Sculptor’s Exotic Hybrid Species Won’t Become Endangered Anytime Soon

Alan Kaufman’s wacky assemblages have no deep meaning. “I just want to make people smile,” he says. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Call it what you will — avian kitsch or flighty folk — ’s “Roller Derby Toucan” is a breed of its own. The wooden, canary-yellow tropical bird is perched on a pair of skates (likely sourced at The Screen Door or OddFellows Antique Warehouse), its stalky, powder-blue legs affording it some two feet in height and even more in whimsy. “There’s levity to it,” says Kaufman, who shows in the River Arts District’s Eco-Depot Marketplace. “I just want to make people smile.”

That baseline goal is accomplished in Flamingophant. Part flamingo, part elephant, the found-object sculpture sports the slight figure of a fowl, the head of an elephant, and the “shopping is my cardio” fashion sense of Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. “She’s cute. I gave her glittery shoes and pompoms,” says Kaufman. The high-heeled hybrid joins other species like Spotted Napoleon Stork — a pompous bird wearing a European cap — and Prehistoric Prism Fish, a primordial-looking creature with geodes for teeth. Kaufman dabbles in human creations, too. Psychedelic Candyman is your typical dude, except he’s purple, spotted, winged, and has a soda-shoppe-style gumball machine for a head. His maiden, Gypsy Queen, boasts a thermostat for a bust. Catherine is solemn and simple, vaguely holy. But Delilah the Bionic Belly Dancer suggests the flexible joy of Kokopelli.

Friends. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“People ask how I come up with these ideas,” says Kaufman, suggesting that “electric shock” stimulates most projects. (With this guy, even a brief conversation is opportunity enough for deadpan.) “Honestly, I just pick up an item like lumber or parts from an old lamp, and a creation grows from there.”

He rejects notions of regionalism: “Sure, I’m a Brooklyn-born, Florida-raised, WNC-retired folk artist,” he says. “[But] my art comes from within. It’s not place-based.”

Swinging Sally. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

The artist began making googly-eyed critters and fey changelings when he retired from his furniture-restoration business ten years ago. Stuck with boxes of stuff (e.g. broken chair legs, brass chandeliers, chipped vases), he unloosed his imagination. Today, he sources materials from downtown antique shops, selecting items based on visual interest, texture, and shape. Less high-flown debris might include a set of false teeth or a rusty bike pedal. The result is like something out of a fever dream — vivid colors, dizzying patterns, and mystifying concepts.

Kaufman’s sculptures are unexpected, but also unassuming. No two are alike, and he rarely works on commission. The nearly three-foot-high Cellphone Scream mimics Munch’s iconic painting, but it’s not some commentary on bad communication or electronics addiction.

There’s no real message behind the piece — and that’s refreshing. In fact, Kaufman won’t hazard descriptions of any of his work. “It is what it is,” he says.

Dazzle Artworks, Eco-Depot Marketplace, 408 Depot St. Suite 100, Asheville. For more information, call 828-595-4082 or see dazzleartworks.com.

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