Joshua Schoedel (b. 1999) is building an expanding universe of creatures, droids, and original cartoon characters from a single material: the humble pipe-cleaner. Schoedel works quickly, coiling the brightly-colored strands round and round to build up form. The artist rarely plans out his creations, though they almost always begin with the head. The bodies are then playfully improvised from the neck down.
Schoedel’s room in his family’s Oak Park home is dominated by a wild rainbow mountain of stock-piled pipe-cleaners. “It’s a rat’s nest,” mutters his father. Schoedel’s creations are a true family affair, with sisters Kathryn and Rebekah protecting and studiously archiving the work, and family pets Finn (an aging schnauzer) and Mila (a two-foot ball python) providing inspiration.
Schoedel was originally an avid Lego engineer, constructing a host of dragons and other mythical creatures from the colored blocks. The main problem the artist encountered was Legos’ lack of articulation. This precipitated the leap, about a decade ago, to the versatile pipe-cleaner. Schoedel’s technique has developed considerably since then, acquiring more depth and solidity. “Now they’re tougher and have more meat to them,” he says. The works have been getting bigger too - like a two foot long wolf, woven through with patches of white, gray, and brown.
Beside the riot of colorful pipe-cleaners, Schoedel works with quiet, focused efficiency. Asked about the future of his pipe-cleaner universe, the benevolent creator pauses a moment - finally saying, “I can’t really say.”