Nashville

For Juice -- images and video clips of Nashville -  9/22,23 2017

Guys have a look and a listen - 3 more video clips at the bottom.  Pics from this weekend in Nashville including neighborhoods, clubs etc on Broadway but also in other areas like East Nashville.  I don't have a clear idea of whether Nashville is the right place for you to consider moving someday but I figured this info is useful background for you all.

 

Of all the acts I liked these guys best, and Acme Feed and Seed, at the bottom of Broadway, was a class venue.  Big stage for a larger band and the place would probably hold 500 peoplewhich is on the large side for Broadway.  Most everyone on Broadway / 2nd Avenue (the downtown Music district) was doing covers it seemed, but these guys had some either I didn't recognize or that were original compositions.  They were there two nights in a row.

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really busy nightlife on Broadway music district - pretty much college-age 20s-30s crowd - it was a football weekend when i was there so it was maybe particularly busy.  All the clubs were packed.  You could stand outside and watch a band, often with the drummer's back right in the window, sometimes open to street.  No covers, everything 21+ and IDs pretty carefully checked. 

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East Nashville, sort of hipster-like and neighborhood where young musicians are reportedly moving in.  Some of the homes are really nicely restored so would be too expensive, but others look affordable.  5-Points / Woodland area is nearby, with 5-Spot and Woodland Studios, and great little Brookline-like restaurants.

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5-Spot, reportedly a famous venue - in 5-Points East Nashville.  I wanted to get images of the posters so you can see what kinds of acts are there.  Some of it is obviously just covers, but others seemed like bands coming thru on their tours.  multiple genres including Metal, unlike Broadway which was pretty limited range around country-like rock/folk/Americana

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This was shot around 1:00 on a saturday night - so crowded (Broadway).

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This is the Bluebird, not downtown- a really famous cafe with live music- always sold out.  There are lots of other venues for music besides downtown, which is actually pretty country/covers.  They sometimes use the term Americana but I think that is just a cover for Folk/Country played by people with hipster man-buns and beards.  The bands downtown did not have any branding for their band - this might have been a rule with the venues, and they all had tip jars which they had to work pretty hard to get contributions into.  I don't know how much they got paid by the venues.  Several of them mentioned how they had been playing that day already for 6-8 hours in a few different gigs.  It suggests there is demand for a certain formula there.  Musicians were all good, charismatic vocalist tends to be the focus - and the crowd is pretty much middle-southern so those country references were appreciated and known.  References to evangelical religion were there, other agricultural stuff a little - it was definitely a different vibe.  It should be pretty easy to figure out some of this stuff and give it to the crowd to keep them happy though - just saying.

This is "Wagon Wheel" which I pulled off the web -- i heard this song about 20 times in Nashville no exaggeration - i actually have always liked the song - I think Dylan worked on it years ago - not saying it was representative of everything else I heard on Broadway but it is somehow part of the canon down there.

Questions from an Art Student

I sometimes have art students send me questions for class projects and recently had these from a young Zambian woman studying art in high school.  I liked her questions and share them and my responses here.

What inspires you to create?

 First is the sheer joy of expression – manipulating clay, moving my arm to draw, the physical act of creating.   Sometimes it starts with a vision in my head, sometimes an itch in my hands, sometimes it’s just a feeling of going to the studio, going to work, and seeing what wants to come into form. 

Secondly is the sense of wanting to say something that needs to be said, a feeling inside that is missing when you look outside you and needs an advocate, needs to be given birth.

I have tried living in and out of active Art-creating over the years and creating art just feels like coming home - what suits me best and leaves something I can feel good about in its wake. 

What, in your opinion, is the essential skills and education you need to
become a successful sculptor?

Sculpting is a strange blend, not commonly found:  I think one needs to have three qualities, maybe four.  First is being the poet/visual visionary type of person, with something new or subtle in there that wants to be said and needs saying.  Second is the hand – the modeling, the ability to tease material into expressive form:  Not every sculptor has this or would agree it is important I should say.  Next is the ‘bricoleur’ – the handyman, someone who is comfortable, even if not yet entirely skilled, at the trades/craft aspect of sculpture—making armatures, stands, welding, sawing, gluing, scraping, sanding, painting, hammering, mixing plaster:  skillsaw, grinder and electric screwdriver are your ready companions.  Finally you need like any artist to have some sort of marketing/networking/people and communication skills in the service of your work at a minimum, or even better because you love to get out and mix it up with other people in the art community.  You can see why this is a hard combination to achieve I think – some of these things feel like polar opposites!

What is your most prized artwork so far?

Ugh – can a parent say which is their favorite child?  Most artists seem to love their newest piece the best I guess.  I am in transition to some new works that are more abstract but they aren’t yet ready.   I am fond of some of my large heads – Fierce (cast aluminum) and Emma (bronze).  Working with these large heads is a beautiful feeling – they have such a strong physical presence when you are standing with them working on them, this mass of hundreds of kilos of clay, coming alive, becoming a presence.

What do you think makes or breaks an artist?

Talent and vision are wonderful if not pre-requisite, and of course one needs exposure to mentors, great art and artists, teachers to develop.  But the make-or-break I think most about for working artists is: Do they have Stamina?  Some of that is internal fortitude and grit/perseverance.  Some of it is external-- as a practical matter will you have enough money to live on while you create the work, market it, wait around for it to sell (maybe/hopefully).  How well can you handle rejection or more likely indifference? Can you find some internal satisfaction with the creating or the resultant work in the absence of much external praise?  This is probably true for anyone in the arts – dance, acting, music, but among the visual arts sculpting may be particularly difficult:  it is typically a big investment in time and materials to create works and the market feels thin.  Evidence from gallerists and painter friends suggest that collectors are more comfortable buying a painting to go on the wall than a sculpture which exists in space off the wall. 

Is sculpting a career worth following? Or do you see it as more of a hobby?

I treat it as a profession, a career- avocation: That thing I would choose to do even in the absence of much financial benefit.  Which means it might have to be engaged alongside other paid employment, or if you are lucky enough to be paid to teach sculpture, for instance, as something that is the flowering of your day job work or an essential second half of it.  Either way it is a path of continual change, learning, development, disappointment, breakthrough, possibility, frustration punctuated by moments of qualified or even on rare occasions deep satisfaction.

What is the secret to unlocking the inner creator inside you?

I have no idea how it might work for other people, really.  For me, I find strength in some deep internal connection to Art, as if Art were God.  There is something deep in there that says my life lived creating Art is worth it in some timeless way --  that nearly anything I have to sacrifice or put up with in order to keep creating Art is justified.  I first got a clue to this from musicians – I have this idea they get born again and again in order to pursue Music through time, and that they have no particular interest in wealth or status as defined by the broader bourgeois community as long as they are able to live in Music each time around.  I have no objective evidence for this, of course – it’s just a model I hold in my head that helps me look at the longer view of a life in Art. 

Interestingly whenever I need inspiration though I turn to Music which seems to open up vistas of visual experience that can find their way into my work.  Eating well, staying fit, drawing, sleeping in or disrupting my sleep patterns,  taking long hot baths, meditating, and viewing lots and lots of visual, performance or any other type of art all help me open creatively and might help others.  Hanging out and just living life seems to help, too :-)  Sometimes your art is helped by trying really hard, but often it’s the opposite.  Figuring out when to push and when to slide is part of the fun. 

Good luck to you in living your life as an artist!

 

 

For the Seach Engines

OK so I am reviewing my S *EO and learned that (thank you Squarespace?) none of the text or titles from images from the galleries of my site are getting picked up by the sea-ch engines based on their text, but they are sometimes picked up here from my blog, so normal readers please just ignore this post as its being used just to ensure people can find images of my works if they look for them.  Thanks!

And if you came here from a link from a search, please go ahead and explore these images and the rest of my site and get in touch if you are interested in ceramic head sculpture, bronze sculpture heads, or large outdoor sculpted heads and public art, or for that matter any ceramic sculpture figures or bronze figures too. :-)  Which not only enhances the creative workplace using art but also creates dynamic public art environments, urban renewal with art and contemporary cutting-edge living with art installations.  Oh yeah...

 

Ceramic Head Sculpture, Contemporary ceramic sculpture, wall-mounted sculpture

Ceramic Head Sculpture, Contemporary ceramic sculpture, wall-mounted sculpture

Ceramic head sculpture, work in progress,

Ceramic head sculpture, work in progress,

Interesting I hope to show the before-and-after shots of the ceramic head sculpture above -- the one on top with the flourescent band across the eyes is the same piece shown her as the sculpted clay head in progress, with another large clay head sculpture behind it.

These heads sculptures can also be table-mounted, pedestal-mounted head sculptures or mounted in a wall-mounted head sculpture installation as in the following image:

Wall-mounted head sculpture installation, contemporary figurative sculpture mask head sculpture multiples installed in Wynwood Miami at Port of Angels, a pop-up installation during Art Basel Miami 2015.     Wall-art inspired works by Timmy Sneaks on left and BLikeMe on right.

Wall-mounted head sculpture installation, contemporary figurative sculpture mask head sculpture multiples installed in Wynwood Miami at Port of Angels, a pop-up installation during Art Basel Miami 2015.     Wall-art inspired works by Timmy Sneaks on left and BLikeMe on right.

These multiple contemporary head sculptures are wall-mounted in Wynwood Arts District during Art Basel 2015, bronze sculpted heads and contemporary bronze figures are also installed below.

 

Sculpted Hands, a hands sculpture installation of contemporary office design for creative workspace art installation.

Sculpted Hands, a hands sculpture installation of contemporary office design for creative workspace art installation.

Sculpture for office environments shown above, including multiple, contemporary office art decor, mobile installation for contemporary office, at Workpoint Stamford, contemporary office design and decor.

wall-mounted ceramic and bronze heads sculpture installation, artwork for a contemporary office space creative environment. 

wall-mounted ceramic and bronze heads sculpture installation, artwork for a contemporary office space creative environment. 

The above photo shows an installation of my bronze heads sculptures mixed with ceramic heads, in a contemporary office design environment, creating a dynamic creative office space through the use of art, design and sculpture for a contemporary public work environment.

 

Fierce, outdoor sculpture (cast aluminum) bronze head sculpture, public art sculpture figure  

Fierce, outdoor sculpture (cast aluminum) bronze head sculpture, public art sculpture figure

 

collaborative Sculpture installation, raku fired ceramic figures, head sculpture, standing figure sculptures, bronze head sculpture, art curators.

collaborative Sculpture installation, raku fired ceramic figures, head sculpture, standing figure sculptures, bronze head sculpture, art curators.

These are some of the works of hanging ceramic figures I have created in the foreground, along with a resin version of the large sculpted head (in this case cast resin) in the background, and several standing ceramic figures and bronze figure sculptures wall mounted as part of the installation, created in collaboration with other artists.  At the back is a lifesize figure sculpture, we will see in the next image.

Installation view at Whispering Voices, in Greenpoint Brooklyn, of our collaborative art project of great interest to curators and arts institutions showing standing figure sculptures, bronze figures, ceramic figures and a hanging lifesize female nude figure sculpture (above) as well as wall-mounted head sculpture masks on the back wall.

Installation view at Whispering Voices, in Greenpoint Brooklyn, of our collaborative art project of great interest to curators and arts institutions showing standing figure sculptures, bronze figures, ceramic figures and a hanging lifesize female nude figure sculpture (above) as well as wall-mounted head sculpture masks on the back wall.

The above collaborative installation includes wall-mounted head sculpture installations, wall-mounted figurative sculpture installation and several ceramic figures, raku-fired stoneware figures, ceiling-mounted hanging lifesize figure sculpture, bronze nude figure sculpture and mixed media collaborative installation of great interest to arts institutional curators seeking contemporary figurative sculpture, post-modern sculpted figures, human face and human head sculptures or other cutting-edge art and New York sculpture or Brooklyn sculptor figurative artists.

Changes Afoot

“What inspires you?”  It seemed such a simple, innocuous question.  A bunch of us from the Sculptors Guild were sitting around a Manhattan loft last weekend, basking in the glow of a reading by two actor friends -- Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  Nostalgia.  “Look deep into yourself” said Rilke.  Bring Art from this authentic core and all will be well.   Conversation had gone back and forth and a few of us were starting to wake up and remember that Postmodernism had happened.  Now here was an artist across the room asking me this:  “What inspires your work?”  First instinct was to just roll over and punt, “I’m not sure, really.”  But never one to shy away I tried to dredge up my old feelings and take a stab at it:  “The Human Body, this body, our energy, our presence – yoga, dance”  I babbled.   

                                Rainer Maria Rilke

                                Rainer Maria Rilke

 

There was a time when I had been so sure of my inspirations – so tuned to my Source.  I had an agenda, I had passion, I was making my interior world visible.  Years of watching avant garde theater performances,  Butoh, meditating, doing body and spiritual practices, living with ceramics in Asia – it all just came together so easily.  My tasks then were formal:  I needed to learn more anatomy to get the gestures I felt inside to come into focus in the piece itself.  I needed ceramic methods, glazes, experience with molds and casting.  Lots of time with the model.  Practice and more practice. 

 

Looking back I realize that was the easy part.  I knew the work could be better but I didn’t doubt what I was making or why I was making it, and one piece after another tumbled out of the studio.

 

But in recent years it has all gotten much trickier.   I’ve been introduced to the world of curators, academic critiques, clever young MFA students, heads filled with Postmodernism.  Irony: nothing gets shown without it.  And for Heaven’s sake don’t make a piece beautiful!  Signifiers/Signified.  The dreaded Male Gaze.  A general skepticism about Craft—that it is incompatible with Art.  The Artist’s Hand: best to keep it well under-wraps or indeed leave it out altogether.  Let’s just assemblage some recycled materials and found objects, shall we?  Or maybe digitally scan some celebrities and run the whole thing through a milling machine.  Punch the foam every now and then to get the machine off-kilter- that makes it Art.  Realism?  Figure?  Well – maybe we are tiptoeing back into this but it must never be Academic.  Do away with Pedestals.  The Art Object is really so passé .  Can’t we just conceptualize a performance/installation in our heads and bypass this whole Creating Things rigmarole?  If we must do it, can we just squeeze some foam out of a can, spread a sheet over it, spray it with some spraypaint, strip and lie down for some cozy selfies instead?  In Venice, naturally.  With gallery assistants to scrape it up off the floor into the waiting arms of Massimilano Gioni or one of his fellow super-curators.

Brad Kunkle, right (with the author) at California Lutheran University, Artist in Residence,12/15

Brad Kunkle, right (with the author) at California Lutheran University, Artist in Residence,12/15

 

Into this miasma ,“The Art World”, we struggling artists (and we are almost all struggling) have been pushing our works, our little soldiers, to suffer their fates – indifference at best, occasional scorn, rare glimmers of interest.  Genius and success are largely self-manufactured via buzz and social media.  Objective standards (beyond all the “Don’ts” above) being so rare, no one knows quite what to look for or get excited about, so the best we can hope for is the fleeting praise of Novelty. 

Jorinde Voigt, 5 Cavallini-Sequence, Art Basel Miami Beach David Nolan NY Gallery

Jorinde Voigt, 5 Cavallini-Sequence, Art Basel Miami Beach David Nolan NY Gallery

 

Now enough of all that whining!  Things actually seem to be changing, albeit slowly, but clearly changing and I believe for the better.  Signs of it are all around if you know what to look for.  Bill Viola – making video of saints and torment as exciting as any Italian cathedral ceiling.   Hayv Kahraman, painting exquisite Persian-style oil-on-linen figures somehow both traditional and completely contemporary and subversive.  Jorinde Voigt – a classically trained cellist-turned-visual artist, whose luscious cut/scored paper gold wall pieces bring the energy and patterns of a master cellist’s bowing into vibrating form.   A new class of realist figurative painters, like Brad Kunkle and Kevin Grass, sometimes even painting with egg tempera, are using contemporary models and poses to collapse centuries of painting into startling visual and conceptual feasts.   Crowds of art world cognoscenti and average tourists alike flock to see the street art in Wynwood, Williamsburg or Rio, which almost inevitably will have representational elements, strong compositions, exuberant use of color and clear use of line, (along with perhaps a surfeit of pop-cultural references)  

Narcissus, work-in-progress,  #MarcManiac, NW 2nd Avenue, Wynwood Miami, 12/15

Narcissus, work-in-progress,  #MarcManiac, NW 2nd Avenue, Wynwood Miami, 12/15

Wynwood Walls, Miami

Wynwood Walls, Miami

 

Young artists in Oakland, Brooklyn, Seattle or Moscow are working in creative ways to transcend their media- be it 2-D or 3-D-  to take the brain on a well-designed and well-executed roller-coaster ride.  For example, Cyrus Tilton’s sculpture High Hopes, seen recently at Vessel Gallery in Oakland, opens up a traditional partial horse form into an arsenal of infrastructure and earth elements. 

HIGH HOPES by Cyrus Tilton, Representation Lonnie Lee, Vessel Gallery. Photography: Bob Clyatt

HIGH HOPES by Cyrus Tilton, Representation Lonnie Lee, Vessel Gallery. Photography: Bob Clyatt

Or, this Fall from Anglim Gilbert Gallery in San Francisco:  Catherine Wagner’s conceptual photographs, shot as an homage in the actual studio of Georgio Morandi, look as if one were shining a light at a series of bottles whose shadows are being cast onto a brightly painted and otherwise well-lit canvas.  When approaching the works the viewer instinctively expects to see the shadow of his or her head appear on the same background with the bottle shadows: when that doesn't happen it creates a moment of perceptual dissonance and fun. 

Catherine Wagner,  Musings on Morandi: Still Lifes and Shadows (017), 2015,  Archival pigment print mounted on aluminum,  37” x 49 3/4”  Courtesy Anglim Gilbert Gallery San Francisco

Catherine Wagner,  Musings on Morandi: Still Lifes and Shadows (017), 2015,  Archival pigment print mounted on aluminum,  37” x 49 3/4”  Courtesy Anglim Gilbert Gallery San Francisco

Hayv Kahraman, Barboog, in UnRealism, Moore Building, Miami Dec 2015

Hayv Kahraman, Barboog, in UnRealism, Moore Building, Miami Dec 2015

On the writing front: a general desire, a reader’s strike if you will, in favor of better art writing seems to be bearing fruit.  Friends all admit to having stopped reading Art Forum, and places like Art in America or Brooklyn Rail are actually writing comprehensible art criticism/reviews on a routine basis.  A rumor circulates that a new Publisher may be coming at Sculpture Magazine.  Several times a week the Wall Street Journal publishes thoughtful, comprehensible reviews of new and historical works in a paper written for a few million simply intelligent/curious readers, not even for an art audience, indicating that despite decades of neglect and even outright antipathy in the relationship a general audience still exists and remains interested in art.     John Berger, who somehow writes clearly of complexity and mystery, has a well-received collection of reprinted essays just out.

Kevin Grass, Intimacy, Acrylic on Panel, 2015

Kevin Grass, Intimacy, Acrylic on Panel, 2015

 

Well, It is all very complicated and I would not want to try to reduce things that are not simple into a sound bite.  What I am feeling though is that there is a growing interest in art that takes a clear form, that is perhaps representational, that demonstrates a coherence and skill in execution, that allows the eye some sort of visual dance (rather than an assault) and that might even, occasionally, carry a message other than ironic takes on nihilism/fragmentation/alienation. 

 

For me as a (representational/figurative) artist this means:  one cannot expect to ever go back to a simple time of just trying to create figures with a strong gesture or novel materiality.  One can, however, expect that a well-executed art object or installation, with presence, complexity, authority, tuned in to a contemporary sensibility can expect to find an audience, and may even get some curators a little bit excited.  That might not seem revolutionary but, based on what I’ve seen for the last 20 years, I think it is.

Recycle Group, Network Searchers, plastic mesh,  in Recycling Religion, Miami Beach, Dec 2015

Recycle Group, Network Searchers, plastic mesh,  in Recycling Religion, Miami Beach, Dec 2015


How Did You Come Up With That Idea?

     

For my own amusement I am wading into outlining a taxonomy of ways artists create – where does the idea come from?  How does the resulting work unfold and take shape?

 

Although I suspect some of this could apply to other types of artist and medium, I am probably just really talking about what visual artists do.   Comments from artists in other mediums – whether any of this relates or feels off- would be welcome.

 

Of course these wouldn’t generally be ‘pure’ forms either– several approaches probably co-mingle or are engaged at various stages of the development of a new creative work.  So in no particular order, and recognizing the perilousness of trying to put lightning in a bottle…

 

 

It just comes into your head – musicians wake up with a song going around their head and rush to record it into a voicemail, artists ‘see’ a composition, writers hear the words unfolding and jump up to start writing them down…  This is the mysterious bolt-of-intuition path to creation, presumably a working through of something in the subconscious that feels ready to bubble up to the surface.

Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing # 273, Dia Beacon- drawn from instructions licensed by the artist.

Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing # 273, Dia Beacon- drawn from instructions licensed by the artist.

 

Have a Concept – some sort of thought or idea keeps rattling around in your head and you think and feel and respond in some way to that concept – settling on a way that makes sense or appeals to you.  The concept comes first, the physical manifestation follows.  Examples of concepts that have informed visual art come from across the board: philosophy (alienation, deconstruction), politics (oppressive government),  particle physics (immateriality), critical theory (color field, flat picture plane)

 

Pour some Coffee on a canvas – you consciously use some trigger to create a starting point from which you start to see and respond to what is there, working your way toward a finished piece.  Here you are using some amount of learned skills/proclivities in the decisions you make.  Your taste, your ‘eye’ leads you in this.  A drama writer may listen for interesting overheard comments as a trigger, or a sculptor may pick up an interesting piece of detritus which becomes the kernel for an assemblage.  Visual artists may scan magazines or the web for an intriguing image they will start to manipulate.  Any artist might appropriate something from another artist as the seed of a new work.

Adria Arch - acrylic on canvas.  Piece began with poured thin liquid paint and then was modified with additional careful brush work

Adria Arch - acrylic on canvas.  Piece began with poured thin liquid paint and then was modified with additional careful brush work


Just Start – related closely to the above, the trigger for some may be to literally just sit in front of the canvas and put a mark on it, or sit in front of the keyboard and start hitting keys, doodle on a sketch pad.  But finishing works like this feels like the same as above – a series of choices led by taste, training and instinct.


Translate – similarly to the two above, the trigger is a work of art from another medium, or any experience or influence that the artist then seeks to translate into his or her own native medium.  A painter might listen to music and feel a way to translate that sensibility into visual form possibly via outright synesthesia.  A playwright may be drawn to the structure /dynamics/conflict in a painting and then try to capture that tension in the dialogue between characters in the play.  Or a performance artist may hang out with shamans and seek to bring that feeling into a performed work.

Joseph Beuys, Stripes from the house of the shaman, National Gallery of Australia

Joseph Beuys, Stripes from the house of the shaman, National Gallery of Australia

 

Representation – just try to paint what is in front of you – a landscape or a person or still life.  Give it your own style.  In this case the trigger is the real-world model or situation.  Choices are made about what to gaze at, which will influence the finished work, but fundamentally the process is driven by a chosen real-world thing outside you.

Ishbel Myerscough, Mothers and Daughters, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London

Ishbel Myerscough, Mothers and Daughters, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London


Move forward with an Algorithm (Process) –Apply a set of filters or guidelines to steer the development of the piece.  It might be “Do something you’ve never seen before” in which case the hand holds back every time it thinks it’s copying or influenced by a previous artist’s work.  Or Jasper Johns’ oft-quoted creation algorithm: “Take an object.  Do something to it.  Do something else to it.”    Process-related art:  “Fold up a canvas in quarters, put it in a big laser printer, run it through once for each quadrant, keep the ones where the paper jams.”   Or “take a work of art, make multiples possibly with slight variations, display it in an interesting way.”

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2012, Epson Ultrachrome K3 Inkjet on Linen

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2012, Epson Ultrachrome K3 Inkjet on Linen

 

Another general area of Algorithm is Aesthetics:  it may be based on composition, color, form/shape for example, or some other even yet-to-be-articulated aesthetic but it basically is a conceptual or formulaic way of deciding what to create, how and what to include or leave out.

 

Mash two or more things together – this may be incorporated in other methods above but it is fairly common so gets its own heading.  Juxtaposition: artificially creating conflict and learning something about ourselves from our responses.  Some artists really enjoy placing things in unlikely combinations hoping to see sparks fly.

Stuart Luke Gatherer, The Taking, oil on canvas, Albemarle Gallery, London

Stuart Luke Gatherer, The Taking, oil on canvas, Albemarle Gallery, London

 

 

Emulate – you follow an established form- (the head, the bust, the figure from my world, or the love song or the abstract painting) and then within that form find yourself influenced by the path laid out by another artist you admire or are just aware of.  In this case the work, consciously or not, is following a model in your head of something you’ve seen before.  There may be hard-to-avoid reasons for this – the medium itself may tend to push everything into certain standard directions .  At the highest level, novels tend to involve narratives and people’s lives.  Sculpture tends to become a ‘thing’ because of the nature of working with physical material.  At a more micro level, from my world, figures tend toward either the anatomically realistic or the abstracted, and if the abstracted – then quite likely one or more of the following:  smooth, elongated,  blocky/planar, exaggerated or possibly an abstraction of the physical form driven by the materials you choose to create with.  If you were to choose one of those directions, you might well find your work starting to look like another sculptor’s work who had made similar choices, and begin unconsciously to emulate (or resist the temptation to emulate) the other artist’s work.

 

Incremental Changes – you create a piece that is quite similar to one you have seen or made, but with a twist or with some effort to improve on it.  Maybe you are trying to open up a composition, hone a technique, explore a different palette, create more confident and energetic lines, change the scale or simply build a series with minor variations.  The new work is not so much original as a calculated extension on something already done.

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte Victoire, 1904-06

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte Victoire, 1904-06

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte Victoire, 1906

Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte Victoire, 1906

Robert Ryman, No Title Required 3, Pace Gallery

Robert Ryman, No Title Required 3, Pace Gallery

Get a Commission – not sure if this is different from others above but bears mentioning – someone wants a work of art, commissions the artist to make it, and the artists just sits down and executes the request.  If the artist were to initiate the request instead of a commissioner, it would probably feel a lot like “Emulate” above,  simply emulating the idea in the request.

What's In There

It isn’t always clear, nor should it be, what is going on in an artist’s body of work.  The fun, the mystery, the enduring hold of art may well be in the ambiguity we confront on being in the presence of work.

Nonetheless ideas do infiltrate the process of creating works of art, or are in fact front and center in an artist’s mind when developing the work.  As such they find their way into the finished piece and can be teased out with luck.

 

Sitting with my works during a quiet moment after hours at the gallery during a solo show helped me form a clearer idea of what was going on in my work.   Of course there is lots more there, and each individual will have a personal, emotional or other response to works that I can never know.  But for me here are several themes in no particular order that I was thinking about or can now see was going on over the past years while this work was getting created.


The DNA-Machine meets the modern world:  We humans are DNA-driven machines with ancient, timeless instinctive needs and behaviors.  We are also confronted by a world of technologies, opportunities and expectations that are decidedly new.  It’s probably always been true during times of social and technological change.  Still,  how do we make sense of it and craft a life that balances these sometimes conflicting pulls?

 

Return of the Hand:  So much of sculpture these days is assemblage, installation, appropriation, life-casting, performance/experience.  A quick look at the medium-defining Sculpture magazine reveals just a small fraction of today’s work that involves the sculptor’s hand modeling some material into form.  Figures, too, have long been out-of-vogue as a subject for sculpture.  My work defiantly walks into this chasm—I love the sheer physical process of modeling the (fairly realistic) figure in clay and am determined to find a way to continue doing it in a way that can be relevant to contemporary art sensibilities.

 

 

Old Materials, New Finishes:  Although I am doing my work substantially in clay—which with stone and bronze is one of the oldest traditional sorts of sculptural media—I am constantly on the lookout for new materials, textures, finishes, surface treatments etc that can take the work out of  a traditional or ‘craft’ sensibility and let them be something fresh.  Mirror, spray-paint, crazy glazes, textiles, gold-leaf, 3-D printed elements, ink-drawing, silver, mixing media – all these are integral to my work and support the underlying idea of the pull to fuse ancient and contemporary in our lives.

 

 

Consciousness—How Postmodernism Comes Up Short:  Sitting in a room full of my work one is aware of  ‘Presence’ – these may be inanimate art objects but through eyes, lips and other aspects of these somewhat realistic figures one feels drawn into the presence of Consciousness.  The pieces can act almost as meditation aids in that way – in the tradition of ancient Buddhas,  or they can just be totemic reminders of some deeper level of being human.  One way or another, though, you sense Consciousness as a presence in the room.  This is just what I have to do – maybe I am Consciousness’s marketing flak or something because I feel in a secular, post-modern, scientism-based era the thing that no one seems able to explain and consequently seems always to be sweeping under the rug is the mystery of Consciousness, the power of this unknown force, our birthright of this something-beyond-material.


So in this way, while acknowledging a deep debt to Postmodernism (e.g. mixing materials and media, mashing up forms,  playing with relational aesthetics, pop and just having fun) the work is also a critique of Postmodernism.  In effect it uses Structuralist methods to call out and call for the dismantling of Postmodernism’s now-hegemonic grip on what can and can’t be recognized within the tent of Contemporary Art today.  Unabashedly creating these realistically, hand-modeled figures emanating overtones of Consciousness then is my way of  claiming “le defi “– a call-to-arms as surely as anything rallied around in 1968—a contention that Postmodernism has been a blast but that it has its limits and now it is time to recognize that and move on.   

Why Do We Show?

Artists could reasonably expect that the whole point of their métier is to create works of sensitivity, subtlety and power, and that once that is done their job is over.  Of course the pesky matter of paying the bills comes up, so showing and selling one’s work could be put down to financial necessity.

 

I take a different view.  For me a work isn’t actually finished until it is shown.  In fact I could say I don’t even begin to fully understand a work until it I see it installed and people responding to it.  That could be in a gallery or commercial setting but not necessarily.  There are pieces that haven’t been finished in my mind until I saw them in their final homes, in space that they seemed almost born to inhabit.

 

These musings come as I wrap up the last few details for the opening of a solo show at my gallery in NY.  Recent weeks have been drearily familiar:  long days with literally a hundred specific tasks relating to completing a variety of works and getting them ready to install.  Packing, crating, then working with the gallery through one very long day disgorging everything out on the floor, figuring out where it is all going (early plans inevitably being scrapped once pieces are actually on site) and getting it all up and presentable.  Then more days with more details, information sheets being edited, hooks being re-positioned, staff being trained, photos being circulated.  It hardly seems like art at all, and it isn’t exactly fun.

Bob at Lambert Opening 2013-L- Bob Clyatt Sculpture.jpg

 

Nonetheless its important for the reasons stated above.  I am doing all this so I can see the work come together as a whole, so I can start to understand my work beyond whatever pieces I am working on at the moment and see them finished, together, hiding from each other, smiling or shouting at each other.  I am asked about the work and so need to use words, somehow, to talk about it which forces me into new ways of understanding what I was thinking.   When I am in the room I get to see people come in and stop, engage, mist up or (more commonly) walk past and completely miss something, which keeps me grounded!  I do this with the same spirit I put a lovingly modeled clay piece into the inferno of a high-fire kiln – to see it transformed, possibly destroyed, but if not, then to emerge as a different thing than went in.  Showing my work is a kind of crucible.  Watching this process gives me a lot of rapid learning--  basically it’s an efficient way for me to improve as an artist.

In Search of the Perfect Silver

Lots of times we artists think big picture, form, conceptual.  But other times we are obsessing over deep, picayune details of material and finish that nonetheless seem to make all the difference in a finished work.  Getting material/surface right takes me into all sorts of strange alchemical byways -- glazes, metals, forging and blasting, new materials, patinas.  For a long time I have been smitten with getting the Perfect Silver -- this post gives a little flavor of the hunt.  Like Yves Klein's creation (and subsequent patenting) of his signature International Blue or the Renaissance painters' search for the perfect Red, I guess I've been sucked into the same sort of long traditional quest that bedevils artists through time.

I first saw it on a visit to my Teacher's home in Carmel, CA -- my first glimpse of silver on a bronze figure- about 8 years ago.  He wasn't showing this work publicly, and had a prominent dappled brush-like mottled tone, but I saw the merest glint of that warm glow of silver that would be my lodestar. I saw the possibility for the Perfect Silver.  

Sprayed chrome patina on resin, lifesize, Dance (I am not a Commodity) 2008.  Nice finish but lacks darkness in the recesses and fades quickly especially outdoors.

Sprayed chrome patina on resin, lifesize, Dance (I am not a Commodity) 2008.  Nice finish but lacks darkness in the recesses and fades quickly especially outdoors.

But I wasn't able to do much bronze casting in those days.  Instead I spent several years noodling around with painted resin and ceramic surfaces-- chrome spray paint, nickel powders mixed in with shellac.  Like so much of my quest, everything had a bit of promise, but always flaws, downsides.  It didn't glow enough, it couldn't hold up outdoors, it faded, it darkened.  It was too bright and wouldn't hold darkness in the recesses, or it was all in the middle ranges with no good highlights or shadows.

Fierce, cast aluminum, 72"H, with lacquer for outdoor installation, 2014

Fierce, cast aluminum, 72"H, with lacquer for outdoor installation, 2014

I started casting in aluminum, and went through a whole range of options there -- putting on old motor oil and baking the piece in a kiln, then scrubbing off the highlights.  Spraying on graphite, sealing with lacquers for outdoors.  Waxes.  Carbon.  Buffing with rouge.   The results are good, but aluminum is a little colder and never quite glows the way my vision for the Perfect Silver would.

I talked with patineurs, studied recipes, scoured the literature and all I ever saw were pale disappointing grays.  "Silver Nitrate", people said.  It is a difficult, dangerous chemical but it's the way.  Keep at it."  I saw the Perfect Silver as an answer to Bronze, whose traditional brown patinas were so boring -- with Silver I hoped to get the piece to give me highlights and darks in a way I only got from my light white/cream ceramic glazes.  A look that glowed in low light, that didn't need spotlights to reveal its form, a contemporary, fresh look that was also timeless.  The Perfect Silver was going to solve everything -- I realized I was kind of obsessed --  my whole sculptural future seemed to depend on this.

So when I started casting bronze again, I made it a centerpiece of my Foundry relationship that they would work with me to get this right.  They had an old bottle of Silver Nitrate lying around, but had never had any success with it.  Disappointment followed disaster, hopes would be raised and then dashed.  The master patineur of the foundry, to his credit, engaged the challenge but didn't hold out much hope.  Even if we got it right, he could see no way to make it hold up to outdoor weather.  Lacquer darkened it and took away its glow.  Wax would let sunlight through -- the UV rays would tarnish and darken the piece over time.

I tried new metals like white bronze, an expensive alloy rich in nickel without the redness of bronze, but it had an overall greenish tinge that could never deliver the warmth and skin tone I needed.  Like aluminum, it was always going to be 'almost right'.  One day I was bounding up some steps in a Chicago hotel and beneath a century of wear I saw the Perfect Silver on an old ventilator grate from the Art Deco period.  More digging, more formulas, more chemistry and experimentation.  I was reviving something from a hundred years ago that somehow felt very contemporary. 

Ophelia - Bronze with Silver -- 9"H, 2014.  This was the first piece that gave me a sense that Perfect Silver would be possible, with warmth, skin-tone and high contrasts between light and dark.

Ophelia - Bronze with Silver -- 9"H, 2014.  This was the first piece that gave me a sense that Perfect Silver would be possible, with warmth, skin-tone and high contrasts between light and dark.

One day I arrived to find happy faces -- they had it!  A new Silver supplier, a new way of spraying it, the right steel wool, the right waxes blended with carbon, applied at the right time and temperature.  It all came together -- the Perfect Silver.  I showed the sample to an international Design guru who is Lord of the Showroom in NY where my work is occasionally displayed.  He loved it so much that he wouldn't let me take it home.  "It is SO Contemporary!" he effused.  It is -- this was a color and tone we are ready to rediscover.

Large Woman's Head- Silver Patina, before Lacquer for outdoors, 96"H, 2015

Large Woman's Head- Silver Patina, before Lacquer for outdoors, 96"H, 2015

But we had only been able to achieve this on a small piece.  We tried again and again to recreate this -- maddeningly-- occasionally we got it but more often we fell short, inexplicably.  Still several months later we had figured out how to do it consistently and were ready to scale it up to a larger piece.  I watched with elation as we steel-wooled away the haze and revealed the glowing finish beneath.  High Fives all around.   The piece was for outdoors -- we had a lacquer that on our tests seemed to keep the color unchanged-- which would seal the piece for outdoors.  It was just mopping up now.  Alas, as we sprayed it on, within minutes we could see the piece darkening before our eyes.  Yet again, the dream faded, the miracle slipped just out of reach.  Familiar despondence.

Large Woman's Head- after lacquer for outdoors, 96"H, 2015

Large Woman's Head- after lacquer for outdoors, 96"H, 2015

So that is where things stand today:  We can consistently achieve the Perfect Silver for indoor pieces now but still not for outdoor.  I am trying yet another metal alloy, yet another batch of lacquers, but I accept that it may be years away, and it may never happen.

Working with a Model

Mel, modeling for a head sculpture, Mel, Side Pony

Mel, modeling for a head sculpture, Mel, Side Pony

 

Much of my work is done with a model, and I realize people may be interested in what that process is like.  Most of my models are recruited from our local arts college, SUNY Purchase.  Students and recent graduates appreciate the chance to earn a good hourly wage and be part of the art-making process.  I learn a lot from them too, as we always seem to have lively wide-ranging conversations during the 3-5 hour modeling sessions. 

Mel, Side Pony, (Study) stoneware, 9"H

Mel, Side Pony, (Study) stoneware, 9"H

 

I like to show the models a range of my work and get to know them because the model-artist relationship is fundamentally a collaboration, or at least has the potential to be.  The more they know about my work, my aesthetic, the ideas I am trying to convey with the piece, the better I believe they can contribute to the process.

Emily getting to know my wife at the beginning of her first session

Emily getting to know my wife at the beginning of her first session

I like to put a model at ease, especially since poses are often done nude.  One good way is for people to meet my wife, maybe share a quick lunch and realize that there is nothing sketchy about what we are going to be doing. 

Pose idea -- for a series of clothed figures who will be intently hunched over their smartphones

Pose idea -- for a series of clothed figures who will be intently hunched over their smartphones

In the studio we will discuss the piece and pose, and run through a range of options. I may have been imagining a pose but now I am seeing it from all angles and getting the feel for how it will work as a 3-dimensional object in space.  Many ideas die here or get radically adapted.

me sketching Emily

me sketching Emily

rough, fast sketches familiarize me with model and pose

rough, fast sketches familiarize me with model and pose

 

When we are close to something that I think can work I like to draw the pose from a variety of angles.  These are quick drawings done to familiarize myself with the model’s body, the angles of limbs and relationships between things which will come up when I make the actual piece.  The model also has a chance to feel the physical depth and emotional register of the pose, suggest changes and then commit it to muscle memory.

Most of the sculpting thus far has been done with the various 2x4 and other wood boards in the picture, as opposed to finer modeling tools.  The head will get re-sized, surface refined and clothing added in future sessions.

Most of the sculpting thus far has been done with the various 2x4 and other wood boards in the picture, as opposed to finer modeling tools.  The head will get re-sized, surface refined and clothing added in future sessions.

 

Depending on the piece I will then bend an armature into place and get the clay roughed into form.  On a smaller piece that will be fired in a kiln, I will have the clay prepared a day or two in advance for the general size and gesture for the piece so it can be modeled without slumping.

looking at the piece in a mirror helps give fresh perspective. 

looking at the piece in a mirror helps give fresh perspective. 

 

The process itself takes as long as it takes – I may get all I need from the model in one long session or more typically we will have two or more sessions to get through this stage.  Hands, face and feet all come last and I will sometimes do them from memory or from another model or out of my head.  All the finish work is done without a model though – I want the piece to function as its own whole, so I am referencing the piece to itself for the final tweaking stages which can take a long time.

A few days later after the surface has started to be refined and a few more details blocked in.  Clothes will be added at a later stage, and the head is from a different model.

A few days later after the surface has started to be refined and a few more details blocked in.  Clothes will be added at a later stage, and the head is from a different model.

Several more hours with the model refining gesture and form, then additional days spent refining hands, face, feet and  surface.   

Several more hours with the model refining gesture and form, then additional days spent refining hands, face, feet and  surface.   

 

I get two main things from the model, aside from the inspiration of the interaction with another person during the creative process.  First is seeing my initial idea for a piece brought to life with the model’s interpretation of it, and bringing those emotions into a gesture and pose.  Secondly, no matter how much anatomy a figurative sculptor knows, seeing the formal inter-relationships between the body parts in an actual body will always be stronger than trying to make up a pose from one’s head.  How hips actually move in a twist, how the knee bends and the weight distributes, how the back and shoulders move in relation to the neck and hip, or how an elbow sits alongside the body, the chin aligns over the chest – all these interactions are important to get right, I believe, in order to realize the full power of a piece of figurative art. 

Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Kneeling Woman, 1911

Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Kneeling Woman, 1911

 

This can put me in a quandary though when it comes to abstracting.  If adherence to the actual figure is so important, then it tends to minimize the range for abstraction, and we know abstraction can pack its own power.  I have tended to abstract through the use of surface and material rather than the form itself, maybe loosening up detail or bringing surface tooling texture in but only a little.  Think my shiny mirror-coated or raku-fired figures instead of emaciated elongated Giacommetti’s.  But clearly Giacommetti, Moore, Lehmbruck, Lachaise, Botero, et al abstracted the figure to powerful effect.  They also used models (in and out of bed!) so what was it they were seeing that was so different?  One factor may be simply that Modernism held sway so various forms of abstraction were de rigeur; the models then were inspiration and point-of-departure.  Anyway this is still confusing to me and is an area I need to explore further.

Artists to the Barricades – or not

Francisco de Goya, El Tres de Mayo

Francisco de Goya, El Tres de Mayo

 

Had a nice meal last night with several artist friends in Harlem, after which the conversation veered off into what kinds of art we admired, what drove us to create, what was off-base.  I was surprised that the genre of art which wrestles with political/social issues received short shrift from the group.  We were talking about Ai Weiwei in particular, but connecting him to a lineage of artists calling out repressive government or social tyranny that is well-represented in art history, from Picasso’s Guernica to Goya’s 3rd of May or Max Beckmann’s depictions of decaying Gestapo enablers.  (to say nothing of Dostoevsky, Dickens or Balzac)

Ai Weiwei: 'Remembering', Installation of backpacks for the facade of the Haus der Kunst, Munich 2009 (c) photo by Premier Art Scene

Ai Weiwei: 'Remembering', Installation of backpacks for the facade of the Haus der Kunst, Munich 2009 (c) photo by Premier Art Scene

 

What seemed to turn the group off from creating this sort of work today was never completely clear – it could have been a sense that the issues needed to be personally experienced in order for them to find their way into one’s art, or that the issues were no longer the province of visual artists, that the cudgels were being appropriately or better taken up by those in other mediums – film, writing, music.  Or else the social criticism by artists had been so overly worked – issues of gender and race were mentioned – that it was hard to say anything new or authentic.

Max Beckmann, Die Nacht

Max Beckmann, Die Nacht

 

Authenticity seemed to be the underlying value, and one’s devotion to a personal process of experimentation and discovery in the art-making.  This seemed to argue for a bottom-up approach, wherein the work arises out of purely visual considerations or diligent tinkering as opposed to starting with some sort of overarching idea or discovery and seeking to respond to it or express it visually through one’s work.

 

I still don’t know where I come out on this, though I started the evening arguing fairly vigorously for work in the Ai WeiWei-Goya-Beckman vein.  I see now how it might be somewhat passé, certainly only one of many possible entries  into the creative process, but am skeptical that it is appropriate only for the small number of artists directly affected by state or social tyranny.   Beckmann, I recently learned, believed the moral purpose of the artist was to depict the spiritual condition of his age.   It was refreshing to read that, too, and realize that as recently as 80 years ago artists could say things like "the moral purpose of the artist is..."   In any case, it’s the New Year and I am committed to making nothing for awhile, just thinking and puttering and trying to get clearer and make room for some new things to take root in my art-making practice so this was a particularly valuable discussion.

Book Review - Painting, Drawing and Sculpture- Contemporary Perspectives

Here's the review I recently posted on Amazon for a wonderful new book developed at the New York Academy of Art, a degree-granting college that focuses on the figure and values formal anatomical skills, representation and a culture of mastery: 

"A great resource for anyone interested in figurative art, especially for those creating it. Much of it reads like art history, yet for once it is art history written by people who actually paint and sculpt -- this gives it real authority in my view. Dense reading -- you often have to unpack phrase-by-phrase but you are always rewarded for it, unlike much of the dense but largely meaningless stuff inflicted on us in some of the art magazines or academic journals. Everyone here is connected to the New York Academy of Art, so the book occasionally acts a little bit like a 'day on campus' with detailed how-to technique bits sprinkled in among the essays. Mostly I appreciated reading thoughtful artist-professors discussing the subtle alchemy through which figurative art transforms from stale, old academic into vibrant contemporary art form. This is one I expect to read and re-read for years."

Cover Art, Martha Mayer Erlebacher, The Cycle of Life, Fire: Youth, 2006, Oil on Canvas

Cover Art, Martha Mayer Erlebacher, The Cycle of Life, Fire: Youth, 2006, Oil on Canvas



Sculpting in Sculpture?

I experience great joy in the simple process of modeling clay into form-- using sculpture tools, my hands, chunks of wood, whatever.  It has taken me years to accept the fact that this quintessential act of 'sculpting' is a rarity in the world of contemporary sculpture.  Not just a rarity but possibly somewhat marginalized.  Sculpture has moved on.

I have known this for awhile, of course, and in fact make my modeled works in some quiet zone of defiance to these trends.  I have no issue with the assemblage/installation/performance approach to sculpture and in fact find those works visually exciting, more exciting perhaps than my own modeled forms.  I just love the act of making the things I do so I keep on with it.

Bob modeling a clay head in Nanchang China, summer 2014

Bob modeling a clay head in Nanchang China, summer 2014

I recently decided to count the images in the latest Sculpture magazine (September 2014) to see how many of the sculptures there might have been modeled in some way by a sculptor holding a tool and using it to shape some plastic material.  I excluded the advertisements since they don't represent the tastes of today's curatorial/editorial sculpture gatekeepers, and focused only on editorial content.  The results were intriguing:

Andrea Loefke, Homecoming at Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, 2013.  Found tree branches and stumps, wood, ladders, chicken wire, traffic cones, photographs, plaster casts of tree branches, hardware, glitter pigmented latex, pedestals, milk crates, mirrors, carpet, clamps, foam, mixed media, and painted water level on walls

Andrea Loefke, Homecoming at Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, 2013.  Found tree branches and stumps, wood, ladders, chicken wire, traffic cones, photographs, plaster casts of tree branches, hardware, glitter pigmented latex, pedestals, milk crates, mirrors, carpet, clamps, foam, mixed media, and painted water level on walls

Out of 108 images of sculpture in the magazine's editorial content, 11 showed sculptures which were likely modeled with some tool by a person at some point.  Of these, one was a piece by Jeff Koons who we know never picks up a tool himself and two were from an installation by Simon Starling of figurative masks (Project for a Masquerade, Hiroshima) which he references in his interview were made for him by a mask-maker in Osaka.  Two were pieces by Mia Westerland Roosen where stucco was smoothed on top of carved foam and the remainder were some lovely ovoid forms by Isabel Nolan, magnified silver crystals cast (probably) in stainless steel "by" Simon Starling again though  Gereon Krebber almost surely did some modeling on a few of his works (Ovomutus and Bean).

In the reviews of exhibitions at the back of the magazine, not a single sign of human hand modeling matter is to be seen amongst the found objects, fabricated, assembled, growing, glowing, adorned and festooned works there.  (Actually, David Harper told me that he used some taxidermy forms for his animals in To Remind, or to Warn which would have been modeled at some point in the past by an artisan/sculptor, and he also did some hand carving in foam for the rocky parts of the bases in that piece.)

Although in David Harper's case he still does the modeling personally in his smaller works, it is noteworthy that among even the small number of modeled works found in the magazine, something like half (Koons, Starling x3, Harper x2) have had the modeling outsourced to an artisan, further evidence of the diminished role of modeling.

Finally out of the 108 images, eight were sculptures with figurative elements, four human and four animal.  (My style of sculpture, modeling the human,  would thus have been included in this 4/108ths.)  For the record, Sculpture Magazine dominates the field, being the voice of the International Sculpture Center, the only major magazine about Sculpture globally and a key  arbiter of tastes and contemporary art trends in the sculpture world.  A look at any random sampling of other months' issues would show the September 2014 issue I analyzed here to be representative.

I want to be very clear-- I really like most of these installation/performance-based or non-modeled and non-figurative works!  They are visually refreshing and have a lot to offer as art.  I just think it is noteworthy how far the contemporary sculpture world has moved from customary notions of 'sculpting' as carving or modeling an object from a material.  It must be a tough time to be selling modeling tools :-)

 

 

 

 

 

Context

Most people who are not artists quite reasonably think that artists make things:  A painting, a sculpture or some object that is dashed off with brio and creativity, probably pained over, and presented at the end of the process as a finished object or image, a work of art.

 

What becomes clearer as artists struggle on in the art-making enterprise is that the thing itself, the art object, is not enough.   Art is understood, received, rejected or canonized mostly because of something else, which I try to understand as Context.  In other words, we appreciate art for a whole cluster of attributes of the art, only some of which have to do with the image or thing itself.  This can be a huge challenge for an artist.

 

Context has many facets:  some of the easy ones to understand are, where am I seeing this work of art?  Is it in a well-known gallery or museum?  Perhaps in a dynamically designed living space or set in the manicured grounds of a famous collector?  Is the artist already famous?  Or instead, maybe it’s hung in a noisy cafe or sold by the artist on a sidewalk in Midtown.  Either way, our feelings about the work can be influenced by the physical setting, and by some implied reputation or selectivity we attribute to the work based on where we find it.

Eric Fischl, Sleepwalker

Eric Fischl, Sleepwalker

 

Context can work inside the work itself, too:  my painting of a man with a hat carries different meanings depending on whether the background is some psychedelic orgiastic party or a day out at a Yankees game.  Eric Fischl created a huge following for paintings set in disturbing or dysfunctional suburban settings (visual/symbolic context) , that also placed his work in a cultural context that happened to resonate with urban prejudices about tract homes and suburban living.  Jeff Koons’ use of mirrored surfaces literally puts the viewers image into the context of, or into his or her experience of the work.

 

But Context goes deeper.   One thing people love to know is something about the artist.  Did she hang out with Jean-Michel Basquiat on the Lower East Side in the 80s? Was he connected to Joseph Beuys’ inner circle?   Did he drink with Franz Kline and the AbEx giants at the Cedar Tavern, or wander the streets of Montparnasse between the wars?  These inform our understanding of the historical and cultural milieu in which the art incubated – maybe we feel a little of the soul of that time and place in the work as a result.  But most of this contextual glow is attributed in retrospect: artists hang out in a lot of seedy places that never end up doing their health or their reputations much good.

 

I think we are all vulnerable to feelings about the art based on things we know about the artist personally.  It is not uncommon to see wall text now tipping us off to an artist’s gender, identity, cultural, sexual, political or other markers which presumably are meant to help us gain a deeper experience from the work, maybe even find absolution in it.  The art experience can feel like fingers strumming cultural strings, setting off harmonic tones as we observe – “Ah, this is work by a gay Latino incarcerated terrorist – Wow!”  (True story, btw). 

Jimmie Durham, Arc de Triomphe, 2007

Jimmie Durham, Arc de Triomphe, 2007

 

I was marveling over some sculptures and video I saw recently by Jimmie Durham, in Shanghai.  I loved the work, but I was not familiar with him.  Was he German?  English?  No it turns out he was American though he had lived outside the U.S. quite a bit.  Digging a little deeper… Ah, and he is Native American, Wow!  This work now has an almost- shamanic power over me, and I suspect on others who learn this about his ethnicity.  Should it?  I admit to being vulnerable to this element of Context.  These are feelings I bring to the work based on what I’m told about the artist, probably not by anything objectively “in” the work at all.

 

But there is no formula.  Certainly I don’t have these feelings about the work of all Native American artists, for instance.  Strong work and having the right socio-political check boxes isn’t enough, either – the work also has to speak in a dialect that is timely, privileged by the curator or other taste-making gatekeepers – the dreaded Fashion dimension of art, where nothing much matters about the work or the artist except that they be in vogue.

Donelle Woolford, Valentin Gallery

Donelle Woolford, Valentin Gallery

 

I think these issues of context were some of what Whitney Bienniale curator Michelle Grabner was trying to get at by including the works of Donelle Woolford/Joe Scanlan on her floor this year.   Scanlan, a white Princeton art professor, hired a succession of African-American actresses to play “the artist Donelle Woolford”, going to openings and press performance events acting as the creator of works produced by Scanlan himself, who was generally in the background as a sort of mentor/associate.   Scanlan a notorious trickster, seems to have designed these situations to get the art world to examine this aspect of itself:  By appropriating the identity of Donelle Woolford, he appropriated the context which he was pretty sure the art world would accord this work if it were authored by a young African-American woman, but which might not otherwise attach to the work if it were understood to be created by a white middle-aged heterosexual American male. 

 

All this starts to beg the question of how much artists themselves can actually do to make “better” art (or at least better-accepted art) if so much of the eventual impact of their work is determined by contextual forces beyond their ability to manage or change.  Still we keep doing the best we can.  And maybe I have to spend a little more time trying to find the next Cedar Tavern, and getting a seat at the bar. (It’s probably somewhere in Bushwick?)

Taking it up a Notch

Big Art.  Maybe it is the soaring white box arts institutional spaces and public venues or just the need for more spectacle, but everywhere I look I see big art.  This has been a challenge for me as a ceramic sculptor since clay is hard to scale – it cracks, kilns limit size and it’s not the easiest material to work into installations.  So when my gallerist Leah Poller started showing me high-quality bronze work she was doing in China, I paid attention.

Wax version of a Chinese sculptor's work in progress which will soon be cast in a single-pour via lost-wax bronze, TQ Art Foundry China.

Wax version of a Chinese sculptor's work in progress which will soon be cast in a single-pour via lost-wax bronze, TQ Art Foundry China.



I had done bronze work before here in NY and Connecticut but I was struck by how the old guard kept retiring and there wasn’t much new guard taking their places. While almost everything else we buy has had labor squeezed out of it, bronze casting still takes a lot of labor so it is expensive and I found after paying foundry costs I simply couldn’t price my works where they would sell.  So I had all but given it up for the past 5 years.


With the promise of good quality work and low prices I decided to dip a toe back in and recently spent a few days at TQ Art Foundry, the largest art foundry in China and possibly the world.  700 employees and the ability to cast single pour lost wax bronze pieces up to 6 meters high.

A series of figures in white bronze, for a temple in China- TQ Art Foundry China  

A series of figures in white bronze, for a temple in China- TQ Art Foundry China

 


I view this foundry relationship almost as if it were a new tool or medium:  If I can work cost-effectively in cast metal I could make different kinds of work, open up new creative avenues, new places to show and sell my work.  It’s allowing me to take my same modeling skills and artistic vision and let it out of the box.  It’s putting me on a fairer footing with some of the marquis contemporary artists whose unlimited budgets or developing country bases allow them to make spectacular work with intensive amounts of skilled assistance.


So far I am just making a handful of casts of an old piece (Gandhi and Gandhi Watching CNN) which continues to draw interest, but while there I started to understand that I could scale up some of my large Head sculptures into cast metal and have them work in outdoor, all-climate installations at sizes I simply cannot achieve in clay.  And discovering new metals and new patinas means I can get non-traditional looks that match the mood and feeling I am trying to get in my pieces.  And I can build the original head on-site in China at the studio with their assistance, meaning I don’t have to deal with making and shipping a mold that size either.  I am sure that after these large heads I will come up with even more new works that will now make sense.

Me working on wax for Gandhi in the TQ Art Foundry Wax Department.

Me working on wax for Gandhi in the TQ Art Foundry Wax Department.


Make no mistake, this is pioneering and still very much a work in process.  TQ barely has a website and although a steady stream of foreign sculptors have done work there over the years (and they have a few lovely English-speaking staff) this is going halfway around the world to stay in an industrial park in a city in central China that few have ever heard of and fewer still have visited.  You work, eat and sleep onsite, in a guesthouse alongside the worker dormitories and foundry buildings, and get seriously authentic Chinese food at every meal, sometimes washed down with fiery draughts of Chinese rum during bouts of toasts with the foundry’s owners and senior managers.

The Enlarging Department, where they are scaling up this piece in clay, getting it ready for molding and casting.  TQ Art Foundry, China.

The Enlarging Department, where they are scaling up this piece in clay, getting it ready for molding and casting.  TQ Art Foundry, China.

 

I thought it was important to document this, that sometimes progressing as an artist--growing the scope and vision of your work-- requires a step-change in how you work, requires going halfway around the world to work in a strange place in a strange language.  Maybe if I were more commercially successful I could do all this with the good folks at Polich-Tallix, an easy drive from my home, where rock stars like Ursula von Rydingsvard and Martin Puryear cast their work but economics (prices about half of US prices) along with a certain sense of adventure has taken me on this new path.  So far it's been fun and empowering!

View of the grounds, TQ Art Foundry, Nanchang City, China.

View of the grounds, TQ Art Foundry, Nanchang City, China.


Making a Large Clay Head

I have been wanting to make a large, single-piece fired ceramic head for a long time, and yesterday was finally the day to start.  I had a burning need to just do it, but unfortunately with sculpture there is a long process to get to the finish line.  I thought it might be fun to show a handful of pictures from a wild two days with some behind-the-scenes shots of the process thus far.  There is still much to do, and maybe that will end up in a second post, but for now I do have the original large head almost ready.  It will then be molded and a second clay head which is able to be fired in a kiln will be made from that mold and then hand-modeled into finished form.  The final result will be somewhat smaller (clay shrinks in firing) but should be able to stand on its own on the ground, outdoors, even in a cold climate.  I have done so many nudes for so long that it will be nice to have something that can finally go in a public place ( in the U.S- we're not big on nudes here!)

Started off needing to build a big heavy-duty cart, which took all the first day. 

Lots of trips to Home Depot.  I also got the pipes assembled which form the internal supports, sort of like Legos for Sculptors. 

Then I started cutting foam insulation into a head-shaped slices  which I then wrapped with plaster-soaked burlap strips which give the clay something to grab onto. 

Clay doesn't grab easily, though, so I had to dig through my recycled clay bins to the very bottom to get the goopiest clay (yeah, it does smell) and literally throw it at the sides of the piece to get it to splat/stick on and provide a base for the additional layers of clay.  Believe me the goggles are necessary -- the stuff flies everywhere and will have to be cleaned off the side of the studio windows tomorrow.

by 6pm, starting to look like a head.

by 6pm, starting to look like a head.

 

It was sticking well, so I kept adding through the dinner hour, on a roll, and ended up with something close enough to cast by 8pm.    Again, this piece is not the final piece as it cannot be fired or used for anything but a mold, (and even there, I am the only person I know of crazy enough to try to mold slabs of this size and join them together for a high fire kiln)  but it's a nice start on a project I have been wanting to do for years.  Wish me luck on the next stages!

Head is 42"H.  The new stand is holding up well, and only one prop under the chin to keep the face from falling off!  The ears are just placeholders now as they will not be part of the mold and will need to be modeled and added  directly on the finished piece.

Head is 42"H.  The new stand is holding up well, and only one prop under the chin to keep the face from falling off!  The ears are just placeholders now as they will not be part of the mold and will need to be modeled and added  directly on the finished piece.

Ruminations before going in the studio

As an artist I am always wrestling with a conundrum:  do I make something new?  Or do I make something well?  Obviously the answer is “Yes”!    But behind each of these directions is a ton of struggle sometimes – making something new often means throwing out everything you know, coming to a fresh place of thinking, and letting the chips fall where they may – the result may not feel very new once you look at it in context, but it was for you- that day- a new place to be in, to be making art from.  When doing this you may well find yourself breaking rules, pushing materials to their breaking points (in my case with clay, quite literally!) and generally stepping off into thin air without much of a net.

 

To make something well, for me, means working with a honed and reliable set of tools, skills, materials, processes.  It is the craft part of art.  But it is of necessity anti-innovation.  At its best it means creating a form with dynamism, balance, power – that quality of ‘it had to be that way.’  But doing this might mean you have created something very similar dozens of times, near-misses, and the process becomes automatic enough that  you can forget about the craft and get some magic, intuitive set of strengths to come into the work.  Still, it is unlikely to look ‘new’ at the end.

 

So while we wrestle with all this, enter a third dimension of struggle for the artist:  I have no name for it so I will just call it “It”.  Does the piece have “It?”  You can plan, conceive, execute, innovate to your heart’s content, but will the resulting piece have ‘zing’ as a work of art?  Often this “It” quality has something to do with a wider cultural context, a way the piece is seen or received by viewers, a resonance or echo the piece has with something that is on people’s minds.  Can an artist honestly set out to create an art object or installation/performance that can be expected to resonate this way?  Or is it something that just happens, that we occasionally get lucky with?  Are great artists likely to just have super cultural antennae such that whatever they are making is somehow vibrating with significant cultural resonance?  Or do the best artists actually bend the culture to resonate with the things that are on the artists' minds?

 

Anyway, this is the stuff I ponder all the time about making art.  It can be too much, so in the end I just go in and make something and hope for the best.

Painting

The more I look at paintings and learn about the people who make them the more in awe I get of the whole enterprise.  This feeling has recently been intensified by reading The Man with a Blue Scarf, Martin Gayford's book about sitting with Lucian Freud for about a year while having his portrait done.  Maybe it's the fact the Freud would seem to spend 15 minutes agonizing over every brushstroke, or the fact that he knew everybody in the UK art/culture pantheon, (no doubt helped by having a famous Grandpa) but I am coming to understand just how much subtlety goes into making a painting great. Probably true of any work of art.  So maybe a lot of people can do 99% of the job, but making it into enduring, great art is all about getting the last 1% right. 

Anyway it's a great read, almost as if we're sitting in on the sessions and the dinners that follow ourselves.  Gayford's knowledge of art (unlike Lord's who had a similar relationship and book with Giacommetti) means the conversation really takes us into the mind of a great artist and how he thinks about what he's doing.

In last night's passage Freud went over to Kate Moss's house for her birthday party, where he hung out with Damien Hirst.  Yeah, I'm jealous.

Martin Gayford portrait- Freud.jpg

Getting Started

First post -- new site.  Just went live today.  My old site just wasn't cutting it anymore.  Hoping this blog will give me a way to share a bench-level view of my art-making process, bat around observations about contemporary art and share other artists and writers-about-art I think are worth looking at.

I am getting a running start since I'm taking a web-course with Paul Klein right now and we get to meet a couple interesting people each week.  Last night it was Joe Amrhein who runs Pierogi 2000 Gallery and the Boiler  in Williamsburg.  Lots of affordable art in their Flat Files, but my memorable takeaway from that talk was Jonathan Schipper's two cars crunching together in ultra-slow-mo -- He can set the gears to make this train-wreck last two years.  They've sold three of these: The Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle.

SchipperCrashChicFull.jpg