh exhibition of his work last year, Fenton found himself without a free hand to carry the "Purple Snipe," a Brontosaurus-like creature that is one of his favorite pieces. On a whim, he used the sturdy tail to "hang" the dinosaur on his own shoulder while crossing the street. Upon entering the exhibit gallery, an interpretive dancer, seeing him, commented that the idea of a wearable monster looked interesting.



From this, it was a short leap for Fenton to imagine models wearing his creatures at art shows, and posing for promotional photos with them as well. Inspired by cinematic "scream queens" like Fay Wray in King Kong, Fenton began a series of photo sessions with a half-dozen different female models. Kitschy and tongue-in-cheek, the Scream Queens are an ongoing visual success. "Girls and monsters are a weird combination," Fenton muses. "They really don't go together, but that's the brilliance of it." One of his most effective strategies has been to place the creature in the extreme foreground of the picture, and the model in the extreme background - creating the illusion that instead of being just a few feet tall, the monster is gigantic, looming threateningly over the human.



Taking photographs of his creations has become one of Fenton's favorite parts of the process. He enjoys "making them look bigger than buildings, taking pictures in the fog and in the snow." (Fenton is always seeking new models, and welcomes inquiries about the Scream Queens, or anything to do with his work, at gfenton@mail.microserve.net.)



Fenton also takes and sells his own line of highly unusual photographs. At first glance, they look like pockmarked volcanic landscapes - a bit grotesque, but colorful and harshly beautiful. But they are actually highly-magnified photos of…rust. About five years ago, Fenton began noticing the interesting colors, textures, and patterns rust creates on car bodies and metal equipment - often as he was working to repair and repaint them. He now sells his 11 x 14 "Rust Gallery" prints for $30 each.



The artist takes a do-it-yourself approach to advertising and promotion, and has mounted a grass-roots campaign that utilizes email, his own website, paper flyers, postcards, and press releases. "You spend a lot of time on promotions," Fenton says. "Explaining (to businesses) how to display the monsters, and what they are; and also explaining the Scream Queen concept." He and his creatures participated in about 16 art shows and exhibits during 2000, visiting galleries, dance clubs, libraries, businesses, and arts festivals. Most of these were in western Pennsylvania, though he's also traveled as far away as Virginia. All of his creations are for sale, ranging from $80 for the smallest ones to $300 on up for larger, more elaborate specimens. A Pittsburgh café has requested a five-foot dragon, which is in the planning stages, and Fenton will also begin selling his monsters via ebay in the near future.



His next show is a local one. A broad selection of Fenton's work will be on display at the Horace Mann Art Gallery, located at 205 S. 5th Street in Indiana, from March 16 through April 27. The artist will be making personal appearances throughout. In the meantime, to take a virtual "tour" of Fenton's fascinating creatures, including the Scream Queen photos and the Rust Gallery, visit his website: www.genefenton.com

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