Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

On quiet types and creativity

As I’ve nosed around niches, I’ve been lucky to meet some fascinating shadowy-coder types (hat tip to Liz Warren) here and there. As a seeker of clarity, in a preface to convos with elusives I tend to say: You’re in control of the privacy settings. Such respect and regard can be natural among private persons, a bit rare as we may be these days; it also gets me thinking about my experience of that terrain.

From age 7 to 18 I was an athlete propelled by a zealous drive that mystified those around me. I performed and won at national and even international levels in front of crowds, yet was somehow at the same time a total introvert about whom few knew much. The kind of ease I’d found with public and private selves in sport in no way whatsoever translated to art, because by nature the creative self is our true self and can’t be split. When I began making art at age 20, it was extraordinarily difficult to even begin to share such dimensions of my experience publicly — as an endearing example, I managed to catch myself on fire before my solo thesis show in college — and this journey is certainly not complete. With creativity there’s a different order of distinction altogether between what is and isn’t said, because the mystery itself, which is our only subject, can never be spoken directly. I adore the writing of W. G. Sebald, a deeply private man and among the most incandescent of novelists. In The Rings of Saturn it’s as if with each sentence he gradually builds two books, the spare elegance of what’s written and the ever more expansive space he sculpts, with an unmatched dexterity, of all that isn’t. As we learn in meditation, firm banks make room for great rivers to flow.

On making art and serendipity

In 2007 I lived in a creaky high-ceilinged apartment Aalst, Belgium, a storage closet in South London, and an artist-modified double-wide trailer on a former WWII Air Force base in Nevada (plenty of stories there)—all by June of that year. And I still had an awkward five-month gap to go before I’d be relocating to the Netherlands for a two-year research and production residency at the Jan Van Eyck in Maastricht. By happenstance, I ended up in the parlor of an apartment in Midtown Sacramento, the first and only time I’ve lived in that sleepy, leafy city.

One afternoon early that July, I surfed Craigslist and saw a peculiar listing: Someone announced that they’d just rented a 20,000 sq ft warehouse and wanted to give artists free studio space. To me, this was the stuff of dreams and it sounded way too good to be real, but I figured I’d better investigate. The next day I found myself in a cavernous former auto body shop—totally empty except for a skateboard—meeting this incredibly generous and thoroughly professional fellow with an unconventional vision named Jesse Powell, who would later go on to found Kraken. He gave me a set of keys and I worked there on and off for the next five months. These were the very early days of his new contemporary art endeavor, which would gradually cohere to become Verge, and long before its official artist residency program would kick off. I was pretty much the first serious inquiry to the listing, and almost always alone as I worked in that gigantic raw space next to the train tracks on V Street, like some oddball art ghost. Which suited me, it was too early in my evolution to be any more visible. I made four large prototype sculptures and photographed them there against a wall they kindly let me paint white, along with a handful of smaller works, which enabled me to land a museum commission for one of those big pieces in the NL the following fall, a show in Miami that December, and much more.

My subsequent move to Maastricht was a total life upheaval and I promptly lost track of Jesse, the team, and activities at Verge, but I’ll be forever grateful to Jesse for his astonishing generosity, thoughtful support, and all the good that his work via Verge has made possible for artists. And I’ll always marvel at such unbelievable luck—how is it that the only time I ever lived in Sacramento happened to exactly align with the utterly unusual inception of Sacramento’s first contemporary art residency space, among other questions—though I no longer subscribe to chance, as it has been but one of many marvelous serendipities on my path.

Below are a few never-before-seen-anywhere process snapshots from those days—showing work in progress on my first prototype for the sculpture that would the next year become Settlers House at the Bonnefantenmuseum. A few early Reclamation dimension images are up on the wall, and the ever-present stereo sits atop a concrete column mold. Laser-focused on the tasks at hand, I never thought to step back and photograph the sprawling, dimly lit warehouse itself. At that stage, the main Verge space had zero climate control, and Sacramento gets stupidly hot, so the 4’ diameter fan by the back door kept the heatstroke at bay.

Studio process
Studio process
Studio process

Coffee musing

studio coffee

Over the past year I’ve stumbled into an occasional hobby: When I come across someone standout in an area I’m mildly obsessed with, I reach out for a consult in whatever and ask a bunch of questions. So I did this last month, it was ridiculously great and life-altering, then the expert was like, ‘oh I have a new book out today.’ Later as I searched for this new book, the first thing that came up was an entirely unrelated book in a diametrically opposite field—but by a different author who has the exact same name. It turns out this utter gem of a tome, rare and obscure, by said doppelgänger is exactly the thing I didn’t know I needed, like some key to a hidden door of questions that’ve been quite shut. And as I read the one author, I can’t help but think of the other and how eerily linked their ideas are—separated by a generation and a continent, one an inquiry into mind and the other math. Who knows what’s percolating there, but as I look back each of my larger artworks hinged on marvelous serendipities, so thoroughly and so strangely that I’ve come to regard a nose for information as among the most mysterious, and essential, of senses to cultivate. Threads even better appreciated with coffee, particularly a single-origin Guatemala with chocolate notes.

Studio

This tool is a hand-held cnc and it’s like a very very slow router video game, but instead of dying you wreck the thing you’ve been cutting out for the past couple hours.

Studio CNC

On making art and subtle hearts

A house made of air and distance and echoes

In 2015, I spent some weeks in Northern California to install A house made of air and distance and echoes. Of the people I saw Frank stood out—he couldn’t help but stand out as a giant slab of a man, a cross between a farmer and gargoyle but asymmetrical, perennially lilting starboard. He did handyman work around my dad’s rural home, and lived to rope you into one-sided conversations about his days as a sheriff in Mexico, each story more eye-popping than the prior. The last time I saw him was at a Thanksgiving dinner the following year, when he stood framed in a doorway, carefully combed, beaming, fully prepared to engage the chat functions, and I was overcome by a strange sadness that made no sense. Months later, out of nowhere he was diagnosed with an advanced, inoperable cancer. I’ve never before or since met a man whose heart so overflowed with love for his son as Frank’s did. Wherever his conversations rambled, they invariably set once again on Brandon—who was shy and loved computers—in the most pure and genuine way, so much so that it would be impossible to mention Frank without this gift that’s never faded. The old yogic systems link the heart with the element of air, and it feels as if I’ve been gently led by those whose paths have crossed with mine to consider that all the love we’ll ever breathe is here, every bit as light and easy to overlook as air.

Already fluent in stories, Frank was not a bookish or artish type. One afternoon I described the sculpture I was making—that it would be constructed from plywood and covered with printed vinyl giving it the appearance of shadowy stone, that it would be sited on a 35-acre abandoned airfield, and that I would photograph it like the ghost of a building under conditions of dense fog. Without missing a beat he replied, “Ah, like Christo,” and recalled his memories of Running Fence by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, an environmental sculpture that skirted the hills of Sonoma and Marin like a ghostly wave for 24 continuous miles before dipping into the Pacific Ocean. Though over four years in the making, the monumental work persisted for just short two weeks in 1976 and vanished from sight. In fact, almost always when I spoke about my sculpture with anyone in Northern California above the age of fifty, they mentioned the Running Fence, so vividly had that artwork woven itself into the landscape of time and memory.

The title of the sculpture A house made of air and distance and echoes comes from a line in Cesar Aira’s slim novel Ghosts, in which a crew of construction workers live inside the very apartment building they’ve been tasked with constructing, squatting with their families and a slew of ghosts who lounge in the nude. I love Aira’s digressions, which are really the entirety of his work, here probing a dream and there crafting a delicate, provisional architecture of dusk, like some conjurer of consciousness itself. With each brownian turn yet more of these delicious reverbs and echoes drift forward, such that his pages tickle open the book of my own life and more than a few of its meandering, harmonic threads, as a favorite does. And it gets me thinking about the many ways we’ve always grasped at metaphors for the virtual, insubstantial, and subtle with which we coexist.