Artist Jimmy Descant, the Rocket Man, signs each of his metal collages with his name, the year and "Earth." Eventually, he says, it will differentiate him from rocketship artists of other planets.
Call his a broad perspective: "I'm not just a Cajun," he says. "I'm not just an American. I live in the whole world."
And the rocketships, paradoxically, have helped him find peace in it. After losing his New Orleans home in the floods of Hurricane Katrina, the 59-year-old says, he also lost his mind. But working on the collages, which he'd been building since the late '90s, helped him through.
Built from objects found at thrift stores and flea markets, or left on his front porch, Rocket Man's wall-mounted and free-standing sculptures range from lipstick-sized to 14 feet tall. Mostly metal, they incorporate items from the golden age of American manufacturing, granting them a distinct vintage feel.
Not every piece actually resembles a rocket. "Rocket Robot Heart" forms a heart shape fastened out of machine pieces and set on a background of retro Electrolux vacuum cleaner panels and a wooden cutting board. An old curtain rod with a fleur de lis-style "arrowhead" comes together to form an arrow shooting upward through the heart.
A self-described "severe re-constructivist," Descant will reuse just about anything, except for weaponry or ammunition, and he builds every rocket pointing upward to signify peace.
"Part of my credo as a rocketship artist is that they neither depict nor imply any guns bullets or bombs," Descant says. "They're for peaceful exploration of cultures and ideas."
Aside from exploring his own psyche following Katrina, Descant sees his rockets as exploring the modern American lifestyle: "It's a matter of looking at our past — it's a matter of looking at our future."
Mainly, he says, it's a question of whether we'll last into the future; he points to the devastating oil spill in the Gulf — the "puncture and spewing of Earth's [innards] by oil company criminals" — and to the exploitation of outer space as setbacks in the human quest for the best.
"It's always a yin/yang of balance for the world and for our future," he says.
Descant and his wife moved from New Orleans to Salida in 2006, and got exposure at Smokebrush Gallery — the site of this week's show — last December, at its Eco Art Market. Earlier this spring, he returned home to show works at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, held a mile from his old house. He sold every piece of art he brought, and came back with a loaded truckful of materials scoured from secondhand shops for future sculptures and collages.
Explaining his Smokebrush exhibit title Rockets for the Positive, By a Cyclops, Descant says he'll include some sculptural representations of himself as a one-eyed being.
"I was a teenage cyclops," Descant says, referring to being a bit of an outcast and weirdo. At peace with that, he says, "Strange people are always the coolest later in life. I revel in it now."