It's hard to miss the giant Holstein cow in the fields along Highway 12, west of Santa Rosa. Drivers do a double take, not quite sure if it's hormones in the grain or the pungent fertilizers that account for the jumbo bovine. Any confusion is laid to rest as they enter Sebastopol and spy a sculpture of an oversized fisherman astride his fish with eyes the size of hubcaps. In fact, they are hubcaps, specifically Triumph hubcaps, gifted by an elderly man to the artist. Objects destined for the dump are integral to the junk-art sculptures created by Patrick Amiot and meticulously painted and brought to life by his wife, Brigitte Laurent.
The wide array of larger-than-life, brightly colored figures has become synonymous with the must-see sites in Sebastopol. A gopher holds a spade at the hardware store, and at O'Reilly Media, a tarsier, the company's mascot, graces the front of the office buildings. Then there is Florence Avenue, perhaps the most visited street in town, where multiple sculptures live in front yards up and down the street. The Amiot residence and studio is clearly apparent by the abundance of sculptures on the front lawn waiting for homes.
Sitting in the eclectically furnished living room where a 1930s refrigerator serves as a stereo cabinet, Amiot sips freshly squeezed carrot juice and ponders the quirks of life that have molded him from a successful gallery ceramicist into an urban folk artist. He explains that shipping delicate ceramics to the East Coast was difficult and costly, and that he was looking for a new direction in life. "I always had this desire to do things out of objects, but I just couldn't imagine making a living out of it. I still can't. It's one of those things when you think of something but tell yourself, 'This would just be too good to be true.'"
In the midst of his career upheaval, Amiot started making junk art for fun. He created and installed a giant fisherman made from a water heater in his front yard, and received an unexpected reaction—his neighbors wanted to see more. The rest, as they say, is history. And history plays a big part in the sculptor's philosophy behind the raw style of his art.
"The whole purpose of my work is to glorify these objects, because they have their own spirit," Amiot enthuses. "When a hubcap has traveled on a truck for millions of miles, and has seen the prairies in the winter and the hot summer asphalt, when it's done traveling with that truck and finds itself in the scrap yard and I find it, I kind of like to use that. This hubcap, or whatever piece of metal, from the day it was manufactured until now, has an important history. And I like to think the spirit of all these things lived incredible lives. If they could talk to you, they could tell amazing stories. That's something I don't want to hide."
Besides being environmentally friendly, Amiot and Laurent's sculptures play an immense part in raising money for community schools. Amiot says he disliked the candy drives used by local schools to generate income. "I resented that the schools were having kids promote a product with no local connections," he explains. "I talked with some friends about 'inventing' something indigenous to the community, and we came up with the idea of a calendar of the sculptures."
Photographed by David Featherstone and birthed into production by the "power moms" of the community, the calendar has raised over a quarter-million dollars for local schools in just six years. "The bottom line was to find something that represents Sebastopol," Amiot says.
Amiot and Laurent have recently purchased a new property, one with "a studio where we can make some noise," Amiot smiles. "I work there, putting the sculptures together and then bring them home, where Brigitte paints them. I want to expand so we can work together." A bigger vision includes a sculpture garden where the public can wander through and look at art.
"We'd like to build a place we can share with the community something that's creative and beautiful," he smiles. "We want it to be bold and outrageous. It's our fantasy."
Learn more at www.patrickamiot-brigittelaurent.com.