Concord lost one of its most provocative landmarks last Thursday night when artist Thomas Devaney closed his giant Eye for good. For the last five years the foam and wood sculpture came to life after dark when Devaney turned on his projector and lit the 6-foot by 8-foot structure with a filmed loop of his own blue right eye. NHPR’s Sean Hurley attended the closing of the Eye and sends us this.
What’s he building in there?
Mary DiBurro wondered five years ago when she was a student of Tom Devaney’s- but she couldn’t figure out what the artist was building in his art gallery above the record store on Concord’s Main Street. “He was being really kind of elusive about it,” DiBurro recalls. “Like he wouldn't say what he was doing but he was just building the structure.”
Devaney blocked his gallery windows with black sheets. There was hammering and the sound of saw blades. Magdalene Soule, who’s known the artist since she was 9, thought this secrecy wasn’t like him. “I was like, ‘Tom, what are you doing?!’ she says with a laugh.
Catherine Devaney says the final result –her husband’s blue eye projected onto a giant wood and foam shell overlooking downtown Concord – wasn’t actually meant to be the final result. “I remember when he was just thinking about the eye,” she says, “and it wasn't really even an eye then, it was more about ‘I want to see if I can create or use video mapping, this technique, to enhance a sculpture.’ The eye was more of a project just to practice the technique.”
But then Catherine and Tom decided to view the practice project from the street. “I remember the first night he put it on,” Catherine Devaney says, “and we went out to the corner out here and you know looked up and I was like ‘Wow, that's really pretty cool!’”
And that’s when Tom Devaney himself figured out what he’d been building in there. “All I can say is that I wanted to be part of the community,” Devaney says, “and everybody was always looking up here and I was always looking down there and I wanted to try to create a little dialogue back and forth.”
“The first time I saw it I found the humor in it because it really looked like it was just randomly looking at people,” Catherine Devaney says. “It seemed to find what you thought it would find even though it was a totally random eye movement.”
When Concord artist Nick Paradis saw the eye for the first time, he jumped in the air. “I said ‘Yes!’ with an exclamation point,” Paradis says. “I was very much so - like finally. He's applying the idea of street art and graffiti legally - he's putting it right in your face. It's very Poe. I mean it reminds me of, like, the Tell Tale Heart. It's almost intimidating and like an invasion of privacy at the same time but that could also be like the subject matter if you know what I'm saying?”
“People just go you know ‘Yeah I've seen that thing you know and what's going on there? What is that?’ Tom Devaney tells me. “You know they’re just always kind of questioning what it all means. That's part of what I loved about it was that it always made people wonder what was going on.”
“He wants us to be okay with not knowing what things mean,” Mary DiBurro says, “because like why is there a giant eye that's overlooking Concord? Like what could it mean?”
New York artist Bruce Chapin says the Eye has become something else over the last five years. “It's like you go to Boston and you've got the Citgo sign up there,” Chapin says, “and you know you come to Concord and what really stands out? Well that eyeball is going to stand out...”
It was this shift from art to landmark, from enigma to familiar object, that signaled to Devaney that the life of the eye had run its course. “Well, I think the mystery has fallen off a little bit and it became kind of a landmark and that wasn't really its intended purpose,” Devaney says. “I didn't mind that at all, that people would say, ‘I'll meet you at the Eye’ or something like that. But I think it has fulfilled its purpose and it's time to move on. And if there's something new that would be great!”
At ten o’clock last Thursday night, the projected video loop on the sculpture shifted. The eye blinked, took one last look around Main Street, and then shut for good.
“Now he can do what he wants really,” Mary DiBurro says. “So I just can't wait to see how he pushes the boundaries a little bit because I think he thinks people expect him to do something similar. So I kind of don't think he will. I think that he'll shock us in a new way.”
As the black sheets once again darken his gallery windows and Tom Devaney begins to work on something new, the old question will return - What’s he building in there?
Even Tom Devaney can’t wait to find out.