Jerry Barrish was the product of an environment that little appreciated the finer arts, much less the wildness of modern art. His hardworking, San Francisco Jewish relatives were boxing enthusiasts vaguely connected to the mob. It was these connections that got him started in the bail bonds business. Then he broke the mold, becoming the bailout guy for radical sixties protestors. Inspired by the times, he went further afield, delving into art collecting, and then launching himself as a sculptor and filmmaker. Barrish’s long and circuitous route as an artist always on the verge, rubbing shoulders with the successful and celebrated, while never quite breaking through, is the dramatic tale told by Plastic Man. It finds him at a seeming artistic standstill about 25 years ago, living next to a trash-strewn beach in Pacifica, California. Creative by necessity, he begins collecting the detritus — especially the plastic — and assembling it into whimsical, evocative, poignant human and animal figures. Barrish reassembles his life as a sculptor but hits another snag — the art world approves the imagination but scorns the material. Barrish’s beloved plastic won’t do for the world of galleries and collectors. Yet, by the end of Plastic Man the artist finds his vindication, and the immeasurable pleasure of wide visibility, in a public commission for the troubled, low-income Hunter’s Point neighborhood where he works — a 15-foot horn player constructed from the forms of a disassembled gun.
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