‘Building and Unbuilding The Globe’: Eric Lee’s Fascination with the Transitions of Time

by Bicycle Fine Art

Experiencing Bicycle Fine Art artist Eric Lee's ‘Building and Unbuilding the Globe’ is like stepping back in time. This epic painting visually unfurls the rich past of the Globe Elevators, a now-decrepit grain elevator located in Superior, Wisconsin. The structure stands as a remembrance of a once commercial American mecca, eroded by the footsteps of workers, surveyors, and land developers, all of whom flocked to the city seeking profit. Suspended in an expansive 20 foot wide breadth, Eric’s depiction of the Globe is emblematic of both a shifting way of life, as well as an exploration of the artist’s own personal history. While discussing ‘Building and Unbuilding the Globe’, we uncovered the fascinating story behind this ode to a building.

The structures that appear in ‘Building and Unbuilding the Globe’ are modelled after a complex of three buildings which housed the pioneering grain facility Globe Elevator Co. built in Wisconsin in 1887. At the time of its construction the Globe was the largest grain elevator in the world. Situated on a thin slip jutting out onto Lake Superior, it had a highly functional system housed within a set of buildings all connected by conveyor belts. The first building, which appears in the three right panels of Eric’s painting, was the head house power plant. The other two structures, viewed sequentially stretching out across the painting’s canvas, functioned as annexes and were built as additions to accommodate the great demand in the grain trade.

The Globe was an epic project, and was constantly undergoing maintenance to combat its own risk. The buildings were made out of timber, a dangerous and unwieldy material due to its high flammability and heavy weight. Over the course of its lifetime, the building had to be raised multiple times, as the foundation sank deeper into the marshy earth. These “patchwork” overhauls and upkeep, as Eric put it, were what drew him to the Globe years later-- the structure’s mechanics, he says, “gave it a complexity that made me want to paint it.”

‘Building and Unbuilding the Globe’ is segmented into nine panels and three paintings. The imagined buildings’ infrastructure connects all of the frames together, unifying the work, while at the same time each panel displays a slightly shifted setting. In one panel, you see a blue sky peeking through impressionist clouds, while in the next, a dark, gray mass swirls ominously. The building itself appears to float in mid-air, tied to the background by wisps and strokes of color, but otherwise untethered by land or a foundation of any kind. Small demarcations of the structure’s original function, such as the conveyor belt track or the company’s title scrawled on the modeled brick walls, crop up throughout the painting. Only with closer scrutiny does the modern-day creep in, marked by phone lines, cranes, and heavy machinery. However, these details are engulfed by the scale of the work, and only devoted study yields the painting’s mysteries.

There is a sense of turmoil in the piece, almost as if the factory were back up and running, but fuming too chaotically for it to be in practical use. While the central building itself appears in an uproar, the open background lets the whole work breathe. The overall effect of these components is a dynamic movement that compels the eye in a dramatic sweep across all nine panels.

Coined “America’s breadbasket” in its heyday, Wisconsin was once home to many state-of-the-art buildings such as the Globe Elevator. European tourists would come to America just to gawk at the assembly line precision of the commercial “New World,” and today you can even find traces of European influence in the architecture of these otherwise distinctly American towns. With the eyes of the world on them, port towns like Duluth, Minnesota grew into real metropolitan hubs. Now, however, golden age glories like the Globe have fallen into a state of destitution. Although Eric encountered the site as a young man long after the building ceased its original use, as an artist, he was attracted to this historical transition and what these antiquated buildings represent today. About these structures, Eric describes,

Loading... Loading...
  • This website uses cookies to track how visitors use our website to provide a better user experience. By continuing to browse this website, you are agreeing to our cookie policy
Join InCollect close

Join to view prices, save favorites, share collections and connect with others.

Forgot Password?
  • Be the first to see new listings and weekly events
    Invalid Email. Please try again.