SKOWHEGAN — Artist Wally Warren builds cities of dreams.
Crazy, colorful cities that rise up from old computer and electronic parts, threaded steel rods, copper wiring, plumbing fixtures, golf balls, typewriter keys, Bic lighters, castoff toys, motor parts, nuts, bolts, screws and wine bottle corks – all painted in vibrant colors.
He’s a sculptor, an engineer – a dreamer of resurrection and transformation.
“I have dreams about cities and I try to recreate them,” said Warren, who lives in a colorful 20-by-24-foot cabin he built 40 years ago in the rural Somerset County town of Ripley. “I’m often flying over cities; I love harbors and ships coming in and out.”
Warren, 67, also builds intricate miniature ships from the same castoff materials. He makes totems, towers and wall hangings from painted satellite dishes.
An exhibition of his art, called Wally Warren Revisited, is on display this month at Central Maine Artists Gallery on West Front Street in Skowhegan. The exhibit, which is open Tuesday through Saturday, runs through Jan. 3.
Warren said he gathers his raw materials from landfills and dumps, especially the Dexter transfer station, where he pores over refuse and finds things he can dismantle and use the parts for his transformations.
“I don’t even know half of what this stuff is,” he said from the gallery Thursday. “They’re generic, not specific cities, made from techno-trash. Some of it is from kids’ toys, some obviously from a motor and old computers. The guys on the metal pile at the Dexter transfer station are wonderful. They let me pick with impunity. They help me procure stuff.”
His work also will be on display in December at the Frank Brockman Gallery in Brunswick. Warren art pieces also can be seen at the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan; Emerson and Associates in Madison; various libraries, colleges, elementary schools; and the Bertrand R. Cross State Office Building, near the state capital in Augusta.
A centerpiece to one of Warren’s mythical cities is on display in a glass case at the Abbott Memorial Library in Dexter.
He previously displayed his work at larger urban galleries in Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore., and in Montana, when he lived for 15 years before moving back to Maine in the 1990s. Art buyers in Manhattan and in Los Angeles also have sold his work to private collectors.
“What attracts people to Wally mostly is just the fact that he does so many imaginative things with all of these lost and found objects,” Skowhegan gallery owner Doug Corson said. “He has his cityscapes and his ironclad boats. He makes towers out of corks and bottles, and gamelans – percussive instruments made of a whole variety of things. He has been one of the most popular artists here at the gallery. This is probably his fourth show here over the last eight or 10 years.”
Corson said the objects of Warren’s art will sell during the exhibition for $60 to $500 apiece. A three-piece “City of Dreams” is priced at $1,100.
Amber Lambke, owner of the Grist Mill, said Warren’s artwork has become part of the interior landscape at the mill.
“We have a number of pieces in the Pick Up, and one of his – what he calls his cities – in the front lobby,” Lambke said. “I like Wally’s work because he’s got a very orderly sense about his work. He enjoys scenes of found objects like computer keys or fan cages or parts of tools, and he methodically puts them back together into attractive sculptures.”
Frank Brockman, at the gallery in Brunswick, said he will open his gallery for the Christmas season and will feature about eight pieces of Warren’s art.
“I just love people that create something from nothing, and he’s the master. I think his work is very sophisticated,” Brockman said.
Warren, who has two grown sons in Maine, said he built model railroads and cities out of balsa wood as a child and decided he wanted to be a civil engineer. He flunked out of engineering school at the University of Maine, re-enrolled and finally got his degree in visual art.
Warren said that in his dreams, he isn’t really going anywhere when he flies over the cities with the harbors and boats coming and going – he is already there, just dreaming, enjoying the trip.
Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at: