Recently I was reading an article about Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi. There was a little quote by him that said “New? New is easy. Right is hard.”
On one level, “new” is difficult — to see past what is done and make it unique. To make it your own. But on another level, new, for the sake of new, has no substance, no underpinning. Without effort, new is merely novel. The art world, these days, seems so taken with new. “Right”, on the other hand, seems much deeper. Whether it is “right” to the artist or right to the answer of a problem, right has a quality to it that is usually beyond explanation. This kind of right is also incredibly subjective. For me, when I make something right, a collection of unrelated objects fit together in a way that looks as if it they were meant to fit together. If this then relates to beauty in a way that suits me, it becomes art. It becomes right.
Trying to describe this process in words is so difficult but putting this in words also helps me understand. There was a time when I would say that this is all just semantics and yet, when “right” happens in the process of creating, it is so gratifying.
This piece is call Last Stand.
Over ten years ago, I went to an “art happening” called Burning Man. This event takes place once a year, in the middle of a desert, in Nevada, at a place called Black Rock City.
I was so unprepared for the all of creativity I saw there,… and the chaos. The artistic expressions and the shock of the things that I had never seen before demanded to be reckoned with. I wanted to remember the wonder and the amazement of it all so I took pictures, hoping, in some small way, to capture the essence that is Burning Man. But the idea of putting these images in a little photo album just didn’t seem right. I was inspired to push myself to make something that would keep these images more present. I just didn’t want to forget how inspiring the event was.
I decided that I wanted to present these images in some sort of shrine. At the time, I wasn’t very handy and was certainly pretty scared of power tools. Within a few months of starting the shrine I stopped. Distracted by life, I felt unsure of where I was going with this project but I had already accumulated lots of antique wood, tokens from Black Rock City and a ton of items that I have been collecting over the years. Timidly, I thought that I could make other shrines or objects with these spare parts. In time, these art projects became Foundlings.
Like so much in life, what you get form an experience is largely what you bring to the experience. This event is not for everyone but for some, this event can be so transformative. Perhaps I was ready to start expressing myself and just needed a little nudge.
In the last month I have finally returned to this shrine and am determined to finish it. I am not sure that it is, strictly speaking, “art” but it will be an important tribute to inspiration. I am so grateful to Burning Man for inspiring me. Have a good burn.
This Foundling came together so quickly that it was almost a surprise. I have learned to humbly accept that some of these pieces happen very quickly and some happen very slowly. And some, never happen at all.
So as a working name, I called this Speedy Gonzales, the speedy cartoon mouse from my childhood. Later, in thinking about the name, I decided to name it after my dear friend Gonzalo. A very talented graphic designer, a great father and a very funny guy from Chile. His name was, after all, so very close to Speedy Gonzales. Gonzalo helps me see American culture from a totally different point of view (not to mention his wonderful, funny insights about the English language). He taught me that beauty, art and design are indeed an international language.
In telling him the story of how I came to name this piece after him, I wondered if he knew about Speedy Gonzales. America tends to export some of the very best (and very worst) of our culture. Gonzalo knew of Speedy and added “Why of course. He is actually a national hero”.
I was talking recently with someone who asked why I was working in this style, essentially being an abstract sculptor, when I could draw and (with a lot of make-up practice) paint. I had to respond by saying that if I was going to do any “classical art”, I would want to draw and paint at a certain level. That I would have had to have started at age 10 and painted or drew almost every day. The Masters had it right, to perfect a skill, any skill, you had to work at it. I don’t think this is merely a Victorian work ethic but an understanding that from baseball to cooking, surgery to dance, it takes a huge investment in time to get good at something. The irony is that once achieved, to the rest of the word, your skill looks effortless.
Distracted by a million things, I don’t think that I could ever paint the way I would have wanted to but there was something that I did do most days. I designed things. In a way, following in my father’s footsteps as a graphic designer (in his day called a commercial artist), my love of design followed me by day and haunted my dreams by night. This sense of design, honed over 40 years is what I bring to my work. Balance, composition and form were my tools. Working as if I was polishing a stone, refining slowly, again and again, until the form and balance were right.
This still left me with that vision thing, what would I say, what was my vision; but I would at least know how I would say it.
It’s been a busy month. First preparing for my first “one-man” show in Earlviile and now a show that materialized rather quickly at the Dorian Grey Gallery in Manhattan. I was so very pleased that Dorian Grey hung a dozen pieces. The opening reception is this week.
This is Axis Ovi. Not sure why this piece has become such a favorite of mine. Perhaps it’s the wooden tile background which originally lived in my parent’s dining room. Perhaps it’s the organic contrast of the egg with the coral. It’s so difficult to say why some Foundlings speak to me more then others. It’s so difficult to know what exactly makes a successful work. Worse, some of my “favorites” seem less “popular” while some of my “less favorite” pieces prove to be real crowd pleasers.
I am not, strictly speaking, looking for approval but it would seem that fundamental to art is the viewer. Like any parent, I want all of my pieces to succeed and find good homes, but in my heart, I do have a few favorites,… that quietly wink to me.
It’s been over three years since I wondered into a gallery and saw an artist who used antique rulers as part of his work. I don’t remember the artist’s name or even where the gallery was. His work was very minimal the rulers were major elements in his work. I was just struck by both the beauty in these rulers and with the understanding that in our effort to explore the world, we measure it first. This piece is called Isabella.
I was at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Arts recently when I came across an exhibit of Theaster Gates, a Chicago-based artist. To over simplify it, here was another artist working with found objects in very much the same palette that I use: old wood, rusted metal, and mechanical parts. He too was looking to give new life to discarded material, to “rejuvenate both the architecture and social structure of South Chicago”.
The difference, to my eye, is that I am concerned with form, balance and composition. Always wanting to not stray too far from what I would call “classical beauty”. That is not to say that Mr. Gates isn’t concerned with beauty, just not what is typically called beauty. True, there are many different types of beauty and there is a real insight in seeing the beauty in everyday things. Could it be that the effort to “make things beautiful”, in a classical tradition, is as much of a distraction to making certain types of art as the abstract artists thought realism was? In a way, realism is not real but an illusion. It is the art of making something that is flat and tricking the eye into thinking that it is somehow a window into a space that is three dimensional. There is an incredible amount of skill to do this but if that is the goal of art then the best artists are the best technicians.
Is it possible that my struggle with making things beautiful, turns my work into decoration? Could it be that making things “pretty” just for the sake of making something pretty undermines what I am trying to do? I don’t think I can give up on my understanding of what art means to me. That is, after all, what my vision is but it does make me wish that I could have a long conversation with Mr. Gates.
Gibbous, meaning a phase of the moon that is more then half but less then full. This piece, now about four months old, is still evolving. Not by my hand but by Mother Nature. In exploring other metals, I find copper very difficult to work with. Its beautiful salmon color, at first blush, wants to work with the rich colors of old wood and yet, it seems to fight the dark wood tones.
I had this photographed soon after its completion with the copper old enough to not look brand new but not so old that it lost its color. I was pleased and this image provides a record of this piece as it was constructed.
Over the last few months, however, the copper is really starting to tarnish and I am so conflicted. The copper is oxidizing so much that it’s almost brown like an old penny. So on one hand I continue to marvel at the process, both the creative process and the aging process. And on the other hand, the understanding that everything changes despite how much we hold on to that which we hold dear. This creative path has been such an exploration of not just of the world around me but of self.
I had thought that this pieces was done. I had thought that this piece was complete. Now I have come to realize that it is still changing but it is still less then full.
I have been busy preparing for my first one-man show up in Earlville, New York. Hosted at the Earlville Opera House, the show will begin on 10 August and will run for six weeks. I am not sure which is more intimidating, how big the gallery is or that it will be my first one- man show. The show in Sea Cliff had 21 pieces and I hope to have 30 to 40 pieces in this one. It will be a lot of work and just the logistics of getting all of my work there will be an issue. I am grateful to Marie, again, for planning all of the details—from renting a van to cataloging my work. Just keeping track of all of my work, now approaching 80 pieces, is a complex task. Also, my thanks to Patti and Chris from the Opera House who have been most helpful. I am really looking forward to the show.
I haven’t been selling. I’m not really disappointed but selling is a kind of validation. It’s difficult to know if it’s the work in general, the particular piece, the location, the audience at a particular venue or the economy. The prices for my Foundlings are not cheap. I could charge $19.95 for a piece and they would sell like hotcakes. I could even charge $195 per piece and they would still sell but the goal is not merely to sell. The issue is to establish worth. As works of art, these are precious and the price should reflect that.
Still, how to charge? By the square inch? The bigger the piece the more the price? Sounds like I am selling carpet. Perhaps by the complexity? The more complex, the more involved the work, and the more I should charge? Some of the most challenging works, however, are the minimalist ones. Complexity just doesn’t seem right. I could always charge by the hour. Thinking, somehow, that the more time involved in a creation makes for a more expensive piece but I want to avoid any kind of manufacturing model. I am not a manufacturer.
Then there’s the success factor. Perhaps the pieces that I think are the most satisfying to me should be more expensive then ones I am less satisfied with. And yet, there are pieces that I am clearly less attached to that seem to be highly regarded. Do I have enough impartiality to judge which works really are the most successful? To know which pieces are actually my definitive works? Which of my pieces are my “signature” ones? Clearly there aren’t any firm rules so like the process of creating these Foundlings, I need to rely on a certain amount of experience and a lot of intuition.
This piece is called “Stasis”. It’s about balance.