Discovery is at the heart of the work of an artist who searches and finds all kinds of things on the shores of Lake Michigan. John Soss creates works of art from seemingly nothing, sifting through the sand for the debris left behind by people and nature.
Marc Vitali: He creates compelling compositions that document a place, suggest an idea, or make a visual pun. For John Soss, it always starts with a visit to the beach. We met at Foster Beach on a windy December morning at 35 degrees.
John soss, artist: There are two parts of my mind that work when I walk along the beach, one of which is, yes I’m looking for stuff and my eyes are sort of tune in to what’s on the beach. floor, different shapes and colors.
But I also find it to be something meditative. I like to sort of work in my head, thinking about current events, what happened yesterday, what might be happening today, maybe just working out some of the messy things that are happening in the life.
Vitali: Soss carefully arranges the things he finds. He photographs the assembly with his iPhone. And it prints the images on recycled aluminum. He hunts his unexpected treasures all year round.
Soss: There are times when I feel like I’m really in the elements. There are strong winds and big waves and sometimes the sand blows on the surface of the ground and you know, you fall on it. So I kinda like the experience of being in all the seasons and feeling what it’s like to be there, you know? You cannot feel that in your neighborhood or your house.
Vitali: The project started almost 10 years ago, when he shared his photos with his family. Then he got noticed on social media and now has his second exhibition at The Dime, artist Tony Fitzpatrick’s gallery.
Tony fitzpatrick, artist: It took me a few years to convince John Soss that he’s actually an artist, you know? It’s that ongoing artistic dialogue between him and this lake, and it tells us a lot about “We the People”, tells us a lot about what we keep, what we revere, what we throw away.
Vitali: Each walk along the lake provides material for the next art exhibit of items that could include fireworks or children’s toys or something more disturbing.
Soss: When I get home I look at things on my worktable, putting them together it’s like putting together a puzzle based on all the things I have found. So I’m trying to set things up next to each other, you know a curved piece by a curved piece, a straight edge by something else that compliments it. And the point is to try to fit it all into a square, based on what I found that day.
I also like the fact that a lot of these things, if you’re talking about driftwood or peach pits or walnuts or bird feathers, they were all once alive. And now they’ve just been left on the beach so I love the idea of bringing them back to life by bringing them together in what is perhaps an eye-catching photograph.
Vitali: Soss is relatively new to making art, but he frequently works with artists – artists who record. He works for Jam Productions, the Chicago-based concert promoter.
Soss: I don’t want people to think I’m a lonely old man walking around and picking up litter on the beach. I’m very engaged when I’m on the beach, you know. I’m looking for things and thinking about things and maybe I have some music in my earbuds and there is a meditative quality to it. I get a lot from it. It’s a very good ritual.
The exhibition is called “On the Beach”. It’s at the art gallery called “The Dime” in Humboldt Park.