John Caesar: Carpenter. Recycler. Artist. Not necessarily in that order. These are the words that describe a man who takes scraps of wood and turns it into art. To say that he repurposes wood for a better use is really just a euphemism.
“John is a true genius with wood,” said Mark Bachmann who hired Caesar for carpentry in his Westport home. “The term 'repurposing', however, I think understates the sophistication of what he does. He reminds me of someone who rescues orphans in order to nurture them back to happy and productive lives. Except that he does this with discarded scraps of wood that would otherwise be incinerated or left to rot.”
Caesar said he has been remodeling for years. But his art, or wood “paintings” as he calls them, literally came from the scrap heap. “I see the life-force or nature of these things,” he said. “I want to reveal what I see in them. It’s me being in love with these things that people cover up with paint.”
With little exception, Caesar said the wood he uses is never colored. The purple is really purple and the red is really red. He has used over 50 different species including white oak, ebony, bloodwood, and purple heart. He even uses Canadian holly, which grows large enough to harvest and contributes the natural white color to his pieces.
But it’s not just his work that sets Caesar apart. It’s his waste-not-want-not view of things. “I never throw anything out,” he said. “I’m a serious recycler. I even reuse my shower water for my fish tank and the fish tank water for my plants.”
For Matt and Bronwyn Prohaska, Caesar’s recycling habits came in handy for their kitchen renovation. “He tried really hard to recycle existing pieces of molding, trim, etc., that he had removed from one area and cut it down to use in another area, so we wouldn't have to use more wood than necessary,” Bronwyn said in a recent e-mail. “We also had a lot of holes around light switches when we took off the old backsplashes and cabinets, which he was very adamant about insulating. It sounds like a small thing and most people don't think about, but once you put your hand in front of these holes you can feel how much cold air is blowing in. Insulating those made a huge difference in the tempurature of our temporary kitchen.”
Bachmann also highlighted Caesar’s recycling abilities. “John carries the concept of recycling to an entirely new level,” he said. “Every old board seems to speak to John…asking him to tell its unique story to the world, which is what he does in his work.”
Since 2004, Caesar has created approximately 90 wood paintings. As Caesar says on his web site, his intention is to create objects that are “simultaneously modern and shamanic, contemporary and totemic.” He studies Eastern art, philosophy and meditation, and he says, “I recognize and embrace these influences on my ever evolving work.” Even the smallest strips of wood find a place in his creations.
One of his works is entitled “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.” In 1927 at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Werner Heisenberg developed this principle based on quantum mechanics. It is generally stated in terms of position and momentum: The more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be known. As Caesar applies to his own life, in order for everything to be possible, anything has to be possible. “If I can start as a remodeler and become a working artist,” he said, “anything is possible.”
With a positive outlook while making something from nothing, he considers his art his “better self.” As he put it, in a world that we’re destroying by overcrowding, “It’s still possible to be better.”
Images courtesy of Craig X. Sotres.