Spartanburg artist puts the focus on fleas



Vivianne Lee Carey worked mostly with paintings before her work became more three-dimensional, then took on sewing and welding, ultimately leading to her sculptures, which are on display at the Chapman Cultural Center.



Published: Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 9:31 p.m.


Vivianne Lee Carey loves fleas.

The “Hair of the Dog” art exhibit by Spartanburg artist Vivianne Lee Carey is an installation of more than 50 flea sculptures and twisted dog hair tufts. It will be on display at the Artists' Guild Gallery at the Chapman Cultural Center through June 26.
A reception will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with another one June 17 during ArtWalk.



The Spartanburg artist has even tried collecting them from her dog.

“Nobody can kill a flea except for me — I put them in a jar and they die,” she sighs. She says her family pets are not full of fleas, but that occasionally God will “bless” her with one.

Carey is already known for her pretty metal sculptures of flowers and insects, such as the large dandelion and caterpillar at Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, and a striking Gerber daisy at Happy Hollow Park in Converse Heights.

But for the past year, she has been hard at work creating fleas — as monumental sculptures. In fact, she's made 50 of them, working for many hours on each one.

That estimate was off, by a hair. While Carey was hard at work installing the art exhibit Tuesday morning at the Chapman Cultural Center, Steve Wong, the center's marketing director, counted 56 of the insects. “Wonderful — they're multiplying!” Carey exclaimed.

Carey, an art teacher at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, recently had some of her students draw fleas, and several of them included what looked like crowns upon their heads, Carey recalled with a laugh. She plans to include some of the children's artwork in her exhibit.

Carey is a Converse College graduate and a member of the Spartanburg Artists Guild. She studied art, working mostly with paintings until her work became more three-dimensional, then adding sewing and eventually welding to her repertoire.

“That just went off into a whole different direction,” she said of her welding and sculpting work.

Carey admits that about a year ago, she just couldn't paint or create pretty things with her art. And she didn't want to. She now says, “I don't like pretty paintings. I love being outside of the box.” She doesn't even like the term “outside the box,” saying it's too “in the box.”

The flea project began out of frustration with her art and some personal tension. She says she started twisting wires into a ball and thought it looked neat.

Soon, her creative spark was back. At the same time, her cat was shedding a lot, and Carey thinks that having to pick up the pet hair prompted the idea, along with thinking about the term “hair of the dog.”

She wondered what fit with dog hair. Fleas fit the bill, of course. She created the first large flea sculptures, then more and “got carried away.” She used rods, wire mesh, concrete, motor oil, some wire from old political campaign signs and a little paint. A microscope attached to her computer helped her better study fleas.

After working with them for the past year, she can say, “Now I love them.”

God made fleas for a reason, Carey says, and she recounts the story of Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who wrote in her autobiography, “The Hiding Place,” that while in Ravensbruck concentration camp, guards did not persecute her and her sister at times, for fear of the fleas that swarmed the bunk room where they were held.

Some of Carey's fleas already have names: Nina, Dangerfield and Fritz. There's one special flea she created for comedian and musician Steve Martin, which she hopes to present to him as a gift. She's even crafting a banjo for it, as she is a fan of Martin's film and music career and plays the banjo herself, and knows Martin is an avid art collector as well.

Carey understands that “some people just don't like fleas,” but she's inspired by the reaction of one little girl who ran excitedly into the exhibit room while Carey was still working.

“How often do you have artwork that's on a kid's eye level?” Carey asks.

“But a lot of people think they're cool,” Carey says of the artwork.

Carey recently found a tick embedding itself on her skin and pulled it off.

“I hate ticks!” she said, adding that she was afraid of getting Rocky Mountain spotted fever just in time for her show.



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