Blake McFarland will tell you he doesn't consider himself an artist. He doesn't go to galleries or know much about art history. He's just a guy who wants to "make really cool things." And that he does, using recycled tires to create large, textured, bold sculptures in the likeness of fierce animals, and in one case, a torso.
McFarland admits he never really thought art would have a large impact in his life because sports were always his primary interest. He dreamed instead of becoming a professional baseball player — a dream he continues to chase today as a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
While he didn't aspire to be an artist, he was a creative kid.
"I can remember in my spare time I would always draw pictures, which lasted until my college years. Any time I had a couple minutes to spare, I would doodle something or sketch. I remember always trying to build things with random materials I had laying around the house, like a bow-and-arrow from sticks and dental floss," he recalls.
Over the last few years, he says, art has become a larger part of his life — and one for which he's grateful.
"The tire sculptures started when I randomly saw a children’s playground using tires as a play area. They were stacked in a serpent design and that's when it hit me. I could get these things for free and create whatever I want out of them," says McFarland.
The time it takes to complete a tire sculpture depends on the size and detail of the subject. For example, McFarland created two sculptures for the 2017 Goodyear Cotton Bowl to match each team's mascot: the bronco pictured higher on the page, and this badger, which was the first time he used white tires in his work.
"These sculptures were the largest sculptures I have done, and I only had 18 days to complete them. It was the first time I actually had to hire outside help to meet my deadline before the bowl game. I would say if it were just me doing the work, those sculptures would have taken up to a month in a half," he says.
(You can watch those two sculptures being built in this YouTube video.)
For his creative process, McFarland says he decides what to sculpt beforehand, or he has an idea from a commissioned client. "Going off sketches and designs, we will then start the process. I will use different tire treads to depict different muscle groups, or even different fur in the animals. Sculptures can take anywhere from 50 to 200 tires to complete."
He says his favorite piece is the cougar, pictured above, because of the aggressive look and the way the muscles and fur came together. The tail was extremely challenging, he adds.
Not all of his creations are from the animal world. McFarland created this sculpture of a muscular male torso, which now sits in a Lululemon store in Troy Michigan.
Sometimes he uses recycled wine corks as art material, too. "My grandfather used to save every single wine cork he opened. Turns out he opened a lot of wine bottles in his lifetime! With the natural stains of the wine corks, I thought it would be cool to do murals out of. I did not use my grandfather's corks though; I went from restaurant to restaurant picking up old corks for months," he says.
McFarland says his mission is to captivate the “non-artist. I want the child who has never thought about art see one of these sculptures and think, 'Wow, that's cool!' I want the elderly person that has seen pretty much everything to see one of my sculptures and be amazed because they have never seen anything like it. That really makes it all worth it to me."
Next up for the right-handed hurler? He says he has a couple of commissioned pieces to work on during his next off-season, but what he really wants to create is an octopus. "It sounds very random, but I think it could turn out absolutely amazing."
We think so, too.