Sea full of shoefish

The constructs of artist-engineer David Joseph land at M.V. Film Center’s artspace.


Invention is an elemental ingredient in David Joseph’s life, as an artist, physician, engineer — and inventor. His show, “The Wild World of Found Object Art,” curated by Featherstone Center for the Arts at the Feldman Family Artspace in the M.V. Film Center, is a blast. Right and left brains merge in Joseph’s found-object wall and freestanding sculptures, a reflection of his imagination in art and scientific ingenuity.

Joseph’s two interests have evolved together since childhood. He began painting geometric acrylics when young, and had several gallery exhibits during middle school. Equally drawn to science, engineering, and inventing, he faced a decision when offered a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago and acceptance to MIT. “It made a lot more sense to be a scientist and do art on the side than to be an artist and do science on the side,” Joseph explains. He majored in chemical engineering at MIT, which he enjoyed for its hands-on approach. 

Certified in three specialties, Joseph briefly practiced medicine, but went into medical invention, preferring the intellectual stimulation of combining engineering and medicine. At the same time he became a prodigious travel photographer, visiting more than 120 countries on all seven continents. “That was my creative release,” he says.

COVID put a complete stop to his wanderings, and Joseph relates, “I was going stir-crazy looking for a creative outlet.” To keep occupied, he started cleaning out the garage. While going through endless boxes of accumulated items, he started playing around with combinations of old objects, which he began constructing into anthropomorphic sculptures — a new passion was born.

Joseph describes his work as being made of old, used, or common household items, toys, and sports equipment. Each whimsical, thought-provoking piece displays a trained artist’s balanced composition and an engineer’s skill.

The art’s tongue-in-cheek titles beckon us to deconstruct them as we instinctively seek to identify their parts — all of which relate to and support the sculpture’s particular theme. 

Joseph used a Brannock foot measurement device for the main body of “Shoefish,” and vintage shoehorns to create its tail and fins. He says of the charming piece, “I was looking at these two shoetrees [that make up the mouth], and when I put them together, it created a wonderful smile and gave me such a happy fish.”

“Gamefish” is literally constructed from game parts. A Kadima beach paddle covered with part of a Monopoly board is the creature’s body; a boomerang its tail; dice, chess pieces, and the like add accents and details.

Joseph, a half-time Island resident, pulls from years of his accumulated items, and trolls flea markets, the Dumptique, and Chicken Alley here on the Vineyard: “Sometimes I see something, and it inspires a finished product. Or it may make a great head or legs.” In other instances, he leaves an item out on his workbench for days or weeks, seeing it daily before he is struck with what he wants to create.

Joseph fashions his aptly titled “Hockeyfish” with hockey sticks, pucks, a hockey skate, faceguard, and mouthguard, along with assorted humorously associated bandages and a salve tin. These large pieces take approximately four days to complete, including laying out the items, playing with the design, and finally fastening them in place.

Sometimes Joseph develops terrific stories to accompany his art. “It gives me the ability to show my mind frame when I’m thinking about the work and putting it together … and to add a bit of levity.” Not surprisingly, the tales are inventive, as we see with the one for “Hockeyfish”: “The hockeyfish is one of a number of species of coldwater fish; however, the hockeyfish is very special in that the hockeyfish actually prefers frozen water to liquid water! As such, they are usually found in cold climates, such as New England, Canada, and the northern Midwest. Hockeyfish are well-known for their determination, perseverance, mental toughness, teamwork, and physical fitness (although some may call them stubborn). Another trait of hockeyfish is their extreme loyalty to their own school, and they often get into violent fights with hockeyfish from other schools. In fact, in New England, four schools of hockeyfish fight each other every year over nothing more than a pot of beans! It’s no wonder that many schools of hockeyfish have a dentistfish and docfish that travel with their school!”

For “Charles, the Blue-Blooded King of Lake Tashmoo,” with its shell made from a hard hat painted gold, he writes, “Horseshoe crabs are quite literally the ‘blue bloods’ of the marine kingdom, and the extremely rare golden horseshoe crabs are the Kings and Queens. Charles was born and raised in Lake Tashmoo, where his ancestors had lived since the Mesozoic Era, when dinosaurs roamed Martha’s Vineyard. Charles currently reigns over one of the largest populations of horseshoe crabs in the Northeastern U.S. While Charles usually feasts on the abundant supply of clams in Lake Tashmoo, he has been known to occasionally sneak off to O.B. for a burger from Fat Ronnie’s or the Barn, Bowl & Bistro.”

Joseph also constructs jam-packed square assemblages along themes such as “Monochrome in Blue; Under the Sea.” Hidden among mermaids and aquatic life is “treasure,” including a key, a watch part, toys, a golf ball, and other items that should not be under the sea.

At their essence, Joseph’s whimsical sculptures reflect an environmental element, as he hopes we come away from his show with an appreciation for things that would have otherwise been tossed away, and possibly even with a bit of inspiration to see what cleaning out our drawers, cabinets, garages, or attics might inspire us to do.

“The Wild World of Found Object Art,” curated by Featherstone Center for the Arts, is on view at the Feldman Family Artspace in the Film Center through May 19. More of David Joseph’s constructions and creative work can be found at