Burning Man Photosculpturist Comes to Town

Michael Garlington in his studio. Image courtesy of BAMM.   

Michael Garlington in his studio. Image courtesy of BAMM.


Known for sculptures behemoth in size but meticulously detailed, Michael Garlington--of Burning Man notoriety--is exhibiting his haunting yet fun work at a South Bay gallery.

His photosculpture collection, titled "Let it Burn," will be on exhibit until Nov. 8 at JCO's Place in Los Gatos.

JCO's is a fairly petite gallery and much smaller in comparison to the vast desert where Garlington's Totem of Confessions was explored by thousands in September, then subsequently burned to the ground with a dose of Timothy Leary's ashes inside.

But the gallery offers an up close and personal vision of the artist's surreal approach to photography and the sculptures he creates to place his subjects into an alternate world.

Michael Garlington, whose Totem of Confessions at this year s Burning Man became a vessel for Timothy Leary s ashes, is exhibiting a series of 'photosculptures' called 'Let It Burn' at JCO s Place for Fine Art. (Anne Gelhaus)"All I want is to portray mystery and wonder," Garlington said of his work. "It tells [the onlooker] to follow a pathway and story."

It's often up to the viewer to decipher his photosculptures. Using black, white and sepia tones, the Petaluma artist sometimes double-exposes his photos to leave a ghostly imprint as characters move about. Others are still shots but set in sculpted scenes reminiscent of early 1900s carnival photos.

Garlington takes only a couple shots of each of his set-ups, as his time and energy is devoted more to the sculpting and design elements. To that end, some of the photos themselves are framed in his art.

Tea cups, porcelain knickknacks, figurines, fabrics and even paper cutouts of other photos are carefully assembled creating a border around the photographs, and a doorway into the image.

"The way I started making art was through my parents' dark room," he said, working in their Bay Area photo lab. "I printed photos for 10 to 15 years before I ever took a picture. When I finally started taking pictures, I just loved being with people."


And as he snapped more pictures, he said, he found that he loved to build ornate costumes and three-dimensional collaged settings for his shoots.

While the photosculptures on display in Los Gatos are for sale, Garlington's largest pieces have been burned to the ground--and he is totally fine with it.
"At Burning Man, it's such a massive place and I can make these big things, then you don't have to bring it home because you burn it," he said. "A lot of people have mixed feelings about that, but it's like one of those Tibetan sand mandalas. ... When they're done with it, they blow it away."

He said letting go of the massive Photo Chapel in 2013 and this year's Totem of Confessions was "very easy."

"More than 70,000 people saw it and then went away with it," Garlington said.
The 60-foot high structure was plastered in photo collage, and much of it was trimmed in gold, giving it a gothic cathedral look.

Inside were peep-hole dioramas that people lined up to see.

"My concept of the totem was to give them everything," Garlington said. "A lot of the pieces at the [JCO's Place] show are extensions of the cathedral."

The gallery is at 45 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos. Call 408.888.1500 for gallery hours.