First published: Summer 2014
A lifetime construction project of monumental proportions, Billy Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery is a personal diary writ large in steel. Its pages are open to the world and are regularly reshaped by sculptural entries that transcribe his inner journey; the Mindfield displays captured thoughts and recollections in a sheer metal fabric that expands and grows denser by the year: “the metal by-product of my life as a conversation with myself.”
Reaching 38 metres high from a narrow plot bordered by a shopping plaza on the west, the Sunrise Motel on the east, a small lawn and barbershop set the Mindfield slightly back from Main Street in downtown Brownsville, Tennessee. Forward to the sidewalk, surrounded by flowers and colourful left-behinds from Tripp’s nearby car wash, a painted hood from an old crane gives name to the massively curious structure behind: “The Mindfield Cemetery.” Not intended to last, this low tract (from 2006) brings ephemeral colour to the steely gray permanence of the Mindfield and includes dolls, strollers, hanging signs and brightly-painted message-bearing tree stumps cleared from the main site: “In honor of: human Imperfection (I’m o.k. with mine)... .”
Visible from blocks away, the Mindfield rises over surrounding buildings like a secular cathedral. While daily life carries on around Brownsville, Tripp, who works alone and climbs the Mindfield’s full height untethered, can be seen welding, operating a crane or forklift – carrying out any of the heavy construction work needed to slowly erect his repurposed materials. Tripp’s engineering and construction skills are mostly self- and mentor-taught; in the 1970s he began a vocational training course in welding, but dropped out to take painting classes at a community college. He has permission from the city for his remains to be interred at the site and, by rough estimate, the present structure appears to fill out about half its potential footprint.
Multiple curved-top salvaged bridge trusses suggest sails (top); Tripp has a second reassembled fire tower in progress (top right) which will place an “absurdly redundant” pair of fire towers next to the Mindfield's empty water tower; in 2006 Tripp added splashes of impermanent colour and sentiment (bottom front) to contrast with the steel and industrial grey, his “favourite colour,” of the main site. Photo by Fred Scruton
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #82