By Barbara Santos
A master of kinetic sculpture, Prescott has traded the cool adobe of New Mexico for a flower farm on Maui. He's built a studio in Kula and is bringing new energy to the Maui Art scene.
Look out. You are about to enter the marvelous world of artist Fredrick Prescott. Do you recognize the blonde on the back of the Harley or the pompadour coiffed teenager in the "57" Chevy? Watch a couple dancing the jitterbug and spy on a bus full of miniature people. Hey, they are us! Before long you will be wandering down Broadway or surfing the waves with dolphins. The outrageous colors will certainly grab you, the three-dimensional scenes will touch a nostalgic nerve. The rhythmic movement draws you into these day-dream scenes. It's all in the studio that Prescott built.
Artist Prescott, an ageless 46, is already a recognized master of his chosen medium and style - kinetic steel sculpture. He charges into the studio with his black pup, Mango, and begins work by setting in motion dozens of mechanical scenes with a push here and a touch there. Now he is about to burst onto the Maui art scene with the same boundless energy and sense of playfulness that he captures in his art.
In a major life change last year, Prescott moved his family and extended family of artisans based in Santa Fe, New Mexico to rustic Upcountry Maui. This successful mainland artist has found a special blend of tranquility and inspiration at the end of a long gravel road in Kula...not to mention great windsurfing down at Ho'okipa Beach.
Prescott has just completed this 5,000 square foot barn-like studio that blends discreetly into the surrounding agricultural community better known for protea and birds-of-paradise than museum quality art. Don't be fooled by the bucolic exterior. Inside this light filled space on the Prescott farm is a fantastic "Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory" of a workshop. Hundreds of glossy bright, gumball colored handpainted pieces sit happily on shelves awaiting assembly into one of Prescott's playful works of art. Some nearly completed pieces glow with cool neon accents. A vintage toy robot collection lends inspiration. Prescott has created works for the Warner Brothers and Disney Studios, so a human sized artist's model of Goofy only adds a bit more whimsy at the Prescott Studios.
Head honcho, father figure and creative captain of the Prescott Studios, Prescott oversees each step of every piece, breaking tradition with sculptors who design a work and then ship it to a foundry for production. The studio encompasses all stages of the creative process and includes work space for master welder Scot Furgason and artist Adele Baca. Both were trained by Prescott and followed him to Maui from the mainland.
They have found a handsome home in this newly completed studio filled with natural light, comic strip color, and a wild sense of humor. "We used to have 30,000 square feet in Santa Fe, but we just filled it up with STUFF." Prescott is pleased with the efficient Maui work space he designed with lots of glass. "We don't need lights at all during the day." Views of the farm and Haleakala provide instant ideas. Prescott picked up a brush and deftly added wavy lines to a piece as he spoke. Obviously, most works are 'in progress' until the moment they are shipped to galleries around the world. All have a life of their own. Girls' Night Out 1994 tells of a simpler time when cruising down Main Street in a convertible was as good as life got. Times Square 1994 spoofs the glitz of New York complete with neon marquees and swaying taxi cabs.
Now Prescott is looking toward Hawaii for artistic subjects. Windsurfers Double depicts windsurfers skipping over undulant waves. "It is a popular design with visitors from Japan and Europe," says vice president of marketing for Prescott Studios, Randy Hunter. Fantasy fish sway in imaginary currents in Tropical Fish 1994.
You must touch a Prescott kinetic sculpture. Prescott laughs at the image of museums with guards and barriers that keep viewers safely away from the art. Human touch is mandatory to give his own art its animated personality. His newest sculpture, Hawaiian Hula, captures the romance of Hawaii during the hey-day of cruise ships. The scene comes to life, and continues to move, using the momentum of a slight push on a hula dancer's grass skirt and on the huge rising/setting moon.
Prescott's kinetic sculpture has a cartoon's pure palette, a Jerry Seinfeld wit in observing the ordinary, and precision engineering that allows the fascinating movement. Not surprisingly, Prescott's playful works appeal to people who nurture their own childlike creativity...people like director Steven Speilberg and comedian Howie Mandel. Other collectors of Prescott's work include Sylvester Stallone, Kathleen Sullivan, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Who would guess Prescott's imaginative works of art are created with the newest most powerful metal fabrication tools available? Judging from the taut biceps and strong hands, there is nothing light weight about the physical work that goes into the creation of Prescott's kinetic sculptures. Prescott grew up working in his father's metal fabrication shop in the San Francisco Bay Area. That company, Universal Coin Meter Company, conceived and constructed the first coin mechanisms for coin operated laundry equipment.
Today, Prescott is as comfortable welding his own mechanical art creations as he is drawing the original designs for each piece. In the metal fabrication area of the Prescott Studio sits his pride and joy - an industrial monster machine called a Plasma Arc. "It's the best in the world," Prescott claims. It effortlessly cuts massive sheets of steel into the basic building blocks of his art. "I take original concept drawings, reduce them to simple shapes, then scan them into a computer that controls the machine." The machine is considerably larger than a king-sized bed and fills with water so there is no smoke as the electric arc cuts the steel. "Sure, sculptors used to use rocks and chisels," he muses and visibly shudders to think how limiting that would be for him.
You'll find Prescott's kinetic sculpture in the permanent collections of museums across the country. How did it feel to be included in an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art? "Almost everyone else in the show was dead," Prescott quipped mischievously. Serious for a brief moment, Prescott allows he is particularly proud that his donated pieces are cheering up children's hospitals and raising funds for non-profit programs through art auctions.
The move to Maui allowed Prescott the opportunity to focus on his family and his work. While he admits Santa Fe was a "great place to live" for 18 years, it was beginning to become such a happening place it distracted him from his art. "I realized I needed to get off my butt and get out of there." It wasn't that way in the early years when he was nurtured as an artist by the 'cool old buildings' and flourishing art scene. "I am an ocean person, yet here I was miles away in New Mexico. Looking back, that was what was so inspirational at first. I wasn't surfing, I was focused. For a while, I thought I needed to be in New York. But if I had gone there, I would have been swallowed up."
The birth of his son, Maximo, has made Prescott realize you can't work all the time. Still, while the studio was being built, he worked in a dismal equipment shed on the farm. Now looking around his new studio he shrugs, "This is what I do." Prescott could no more stop working on his art than stop breathing.
What challenges did Prescott encounter in his move to Maui? "Bugs and rust," he laughs. He figures keeping pineapple bugs off the wet paint will always be a challenge since his land abuts Maui Land & Pineapple fields. He prevents the ocean air induced rust by heavily prime coating all steel pieces immediately after cutting. Prescott also knew the remoteness of Maui would be difficult. Everything from raw sheets of steel to paint must be shipped to the studio from O'ahu or the mainland. The studio is becoming more ecologically conscious these days. "We recycle almost all incoming packaging for our outgoing packing material."
The hardest part of working Maui? "I get so focused on my work, I have to remind myself to go windsurfing!" Watching Prescott in his studio, it is clear there's nothing hard about working on Maui. Or anywhere on earth for that matter.
Prescott's art ranges in size from table-top kinetic sculptures to commissioned pieces that fill public spaces. For pricing information, click here.
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