Diamonds In The Rough

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Old Westbury artist transforms trash into one of a kind art

Where most see trash, Richard Gachot sees treasure. For the Old Westbury artist, that old bottle cap is a hat, a cheese grater the body of an alligator, an umbrella is a spider web. As a master in the medium of found objects, Gachot has been transforming junk into art for almost 40 years.

Richard Gachot with his piece Uncle Sam, First Man on the Moon in his studio.
Richard Gachot with his piece Uncle Sam, First Man on the Moon in his studio.

His materials come from his home, the beach, auctions, tag sales and the curbs of his neighborhood on garbage day. But there’s inspiration to be found everywhere he looks. He’s picked up discarded wooden Native American figures from a children’s mini golf course and a piece of wood from alongside the service road of the Long Island Expressway (LIE). His creations are comprised of broken phone transistors, toilet tank floats, cupcake pans, tin cans, bicycle wheels and more. But putting together a sculpture from found objects isn’t just piling items onto each other, it’s an art form.

“You want something that looks like a piece of art, not like a bunch of pieces put on the table like junk,” Gachot said. “I like parts that go together to make something. You can have fun saying what you want to say, and doing it with your hands.”

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Election Devil, 2004

While Gachot has experience in painting and carving and often incorporates these skills into his art, he said found objects allow him a new freedom to communicate and create. For Gachot, the items themselves often inspire the ideas.

“The first thing about art is you have an idea you want to comment on or create, then you pick a media,” Gachot said. “I’ve been doing found objects because they sometimes trigger the idea. Sometimes I need to just express it that way. I’ve carved a lot but it doesn’t always say what I want. Found objects suggest something better than I could carve or paint.”

Several of Gachot’s pieces include levers and cranks, which when turned, activate a series of mechanisms that make the art work come alive. Parts move back and forth, bells ring, and wheels turn. The intricate work and creativity that goes into his pieces point back to how when he was younger, Gachot was considering a career in industrial design, after studying design and color at Yale. He chose to go into advertising instead, noting it would be extremely difficult to provide for his family of five children with an artist’s salary. He commuted for 35 years into the city on the LIE. The daily bumper-to-bumper journey was hellish, but as he sat in traffic he would think of ideas for art pieces, making industry pieces at night as a hobby.

“I had these things in my mind that would be fun to do,” Gachot said.

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Turn the crank of this piece titled Chicken’s Lament, and the chicken moves up and down while Colonel Sanders tries to hold onto a rope around her neck.

Sometimes, he even found materials on the way. He recalls during one morning commute, a truck with chickens in crates toppled over, spilling its contents all over the expressway right in front of the Midtown Tunnel. As chickens ran all over the road, Gachot picked up some fragments of the crate that were in front of his car, later using it for one of his pieces. On another drive, he took a wedge of wood he saw beside the LIE service road and painted it red and green like a watermelon, using it for a fruit platter piece.

“You observe something by the colors and how it looks, not what you like to think it was. I see things differently,” Gachot said.

His pieces are witty and clever, and while not all of them have a meaning, others do. A piece titled Long Island Developer Monster depicts Long Island in the mouth of a fish, who is excreting bones, to suggest Gachot’s distaste for developers tearing up Long Island’s natural land. He sometimes incorporates religious and political figures in his work, however, doesn’t characterize himself as a social commentator. He creates simply because he loves art and uses it as a vehicle to convey how he sees the world.

Deviltry depicts the seven deadly sins.
Deviltry depicts the seven deadly sins.

“I like doing art,” Gachot said. “Some of the pieces are nothing more than a better way of capturing something I saw. Those that have a message, I did because it was a way of expressing how I felt about something going on in the world.”

His studio, a restored 1800s Quaker icehouse, houses his creations. His work has been shown at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington and Nassau County Museum of Art, as well as numerous other galleries and exhibits. He’s created more than 300 pieces, and at 83 years old, he’s not done yet.

“There’s nothing more miraculous than the mind being able to direct the hands to do something,” Gachot said. “It’s a miracle compared to anything we have in the way of computers. And it’s fun to do. I have fun doing it.”

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Betsy Abraham is the former senior managing editor at Anton Media Group and editor of The Westbury Times and Massapequa Observer. She also wrote for Long Island Weekly.

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