August 17, 2012
By Rebecca Gross
Time Flies By (2011) by How & Hosm. Spray Paint on DC3 airplane 203 x 776 x 1,142″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery
In and around Tucson, Arizona, hundreds of acres of desert serve as retirement communities for aircraft. The largest, located at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC)—commonly known as the Boneyard. Here, some planes are grounded until they are needed back in service, while others are dismantled and salvaged for their parts. At other, privately owned “boneyards” in the region, owners sell off plane carcasses and scrap parts to interested buyers. It was here, amid these jumbles of flight flotsam, that Eric Firestone came upon the inspiration for The Boneyard Project.
Firestone, who owns Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton, New York, initially asked artists to paint discarded nose cones that he had purchased, which he later installed at his gallery in a show called Nose Job. From there, the project grew from nose cones to entire planes, and the artists Faile, How & Hosm, Nunca, Retna, and Andrew Schoultz were brought to the desert to paint six unlikely canvases: three Super DC-3s, a Lockheed VC 140 Jetstar, a C45, and a C97 cockpit. The planes and nose cones were installed at Tucson’s Pima Air and Space Museum earlier this year, and Firestone is currently in discussions to display the craft at other domestic and international sites. We talked to Firestone about his inspiration for The Boneyard Project, his interest in artistic repurposing, and why not every artist requires a paintbrush.
NEA: How did you first find out about these airplane graveyards?
ERIC FIRESTONE: I’ve actually had a home in Arizona for almost 20 years, and I had dealt with both art and design since I was 21 years old. So if you’re in southern Arizona, and you know about the culture down there, you know that this is where airplanes go to retire and these graveyards were really incredible sources for industrial design, especially to be reincorporated. Unfortunately in the past decade, they’ve been highly depleted to the point now where they’re an almost completely vanished subculture in the desert because the U.S. government doesn’t contract these private parties to dismantle planes anymore. So with the prices of scrap metal rising so dramatically in the past decade, most of these planes have disappeared. So I was in a unique opportunity to figure out a way to conjugate some of the remaining elements out there and repurpose them for a whole new existence.
Naughty Angels (2012) by Faile. Acrylic on Beechcraft C45 aircraft 116 x 410 x 572″. Photo by Jason Wawro for Eric Firestone Gallery
NEA: I don’t think most people would think “brilliant canvas” if they ever saw discarded planes. How did that connection take place for you?
FIRESTONE: I had been dealing in historic graffiti and street culture the past few years, and really became a student of the history of where that movement gained so much attention, especially in New York in the 1970s and into the ‘80s. I thought about the idea that transportation has always been used as a mode—at least [since] that movement—to create work that could be seen by the masses. I also thought about the history of nose art, and how in WWII, the [troops] used these planes and personalized them with all types of caricatures. In the winter of 2010 when I was down in Miami during Art Basel, it all clicked. I realized, “Wait a second. How can I take this a level higher?” And I started thinking about the planes.
The project started in April 2011. We were able to implement the first stage of the project not knowing fully where it was going to go. We got the first group of artists out there…but as we created the project, we kept the plane park very secretive. Then we started engaging artists to paint the nose cones, which is the other part of the project. We had our first show in New York in July 2011 with a show called Nose Job.
Knowing that this [project] was happening, an opportunity arose so locally that it made too much sense: the Pima Air and Space Museum contacted me about exhibiting the planes. First they wanted to exhibit a plane, and I said why don’t we exhibit all the planes, and put the noses there? We opened that showing late January of this year, and that’s when the floodgates began to open, so to speak. We’ve had worldwide response, and I’m negotiating how to try and continue the project.