Jack Lardis (BFA '53) has had at least two successful careers – his first in advertising, his second as an artist/activist, transforming oil drums into works that foreground our dependence on oil.
An advertising major at U- M, Jack Lardis, worked in the industry for over 40 years, first at Mack Stanley Advertising in Detroit and later at J. Walter Thompson in Amsterdam, Holland, and New York City. In 1975, Jack started his own agency, merging in 1987 with another firm to become President and Creative Director for Lardis, Barcham and Partners. Ten years later, Jack retired, devoting his full energy to painting and sculpture, with a solo show at the Caelum Gallery in New York City, a 2002 retrospective exhibition in the Northern Indiana Arts Association in Munster, Indiana, and another at the University of Michigan's Warren M. Robbins Gallery.
Four years later, 9/11 was the catalyst for a major shift in his thinking and creative direction. Jack had a prophetic dream the night before the disaster in which two kids were playing marbles in the middle of a road and, in what seemed like a kind of volcanic eruption, the road suddenly blackened. The next morning he turned on the TV to learn that the first of the two towers had been hit.
Processing the Twin Towers imagery and the metaphors of the dream, Jack then proceeded to sketch ideas, trying to make sense of what had happened. For Jack, so much of what was going on had to do with oil, and the government’s complicated involvement in the Middle East. In 2003, Jack invited 15 fellow artists from New Haven, CT to create an artwork using the oil drum as a blank canvas or point of departure.
In October of 2003 during the New Haven Open Studios, Jack showed 16 completed drum artworks in an exhibition, and another 75 artists signed up to work on drums. This became the launch of the non-profit, Oil Drum Art, a grassroots organization dedicated to using art to influence viewers to modify their excessive consumption of petroleum products. The long-range mission is to expand the concept and have artists worldwide create drum artworks that are exhibited in a major venue in New York City or Washington, D.C.
Since its inception, Oil Drum Art has grown to include:
• Over 24 exhibitions of Oil Drums in Connecticut and New York City
• A student initiative of 1700 students who painted 600 open-top drums deployed in parks, schools, civic buildings and inner-city neighborhoods to collect litter and provide public art
• and The Catamaran Project
In 2012, Oil Drum Art Vice-President, David Murphy, built a 15-foot catamaran using repurposed oil drums for pontoons and won a major prize at “Bang The Drum Environmental Exhibition” in Hartford. Plans emerged for building a simple catamaran of recycled materials for use in third-world fishing villages to improve local food supply and self-reliance. Humanitarian organizations such as the Peace Corps expressed interest in distributing the plans and assisting fishermen in building catamarans. Working with local U. S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps and Navy League Cadets (14 to 17 years of age), David Murphy began refining the boat building plans for the Cat-Fish II.
In 2015 the Cat-Fish II will sail from Connecticut to Haiti, where it will be donated to the Aquin fishing village. The 2,250-mile voyage along the Intracoastal Waterways to Florida and then Haiti will act as a final proving ground for the catamaran before finalizing the building plans.
Closer to home, in 2013 Jack Lardis, Stamps Associate Professor Nick Tobier and his students, and students from Detroit Community High School collaborated to develop new catamaran models and prototypes. Now, Detroit students are busy working on a full-scale catamaran that will soon have its inaugural voyage along Detroit's Rouge River with a sail made with recycled and donated vinyl banners.
To view drum artworks and Cat-Fish II, visit www.oildrumart.org.