Robert Fairfax's sculptures are embedded in mossy hillsides and rising up out of the duff of the wooded five acres he calls Ghosthorse Hollow.
Robert Fairfax is a patient man. He’s been whittling away at remodeling his house near Monroe for more than 27 years. “I have a hundred projects going and a hundred in my head, so the house ends up a low priority,” says the quiet, bearded artist, gesturing to the five wooded acres he’s fashioning into a rich and fantastical alternate reality he calls Ghosthorse Hollow.
Fairfax’s sculptures, embedded in mossy hillsides and rising up out of the duff of the forest floor, are so extraordinary he’s come up with new words to name them. There are the “Slumpy Tubes” that look like happy hybrids of frogs and worms. These curious creature-like pieces, made of ceramic with a matt glaze, consort in a mossy glen as if at a cheerful coffee klatch. Equally lighthearted are the “Smilies” with curly tails and wide, Cheshire-cat grins.
Slightly more ominous are the “Fenulents,” convoluted lumps sprouting up along the trails like mushrooms after a rain. Some are speckled, others darkly wrinkled, all are nestled with ferns, ornamental grasses and moss in inspired contrasts of foliage and pigmented cement. “I like to think Fenulents bring out the genius of the place,” says Fairfax of these pieces he envisions as a cross between brain coral and succulents. Some of the Fenulents are as large as two feet across; at night, banana slugs snuggle into their swirled depressions.
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“I’m inspired by bio-geomorphic forms,” says Fairfax. “I love marine invertebrates that live in the intertidal zone of Puget Sound.” Fairfax, who contemplated becoming a marine biologist, is a versatile graphic artist who works in acrylic, oils, raku, concrete and silk-screen. “The medium isn’t a problem,” he says. “I just figure it out.”
It’s only been in the past four years that Fairfax, inspired by his creek and woods and all the creatures that live there, has moved his art outside and begun working in three dimensions. He counts on snow and windstorms to edit the forest, then he adds retaining walls, boulders and understory plants. When he needs a rock in a specific location, Fairfax makes one out of cement reinforced with chicken wire, and you’d never guess the mossy stone wasn’t moved to that spot by an ancient glacier.
His retaining walls are as much about atmospherics as utility. One is webbed, another a sculpted “Earth Code” wall of pigmented cement stained with acid that resembles the stone quilt technique of the Mayan culture. Then there’s the “Chiton Candy Wall” embedded with hundreds of the tiny, curled sea creatures sculpted in vivid shades of blue and lavender.
Fairfax’s imagination runs unbounded through the forest he’s transformed into an outdoor sculpture gallery unlike any other. There are tall pillars studded with blue and black eyes. Knobby little “Spadexes” appear to unfold from the forest floor. He’s working on a windowed concrete tunnel and a vine-bedecked pergola as a memorial to his mother. Fat purple pods, crafted of cement and shined up with brilliant automotive paint, rise out of a sea of native sedge and skunk cabbage.
Nature connives in Fairfax’s magic. Bears wear a trail through the grass, revealing more pods; burned-out stumps add to the aura of weirdness, and plants grow up to tantalizingly disguise his wondrous creations. “I want people to interact with the art, I don’t want to limit their perceptions,” says Fairfax.
Not likely in the world of Ghosthorse Hollow.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacqueline Koch is a Seattle-based freelance photographer.