Cody Jephcote of West Tisbury is an artist of opportunity — not at all in the negative sense of the word. He doesn’t seek opportunities to promote himself or his art; entirely the opposite, in fact. Opportunity comes into play in the creation of his work. Mr. Jephcote relies almost entirely on found objects for his artwork.
Whether he’s working in three dimensions or two, just about everything that makes up a piece was scavenged from somewhere. The artist, who is perhaps best known for his sculptural assemblages, currently has about a dozen mixed-media paintings hanging at the Pathways venue at the Chilmark Tavern.
The colorful images are made up of a combination of photos from books and magazines with ink and acrylic additions. They have an otherworldly feeling to them. Anatomical images and faces are paired with mechanical parts to create a world of fantasy. “Dada and surrealism are big inspirations for my work,” says the artist.
The same sort of fantastical theme can be found in Mr. Jephcote’s found object assemblages. Mechanical parts, metal objects, bones, and plants combine to form vaguely human or animal constructions. The artist notes that he leaves the interpretation up to the viewer.
“For me, my collages and my sculptures are one and the same thing,” says Mr. Jephcote, referring to the organic process in which the pieces come together. “I start out with a rough idea; it sort of evolves as it’s made.”
Mr. Jephcote started off using driftwood, rocks, and shells to create impermanent sculptures on the beach. With the eye of a scavenger, he then started collecting odds and ends that he would find along the road or in dumpsters or junk piles. Describing some of his construction materials, the artist lists an old cage from a kerosene heater, the motor from an electric mixer, wire, washers, bendable table lamps, kitchen utensils, a car muffler, animal bones, broken garden furniture, bits of farm equipment, and a bicycle seat.
He gathers his treasures on walks along the roadside, during dumpster dives, or on trips to thrift shops and the Dumptique.
Drawing from this cache of broken, discarded, and disassembled items, Mr. Jephcote began by creating scarecrows for the Charter School to display outside Island businesses. At this point he has constructed around 50 sculptural pieces — a number of which were displayed at the West Tisbury library in 2016. Mr. Jephcote’s work has also been featured at the Workshop Gallery, the Tashmoo Spring building, the Oak Bluffs library, and Mocha Mott’s.
Mr. Jephcote was born and raised in the English Midlands. He traveled around the world before landing in London, where he met up with a group of students from Evergreen State College in Washington State. He moved to Washington, where he met more Evergreen students, including Rebecca Gilbert of the Native Earth Teaching Farm in West Tisbury. Around 1982 he visited the Vineyard, and has been here ever since, working as a gardener.
Even though he has had no art school training, Mr. Jephcote clearly has the eye of an artist and a very inventive spirit. He seems to enjoy the collecting process as much as the creation. “I walk along the road and see things that people have thrown out or that have fallen off cars,” he says. “I’m using materials that are not necessarily traditional ones. I depend on happy accidents and chance encounters.”
Although he describes his work as surrealism, Mr. Jephcote is hesitant to ascribe any sort of theme or message to his assemblages and mixed-media creations. “When I’m making things, I’m not really thinking about what it will develop into. It’s just a riff that I go with. They’re generally vague enough that people make their own stories.
“I have a love-hate relationship with art,” he says. “What it means and what people think that it means.”
Check out Mr. Jephcote’s work at Pathways through the month of January, and decide for yourself.