Lennox Warner is as much an artist as beachcomber. The longtime Atlantic City resident trawls the sands of the beaches looking for material.
Rotting sandals. Plastic water bottles. Soda cans. Hunks of styrofoam insulation. Empty suntan lotion pumps. A can of spray paint. A rusty tin of Altoids. Lennox glues it all onto sheets of clear vinyl shaped into a cresting wave about eight feet high.
"This is a prototype for what I really want to do," said Lennox, a native of the West Indies who started as a woodcarver. "I want to make one 15 feet high, with big items like a vacuum cleaner, a lawnmower, a kitchen sink, in the same wave pattern."
Those big items are out there, in the water, since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey shore last fall, destroying boardwalks, homes, and entire neighborhoods.
"I have a toilet seat upstairs. Prior to Sandy there would not have been a toilet seat," said Lennox, outside his two-bedroom condominium that doubles has his home and studio. "There are bits of boardwalk out there, huge timbers floating around. It's actually dangerous out there. I wouldn't want to be a human being out there. You don't no what you're going to bump into."
Lennox is an environmental artist making a point about mankind's relationship with nature. One of his wall sculptures currently on display at a group show at the Noyes Gallery in Hammonton, N.J., is inspired by the shape a floating "trash island," places on the surface of the Pacific and Atlantic where ocean currents have piled tons of garbage.
His art almost became part of that flotsam. He was a week away from opening a solo exhibition at the Atlantic City Art Center on the Garden Pier when Sandy hit. He did not have time to pull his sculptures out of the gallery.
"I had to leave it!" he said. "I covered everything in plastic sheeting, so it wouldn't get water damage from the roof. My thought was the pier was going to be there, but I didn't realize how bad it was going to be. My worst estimate was that the roof was going to be damaged and leak. It was a lot worse that that."
Warner was able to pull out his work between Sandy and the smaller storm that immediately followed it — a double-whammy that damaged the pier, the Art Center, and the nearby historical museum.
Sandy is the subject of Warner's next large-scale idea. Behind a Gulf gas station on Route 30, where the highway cuts across the Absecon Bay wetlands, is an abandoned 20-foot fishing boat. It is about six feet above the water surfce, flipped upside-down.
"It washed up here because of Sandy. Nobody has removed it," said Warner. "My concept is to salvage the boat and install it on the Atlantic City pier, with a tree that would impale the boat. The intersection of nature and man."
In short, Warner wants to punch a hole in the boat and spear a mature tree through it, and install the whole assemblage in the center of the city's tourism trade. "I wrote the mayor, and the adminstration rejected it."
During the run-up to the summer season, Atlantic City, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and even President Barack Obama have spent considerable time and resources to assure the nation that the Jersey Shore has recovered.
Warner says his proposed sculpture is in keeping with that.
"We overcame Sandy. We have not crawled into a shell," said Warner. "Look what she did, look what we have done. We've taken control of Sandy, rebuilding boardwalks, the ocean shore. Sandy doesn't control us. We are taking charge, and using art to exemplify that."
Warner has proposed the impaled-boat idea to the Atlantic City Arts Commission. Warner used to serve as the group's chairman. He is awaiting their decision. Should they reject, he says he will propose it for the city's planned Sculpture Walk near the Golden Nugget casino.
"If Atlantic City doesn't allow me to put this on the pier, somebody will allow it somewhere," said Warner. "This will be a great attraction: everyone can identify with an abandoned boat."