Steve Bormes exhibit at PLAC explores the depths of his imagination

It’s often said that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the depths of Earth’s oceans. So they would seem to be the best place from which to conjure up fantastical creatures.

That’s exactly what Steve Bormes has done. “Deep Sea Imaginarium” mines both the depths of his imagination as well as those deepest parts of our unexplored oceans to create a wondrous exhibit that is on display at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji. It will be on display until July 6 in the Monte Pearson Gallery and is sure to inspire the imaginations of visitors of all ages.

“This is one of those really wonderful shows. Steve is so fun and imaginative, I could immediately envision the exhibit in this space,” said Danielle Clouse Gast, visual arts director at the art center. “Time of year is important to us, too, and this was great as our school tour season transitions into summer — the idea of fish and summer and the lakes was great and playful too.”

It’s not just the amazingly bizarre ocean creatures that will fascinate visitors, but also the materials from which they’re constructed.

Johnson boat motors and fishing lures make sense given the underwater theme. Less so maybe the plane parts, surgical lights, car taillights and many other odds and ends.

Bormes credits childhood ingenuity and a fascination with the self-reliance of early settlers and farmers.

“I was the sixth out of eight kids. There was no way we were going to get a go-kart so we had to go find junk and build our own. We would find old boards one at a time and build a tree fort out of that stuff — I thought that was pretty cool,” Bormes said. “Our ancestors always had to find out a way to do things and farmers are just amazing people that have to figure out how to fix whatever goes wrong in their world.”

In fact, many of the pieces Bormes’s sea creatures are made of have come from his travel through rural South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

“Every now and then I get to take a day off and go drive in the country. I’ll ask around and ask if anyone fixes old boats — there’s always a guy — and I’ll go find that guy and a barn-load of crazy old boat motors and other pieces of who-knows-what,” Bormes said. “Sometimes I have no idea what the piece or part is, but I just fall in love with the lines, colors and shapes.”

One place he visits in South Dakota has close to 1,000 snowmobiles on the property. Locals familiar with his work recently dropped off a flight simulator at his gallery in Sioux Falls.

Then there are his trips to Turkey for the gallery, which specializes in handmade Turkish rugs and antiquities. On those journeys he often picks fascinating objects that make their way into his creations.

“Some of them I know right away when I see it. I can picture in my mind what the finished pieces will look like,” Bormes said. “But often I have no clue and I am just fascinated by the lines of something.”

Bormes has had parts and pieces sit in his studio for a few days, or even a few years, before they coalesced into their final form.

“The Johnson boat motor — his eyeballs are made of old taillights from maybe a Plymouth. I bought maybe 10-12 of them five or six years ago and didn’t have anything that would go with them at the time,” Bormes said. “One day they flirted and a new species was born!”

Part of the seemingly infinite nature of the deep ocean gives Bormes plenty of leeway when designing his creatures.

“If I did a show on birds I would have to be more careful maybe — a kid would probably say, ‘Birds don’t look like that’ — but with fish you don’t know what you’re going to pull up,” Bormes said. “A fisherman may be used to pulling up bass and then one night a gar comes up and that’s a strange prehistoric fish. And we’ve never really been to the bottom of the sea and the deeper you get the stranger the creatures are and they get more phosphorescent.”

Phosphorescence plays a big role as the pieces in the exhibit are full of color. Greens, blues, reds, yellows, purples. They give each piece another layer and personality.

It also make the show play differently as the sun goes down in the gallery and the lights of each piece takes on new life.

If it brings to mind Dr. Seuss and some of this colorful creations, that would make complete sense, too.

“The Dr. Seuss books are phenomenal and as a kid I also loved the Flintstones and the Jetsons — all amazing art,” Bormes said.

When taken all together, the show has a broad appeal to all ages. Kids are going to love these amazingly weird creatures and while adults may be just as fascinated by them, there is also that layer of figuring out what parts and pieces were put together to form them.

“I love to put my work in front of people and see what they think. One of my best fans just turned one year old — she just loves these pieces — under age one is my kind of critic!” Bormes said. “I also saw a couple probably in their 80s at my reception and it was so cool to see them staring at all the work. I mean how many shows have they seen? The fact they’re still going and don’t know what they’re going to see each time — that’s really fun for me.”

Young, old, somewhere in between. Anyone who visits the art center this month will enjoy a gallery show full of wonder, creativity and imagination in the “Deep Sea Imaginarium.”