Self-described “Humorist, Photographer, [and] Earthling” Terry Border brings everyday objects to life with hand-sculpted wiry limbs and household props. Every image from the Indianapolis-based artist’s Bent Objects series tells a story that brilliantly captures Border’s (slightly twisted) sense of humor and childlike imagination. From personified food to humanized books, each hilarious scene is carefully composed and photographed in the artist’s studio.
Border began working with wire back in the early 2000s when he was practicing sculpture. While playing around with the malleable material, he began to realize its potential for transforming mundane objects into comical characters. Combining his love of working with his hands, his experience with photography, and his sense of humor, he began posting his funny wire sculptures on his Bent Objects blog in 2006 and never looked back. Since then, his career erupted into success, leading to worldwide exhibitions and a series of children’s picture books.
From a romantic tale of peanut butter and jelly slices to a bereaved egg on Mother’s Day, each piece is full of expression, personality, and emotion. In one dark-humored setup, a tragic breakfast scene features two corn flakes who are seen mourning over their friend who’s just drowned in a puddle of milk. In another, more recent piece, titled Little Devils, an evil brigade of eggs are seen coaxing a line of “good eggs” to their inevitable death—a boiling pot of water.
We recently had the chance to ask Border about his inspiration and processes. Read on for our exclusive interview.
How did the Bent Objects project get started?
In the early 2000’s I had washed my hands of photography and was working on kinetic sculptures (which needed a lot of help to move, truth be told). We lived in a small house and the untold pieces were hung around each room reminding me how much wasn’t selling, and how much I was spending on materials (mainly aluminum). Just playing around one day I started bending some wire, and I loved the sense of freedom that I got from making small things that didn’t cost much at all to make. I ended up making a piece with wire for a gallery group show and people connected with it, then I started a blog called Bent Objects in 2006 and it took off like a rocket because most of the pieces were humorous. It actually took me a few months to realize that my final piece wasn’t the sculptures themselves but my photographs of them. Yeah.
How do you decide which items to work with?
Whatever catches my eye. Sometimes an idea pops in my head when I’m in a supermarket, and then other times I simply find some object silly in itself and it takes a few years to come up with something that interests me. It’s much, much more difficult nowadays because I don’t like to repeat myself, and I’ve made a lot of Bent Objects images.
Where do you come up with your ideas? Are you influenced by animation?
I abuse caffeine a fair amount. Walking around a supermarket with a caffeine buzz and then having an idea form when I see something is a helluva feeling. I’m not a runner, but I’ll assume the feeling I get must be a little like a runner’s high when all the pieces come together in my head. I know it’s a really good idea if the pieces seem to snap together in my brain to form an idea. Other people probably get that same feeling, but I’ve never really talked to anyone about it. Maybe I’ll hear from others about this.
As to animation, I’m a big fan, but I’ve been influenced more by Alexander Calder’s circus than stop motion.
Can you describe your process for setting up a scene?
First off, I only add props that are necessary to tell the story. Second, I usually shoot from a low angle to make whatever characters they are seem larger. Third, I want some directional light. I want to give whatever I’m shooting some shape. I was in commercial photography for several years and I use that experience to bring my characters to life. Oh, and fourth, a lot of times I pretend I’m a silent film actor portraying my characters. That seems to help with poses. And no, I’m not joking.
Are you inspired by any other artists?
Alexander Calder is a guy whose work I keep going back to. First I was in love with his mobiles, which influenced me to try kinetic art and my own mobiles. Later, when I started to work with wire, I realized after-the-fact that I was again in a realm that he also was the master of.
Another obvious inspiration to people old enough to have knowledge of him is Gary Larson of Far Side comic fame. I don’t know him, but I know we’d get along because I think we’d be equally weird.
Did you ever expect that your wire characters would turn into a series of books?
After I made a couple of books that were basically collections of Bent Objects photos, I knew the next step was picture books. My agent tried for a year or so to get a publisher to give me a chance, but had no success. Then one day, someone at Philomel books saw a calendar of my photos, purchased it and hung it in her office. The publisher came by and saw the calendar and said, “I wonder if he’d like to try a picture book?” I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes you have to be lucky. The someone who bought the calendar, Jill Santopolo, has been my book editor for 6 books now. Making picture books is the best job in the world I’m telling you! The best compliment you can get is when a kid likes your work and tells you, because there’s no BS there.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
I’m always trying to do some new, strange thing. Not everything is a masterpiece, but it’s not boring, at least not to me. I’m pretty new to Instagram (what can I say, I’m a late adopter), but that’s a good place to keep up with me. My first kid’s book, Peanut Butter & Cupcake! got a big boost when Kim Kardashian posted that it was her daughter’s favorite book, and a sequel to it is coming out later this year called Big Brother Peanut Butter (yes, I just dropped her name! Crucify me already!) I’m now finishing next year’s book where all the characters don’t make it to the end. It’s fun to push the envelope a little bit like that!