The main exhibit room at the Missoula Art Museum looks like an intricate, odd construction project. Artist Gary Horinek kneels, drilling a hole into a flat metal sheet on a large platform, covered in rippling, bubbling concrete, which resembles a landscape model. Concrete pillars rise from the platform, mimicked by railroad ties standing throughout the rest of the room. He's working on an installation piece he's dubbed "The Gathering," which, he says, celebrates how humans are connected to the earth through the materials and minerals that we're made of.
A ruddy-faced man with springy gray curls, tanned arms and rough hands, Horinek also has a severe stutter. When he gets stuck on a sound, he waves his arms until he breaks free to deliver thoughtful, deliberate statements."I've never really been a master of the English language and written word," he says, "... I create these objects and put these thoughts into physical form."
Horinek spends his winters making installations and sculptures out of metals, rock, wood and grasses as a break from his work as a third-generation wheat farmer near Hingham, a tiny town between Chester and Havre on the Hi-Line. Given that his latest installation has involved pouring concrete and raising railroad ties, it doesn't seem like much of a break from farming. "I like working with my hands," he says.
He started making art after taking a few classes at the University of Montana, where he studied geology but didn't finish his degree. "Wanted to get off the farm for a bit," he says.
He also spent time visiting galleries and museums in New York City, where he observed that venerated art often comes out of urban inspirations. "I wanted to find objects in my rural scene," he says.
Photos are all that's left of many of Horinek's expansive, elaborate installations, which he sometimes shows in warehouses. It's a bit tough to frame and sell a 20-by-37-foot wooden display topped with screens and wheat grass, for instance. He jokes that he'll sell his latest piece "by the pound."
Horinek likes creating, and doesn't mind that his work gets discarded or reused. That comfort with cycles of decay and renewal seems to play into many of his pieces.
For "The Gathering," viewers are invited to sit on one of three benches and observe what Horinek thinks of as a "flow of information," or, it seems, cultural life force. Water, or "information," leaves the central part of the platform, which is meant to resemble a primordial landscape, and flows into an area with a ceramic jar surrounded by pottery shards. The area is meant to represent civilization. The "information" further flows out into the tall timbers surrounding the platform, represented by salvaged railroad ties. "They show how we store information, and it stays with us for a long time," Horinek says.
He agrees that the timbers are comparable to how we store the written word on paper. The timbers placed farthest from the platform are decayed, showing how eventually time will rot even the sturdiest materials. Horinek sees the "flow" circling back to the platform, where layers of coal represent the decaying carbon matter returning to nature.
It's fitting that across the hall from Horinek's work, dozens of cow heads mildly gaze out from the Blindsided exhibit, sculpted by another Montana farmer, Tracy Linder, giving museum visitors a rather agricultural feel.
MAM curator Stephen Glueckert says he's proud of showing a side of art that's inspired by rural living. "We Montanans sometimes sell ourselves short ... We have really gifted artists in our communities," he says.
Thought-provoking pieces can come out of a New York studio, or from the calloused hands of a Hi-Line farmer.
"The Gathering" opens at the Missoula Art Museum on Fri., March 1, with reception from 5 to 8 PM. The artist will give a walk-through at 7 PM.