SWEEPING CLEAN his living room to create an art gallery is an idea that has been brewing in Richard Robideau's imagination for a while.
Today, the backyard, deck and both floors of the former flour and feed mill in Niagara Falls are filled with works that push artistic boundaries.
There is an upside-down wheelbarrow levitating 15 feet in the air, atop a dozen or so plaster casts of hay.
A black ceramic piece of ocean creatures, the artist's interpretation of a post-Valdez ocean floor.
Free-form ceramic pots painted in acrylic paints.
A series of seven paintings of bulls in different colors.
"There are some pretty heavy personalities here. They all have a point of view and they demand to express themselves," said Robideau, who now lives in a closet-size bedroom while his furniture and objets d'art are stored away.
Robideau covered the studs and built walls so that artists could have space and expressive freedom.
"I wanted the space to be simplified and not distracting," he said. "This place has a kind of influence. The spaces are so right. I sensed it when I first walked in here."
In his casually kept back yard, Robideau mowed paths to a white torso outlined in purple neon. The sculpture is flanked by two vigorously growing kiwi plants and a small building that formerly housed grinding equipment.
He has replaced the roof with plastic corrugated material that he lights from beneath with changing colors. At the edge of the property is a pyramid he built of scrap scaffolding and outlined with small lights.
The art, the plantings and the lighting combine to give the scene the surrealistic feeling of a mystery garden that has sprouted art.
"If you ask if I had a motive, I don't understand what the engine was to drive this," said Robideau.
He deflects attention from himself to artists Kurt Von Voetsch, Kathleen Davidson, Robert Byers, Patrick Robideau, Mike Delmonte, Ed McAllister, James Robideau, Christina Triantafillou and John Tracey, two of whom are his sons and most of whom were his students at Niagara County Community College.
"They put a lot of juice into this," Robideau said of the exhibit, which will be up until June 24. (Robideau suggests that people who are interested in viewing the exhibition call him for an appointment, preferably at night so that the neon is visible.)
"This is grass-roots art," said John Tracey of Boston. "It's important because there is a lot of kinship here."
After the art work has been reclaimed by its creators, Robideau will reclaim his living space. But it still won't be like most homes.
He has a mutantly large plastic fly clinging to the kitchen ceiling, an upside-down umbrella strung with lights for a living room chandelier, and water pistols hung in the rafters.
"We need a little silliness in our lives," Robideau said with a slowly spreading smile.