October 31st, 2013

Layers – new work by Aaron Thornburg

by Emily Vanest


Catalpa trees, tall, with stunning heart-shaped leaves, shed allergy-inducing cotton wisps all over the King Park neighborhood in the spring and form long, vanilla bean-like pods in the fall.  Catalpas are considered a “pioneer species,” a hardy species of tree which is “the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, beginning a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem.”  Basically, they move in when nothing else will grow and help make an area amenable to other growth.

It’s a stunning metaphor for the pioneering growth that is happening in the King Park area, as projects are beginning which will lay the groundwork for even more creative and sustainable development.  Aaron Thornburg, whose beautiful new work shows in the City Gallery this month, spent the last few weeks wandering the area between 16th and 22nd streets, and College and the Monon in the King Park neighborhood, observing, studying, and gathering both natural and man-made materials.  As he meandered, he was struck by the contrasts in this neighborhood. These particular few blocks are the site of Indiana’s Rebuilding Neighborhoods pilot project, a designated “smart growth” area, encompassing 602 vacant land parcels, 170 public and no tax properties and 120 vacant addresses destined for revitalization. The King Park Area Development Corporation is hard at work in this area, taking empty and abandoned lots and building new homes on them.


Some of Thornburg’s pieces feature foliage-collaged images of these angular, modern homes.  He says, “The stark contrast between development and nature has always struck me aesthetically, both inspiring my visual sensibilities and the concept of my work. With the ever increasing complexity of the modern world I strive to realize, in my art, a return to simplicity. Juxtaposing the materials of nature with those of modern construction, I try and portray a balance between the natural world and man’s creation.”  In Thornburg’s work, clean cast concrete geometric forms pair with the natural dynamism of plants, roots, seeds, salvaged wood and moss.

Thornburg was also moved by the history of this area, the “layers,” and reflects that in his stratified concrete sculptures, some layered with found manmade objects (like pieces of a historic Presbyterian church pew), and others featuring natural elements, including leaves, root systems, and the long dried catalpa pods.  The 1941 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of this neighborhood also appear in several of the pieces, adding seamlessly to Thornburg’s articulation of this neighborhood in transition.

Every month, the City Gallery celebrates the neighborhoods of this city through art.  We extol the pioneers, the historians, the story tellers, the people and businesses who are making this city even better.  Come see Aaron Thornburg’s celebration of King Park.  Tell us why you love your neighborhood . . . and if you want to know more of the hidden stories of your favorite downtown haunts, check out Historic Indianapolis.com, for a daily dose of history and story about all the places we love.