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How Water Balloons + Golf Clubs = Art

How Water Balloons + Golf Clubs = Art
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As a child, Chicago-based artist Kyle Fletcher was “a restless creator,” crafting battleships, commandeering alien landscapes, devising games on paper, building finger skateboards that he’d cut and sell at school. “Eventually, everyone was just commissioning South Park characters and I had to get out of the finger skateboard business due to creative repetition fatigue,” he says. “Fast forward 25 years, and not much has changed except that my clients are brands and my artistic restlessness is finding some patience.”

Among Fletcher’s oeuvre is a series of “golf paintings”: a body of work created by hitting paint-filled water balloons with a golf club as many as 72 times. Here, Fletcher shares five pivotal points on the process, including what it feels like to hit a “pure shot.” (We know you were wondering.)

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Club and Splatter

The idea itself was an accident. “A few years ago, I processed and overcame some health issues by creating a personal body of work thematically centered around the sport of tennis, which I played competitively until college. Tennis is a wonderful conceptual and physical medium because it’s a balance of constraints, both mental and physical. Golf was a natural departure. At the time, I was painting a bit and also going to the driving range once a week to practice—the idea just clicked through circumstance.”

Prep is key. “Prep is a big part of the process, just as in real golf. Except here, I’m setting up a Dexter-like kill room at the studio. I don’t pre-fill the balloons; instead, I fill as I go, so I can react accordingly to whatever happens. This brought about the idea of the ‘golf towel,’ which is just a piece of paper I use to clean the club throughout. Scraping paint from its grooves makes some incredibly interesting splatter marks—I’m very proud of those towels and their throw-away beauty.”

Tempera is tops. “Initially, I thought it would be great to use tons of different types of paints—oils, enamels, acrylics, tempera, gouache—just to experiment. Eventually, I settled on tempera because I was getting results I liked: good splatter, dry time, hold. And it isn’t super toxic, which is important, since I often end up getting some in my mouth.”

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Painting #1: Ground and Sky

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Painting #2: Ground and Sky

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Painting #3: Ground and Sky

It’s as satisfying as it sounds. “If you underfill a balloon, it might bounce back and hit you; if you overfill, it’ll explode everywhere. A bad swing will rocket a balloon in the wrong direction. There’s a lot that can go badly, but overcoming all of that and hitting a good shot is incredibly satisfying. In golf, there’s the term “pure-ing” a shot. It’s what they call a shot that’s hit perfectly in the center of the clubface so the ball flies in a perfect trajectory. That feeling comes into play with the paintings, too. I love hitting a pure shot.”

The idea is evolving. “A composer friend, Avi Amon, reached out to collaborate after seeing one of the slo-mo videos I posted to Instagram. He was really excited about the sound of the club striking the surface and wanted audio samples of the entire process for a piece he was creating in an abandoned grain silo in Buffalo. Who knew putting yourself out there could lead to such an interesting turn of events? I brought in a sound engineer, Matthew Freer, to do the recordings, which ended up being a little tricky. I didn’t want to ruin any of his nice sound equipment.”

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