In 2011 Chase Ferguson traversed the streets of New York’s boroughs—paper and pen in hand—documenting what was fast becoming a quotidian artifact of the city’s infrastructure: the single-space parking meter. Many people would have passed by Ferguson and these meters at that time without giving a second thought. By contrast, on a Sunday in early November last year, at Pioneer Works’ monthly Sunday open studios, Ferguson had everyone’s attention.
On display were the results of Ferguson’s research — near perfect cardboard replicas of every make of single-space meter ever used by New York City. Through his combination of curiosity, care, and craftsmanship, Ferguson had achieved something quite remarkable. He alone had immortalized his beloved parking meters.
In a way Ferguson has spent much of his life preparing for this body of work. Diagnosed with autism at age three, Ferguson had begun developing his meticulous eye for detail at an early age; not to mention his appreciation for sights and sounds otherwise overlooked by others. Unsurprisingly Ferguson’s most enduring preoccupation was transportation.
The first manifestation of this interest, as well as Ferguson’s artistic ability, came in the form of his own handmade paper vehicles. Beginning with simple cars, it wasn’t long before a young Ferguson had moved on to making buses and trains. In staying true to this field of inquiry for over two decades, today Ferguson stands as somewhat of an authority.
“Chase has a savant knowledge of transit and transportation,” said Pamala Rogers, the director of Pure Vision Arts, the not-for-profit studio and gallery for artists with autism that Ferguson began attending in 2010. “He knows the make, model and year of all the cars, buses, trains and parking meters he creates and notes this information on the bottom of his pieces.”
As for these pieces, in the years since Ferguson began attending Pure Vision Arts he has literally constructed thousands of anatomically-correct cars, trucks, subway cars, buses and trains used by the city. Thanks to Ferguson’s ability to deconstruct objects into a two-dimensional plane, almost all of these sculptures began life as a flat piece of paper.
The paper doesn’t stay flat for long, though.
“He was almost bursting out of the seams of the Pure Vision space,” said Gabriel Florenz, a curator at Pioneer Works, recalling his first encounter with Ferguson’s work. Through a board member at Pioneer Works, Florenz had come to hear about Pure Vision Arts and decided to pay the studio a visit.
“Something intriguing about—for lack of a better term—outsider art is the idea of artists creating work without the idea of a spectator,” said Florenz, who felt drawn to the authenticity of Ferguson and the other Pure Vision artists that he hopes to also exhibit, further down the line. “It’s nice to be able to look at art and know that there’s something inside of that person that they needed to do that and it gives them satisfaction. It doesn’t matter that it needs to give me satisfaction, but it does.”
Over the course of that Sunday, hundreds of visitors passed through Pioneer Works lofted halls, looking intently at Ferguson’s work as the artist and his family stood proudly nearby. For good reason. The collection of work on show, titled Cars, Buses and Trains, marked Ferguson’s first solo exhibition. Prior to this, Ferguson’s work had been on show at the MADmusée in Belgium as well as being included in the The New York Transit Museum’s permanent collection. And most recently, Ferguson’s cars, buses, trains, and meters took a trip to the New York City Outsider Art Fair.
Ferguson’s creations are on display at Pioneer Works until February 12.