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Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009

Ringo White’s Fabulous Flotsam at Portrait Society

Art Review

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Mike “Ringo” White’s back yard is a hodgepodge, but on the day I visit in mid-September the bees seem happy to be hanging on profuse clumps of purple aster. Having just returned from one of his part-time jobs, White is munching a cold mixture of instant mashed potatoes and beans. He apologizes that the kitchen is a disaster zone, which it is. In fact, everything in his home seems patched together from bits of this and that. It’s a wonderland of chaotic detritus.

And that’s a good thing, because 62-year-old Ringo is king of castoffs. What he hauls home doesn’t end up in the lake or a landfill. Imagine this: art devised from plastic products—cigarette lighters, pencils, pens, etc.—all mixed in with toothbrushes, stones, bottle caps and any other items deemed useable junk. A piece assembled in Florida, his home away from home, features a baby-blue mesh shoe resting on a bed of wildly varied pieces found while beachcombing. The shoe is a delightful, totally off-the-wall touch—or should I say, “off-the-beach”? It says a lot about our throwaway culture. Who wore that shoe? Where’s the mate? When I look at Ringo’s art, I find it difficult to disassociate myself from the people who tossed the trash.

As we tour his North Avenue home, Ringo chomps a crab apple, plucked a few hours earlier on a bike ride through Riverside Park. He shows me a stack of peach-colored Styrofoam trays, found at McKinley Beach—fodder for a future collage. Our conversation moves on to “self-taught” artists, and he brings forth Miracles of the Spirit, published in 2005, featuring a large color photograph of his work on the cover.

Summer and fall is the time for gathering stuff, he says. The dark of Wisconsin’s winter provides time enough for assembling his finds. You can view the fruits of his labor at the Portrait Society Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St., Suite 526) through Oct. 30. The venue embraces a trio of spaces, so expect additional treats.

As I head down a steep flight of stairs fronting his house on a hill, Ringo waves goodbye with a bag of tomatoes. “The people I do jobs for gave me these,” he says with a laugh. “They’re like a tip.” I notice that North Avenue is adrift in castoffs blowing in the breeze. Who knows, perhaps at least a bit of this or a bit of that will end up in a Ringo White collage.

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