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The Artist at Work (photo credit Steve Zind / VPR)

Walking through Big Town Gallery in Vergennes, I find my eyes continually being drawn to the floor, fascinated by the display of dozens of paired designer shoes, over-painted by Rick Skogsberg. These are objects of beauty and delight, defined by a strong sense of color, meticulous patterning, and an intricate play of subtle variations within each couple.

Seeing them on the floor, as if in my closet waiting to be selected, I’m tempted to step into them and walk out into the world a new man–or rather, new men successively adorned by a different pair each day. Considering the variety here, I remember Rimbaud’s exclamation: “To each being ... several other lives are due.” I imagine the different me’s to whom the shoes could give birth.  But I also know that I wouldn’t put them on, not because they are too beautiful or too precious (though they are), but because, to the repressed fellow that I am, they would be too flamboyant to display my imagined selves in public.

But of course, isn’t that the purpose of fine, wearable design?  To adorn oneself through the aesthetic vision of a remarkable designer as an act of creating and displaying a distinctive public persona? To make the daily, ordinary act of dressing an announcement of a possibly extraordinary being whose life has been enhanced by art?

For indeed, these shoes are art. Although I could imagine them on the floor of my closet, they are here on the floor of an art gallery, and they are the creations of a singular artist. Rick Skogsberg selected the commercially produced object of a presumably anonymous designer and then transformed it into something not merely, or not even, to be worn, but to be regarded and admired, in itself.  His acts of appropriation do not obscure the aesthetic visions of the shoes’ designers. Rather, Skogsberg responds sensitively to each initial style to spur his own personal statement. He takes up the object of design not as an adoption of a persona but as the opportunity to express an intensely experienced self–that of an artist.

These shoes dance and frolic along the borders of art and design. They are ornaments of life to be lived and aesthetic achievements to be admired.

So if I may choose to hold back from letting another me out in public, I might still find deepest pleasure in viewing them on a pedestal in my home, while knowing full well that for many others they may embellish lives more fully lived.