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The Wild Kingdom

Victoria Kerr
Robert Sheer

The Martians Have Handed: Artist Victoria Kerr proudly cuddles with her hand-made hedonist Zopitoe, one of her many masterpieces made entirely with recycled materials.

Revisionary artist Victoria Kerr finds beauty, joy and inspiration in all the trash that modern culture leaves behind

By Mary Spicuzza

MARZINA, IF STANDING, would only reach about four-and-a-half feet tall. Instead, the mini, many-eyed Martian chooses to stretch her spindly toes as she reclines in a wicker chair next to her green alien buddy, Zopitoe. Zopitoe, a beer-swilling hedonist from the planet of X-S, slurps Abbot Ale through a fluorescent twisty straw while pinching an M&M between two fingers. The unfinished Marzina, her hair still in cornrows, awaits her glass of wine and Kerr jar full of candy.

The charming couple are recent additions to the collection of Victoria Kerr, a self-taught sculptress who moved to Ben Lomond last spring. The aliens may look completely different from most of her past works, which include realistic sculptures of endangered species and whimsical character animal portraits, but, like all of Kerr's "children," they have bones of plastic, glass, Styrofoam and cardboard.

They're basically trash.

No offense to the kids. It's actually a high compliment to Kerr's innovative recycling abilities.

Junk art. The words conjure up images of aluminum-can mobiles and Styrofoam Christmas tree ornaments. Sure, everyone applauds the effort of saving trash from the fate of a landfill--an eternal grave of baby diapers and oozing batteries--but most recycled art isn't exactly what you'd give to dear old Mom for Mothers' Day. The mandrill baboon greeting visitors at the home of the self-taught sculptress proves Kerr's work is hardly a dump of dumpster dioramas.

With a "skeleton" of plastic bottles, wire and nontoxic recycled Celluclay skin, the mandrill is a masterpiece of detail. Next to him an orangutan hunches over pensively, elbows propped on knees, looking like a hairy, tailed version of The Thinker.

Buster the life-size bulldog sits on Kerr's coffee table, begging for dinner with huge puppy-dog eyes--courtesy of a friendly neighborhood taxidermy catalogue. Each and every step into Kerr's Ben Lomond living room is like walking deeper into a Discovery Channel nature show.

Listerine Inspirations

KERR PICKS UP A RHINOCEROS from her coffee table. It is a marvel of intricate wrinkles and coarsely textured skin. "One day I picked up a Listerine bottle," she says, "and something about it just reminded me of a rhino. Most of my pieces begin that way."

Many of Kerr's sculptures begin as creations for herself. She has sworn to keep dozens of her pieces, but the mere handful of sculptures remaining in her home and studio reveal that the majority of her babies have been adopted.

"It's always the ones I'm the most attached to that people want to buy," says the sculptress. "I don't know if it's because I'm so hesitant to sell them or because so much of myself has gone into them from the beginning."

Every part--save the taxidermy eyeballs--of Kerr's sculptures is made of reused, recycled and ecologically friendly materials. Even the Celluclay used in the outer skin layer comes from nontoxic, recycled fabrics and does not require energy-consuming firing. The acrylic paints aren't exactly safe to drink, but Kerr doesn't spray them from ozone-eating aerosol cans, either.

Kerr's detailed sculptures lead one to expect that she has poured thousands of dollars into art school or has been doing this for decades. But she has taken just a few community college art classes and has only been in the recycled art business for six years. "I just finally found a job that I love," she says. "I've done just about every odd job, from bagging wild rice at a factory near Mount Shasta to working for a seamstress. I knew since grade school that I wanted to create art, but after high school came marriage, kids, then raising two kids as a single mother. I was always so busy before."

While she may just be building a name for herself in Santa Cruz County, former Southern Californian Kerr has garnered kudos throughout the state for her work. In 1994, she showed up in grand style at the Orange County Fair with a giant mother pig and eight muddy piglets. The following year, planners selected her as the featured artist of the fair. Kerr created several endangered species sculptures for a 10,000-square-foot tropical rain forest named "Thunder Lagoon."

That same year, Kerr's home town of Costa Mesa presented her with the 1995 Environmental Achievement Award, naming her "Most Innovative Recycler."

After much prodding from those persistent Orange County folk, Victoria Kerr agreed to conduct group demonstrations and teach classes in sculpture. "It was great to work with people," says Kerr, "but the more I got involved with teaching, the less I was able to focus on my work."

Gard Hinojos

Endangered Art: This red orangutan was created by Kerr for 'Thunder Lagoon,' a giant rainforest exhibit featuring several of the artist's endangered species sculptures.

Pigs in a Poke

KERR'S QUIET BEN LOMOND studio should provide her with space for concentration. The workspace, converted from a storage shed with the help of fiancee Gard Hinojos, is covered in recycling bins overflowing with Styrofoam, bottles and cans.

Hinojos, every bit as excited as Kerr about her work, offers a steady stream of support and warm meals.

Friends and family also have been very enthusiastic about her new career. "Believe me," she says, "once people found out I use all this stuff, I haven't had to go out looking for it--junk just finds me."

There are several finished sculptures inside the studio, but most are works in progress. A large woman-shaped lamp waits in the nude for her negligee lampshade to be placed into raised hands. Bowls of loose fingers and eyeballs wait to find that perfect fit.

An inspirational photo of Miss Piggy in an evening gown smiles toward Kerr's workspace. "She's there as a reminder that I have to do her someday," she explains. "Pigs have been my biggest sellers, after all--I just finished my 76th and 77th swine."

These are no Carmel-style cookie-cutter pigs, though. Each original hand-made piece has a personality of its own. "I've made flying pigs, poker-playing pigs, pigs devouring chocolate," Kerr says, her eyes lighting up at the mention of chocolate. Kerr is a major M&M fan, a theme that runs through much of her work. "I just finished a pig smokin' a stogie and toasting with cognac, although I don't like to promote the tobacco industry. But the woman really wanted me to incorporate a cigar into the piece."

A small television rests on the counter of her studio. "I'm addicted to nature shows," she explains. "I love to watch animals as I sculpt them. It enables me to see how they move, what they sound like--plus it gives me a sense of each animal's personality."

In Northern California, Kerr's work can be found only at Interior Services of Los Gatos. "Other shops have expressed interest," she says, "but Interior Services has kept me plenty busy for now."

As for future plans, it's unclear what Kerr has in store for the next soda bottle that strikes her fancy. Maybe a gorgeous goat, a meerkat standing at attention or unique Styrofoam furniture for her future home.

Regardless, as most Santa Cruzans haul their plastic bags to the curb each week, Kerr's sculptures will undoubtedly continue to be the most exciting waste-reduction program around.

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From the Oct. 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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