There’s a walkway in downtown Greenville just off of Washington Street, a quiet corridor dividing Tupelo Honey and the Aloft Hotel. Along the path to the right—toward the bright yellow chairs of ONE City Plaza—is a vast assortment of metal pieces strategically welded into a stunning sculptured gate.
“Moving Parts is big and impressive, but it’s also subtle,” artist Joe Thompson says. “You can walk right past it and say, ‘That’s a lot of nuts and bolts.’”
But the thousands of pieces in Moving Parts likely enthrall people who are actually looking. Although those pieces may not be physically moving, they are doing something. They take the onlooker on a geometric journey, a mechanical maze of lines, triangles, and circles composed entirely of multi-sized screws, fasteners, and a few well-placed wrenches.
Art & Light // Joe Thompson, chair of the visual arts department at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, wants his sculptures to awaken viewers from their relative malaise.
Thompson is a materials guy through-and-through, and no stranger to the art of sculpture. Chair of the visual arts department at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Thompson grew up in his father’s sculpting studio. In college, he explored engineering for a time, but after eight years, found himself right back in the artistic realm.
“I realized that being an artist was the most truthful expression of my life,” Thompson explains. “And I also fell in love with teaching.”
After receiving an MFA from Clemson University, Thompson was hired to help open the Governor’s School in 1999. He’s been cultivating creative young minds ever since, molding skills and sharing values he discovered on his own artistic path. For example, learning about art is important for its own sake; and if you’re waiting for the perfect materials or perfect inspiration, you’re never going to make anything.
“I’m taking them on my journey, and I’m joining them on their journey,” he says. “We’re not working in a vacuum.”
Thompson’s work Nurture-Nature epitomizes this collaborative relationship. The piece is sculpted of interdependently attached seed pods erected outside of the school’s entrance. It’s this aspect—the ability to capture the essence of what he’s representing—that makes Thompson’s work so compelling.
Take the Peg Leg Bates statue on the corner of Washington and Spring streets. Like Moving Parts, the piece feels mechanical—functional even—with its mass of welded metal. But he’s also managed to bring Bates’ legendary spirit back to life, like he’s smack dab in the middle of a tap-dance number.
“I want people to feel awake,” Thompson says. “We all can begin to walk around on autopilot, and I hope something people experience in my work is a little bit of a coming to themselves.”