Conversation with Sean Sullivan
Here is an interview I have done with artist Sean Sullivan. Sean is one of the artists in the show Three Painters at Duck Creek, which I curated for the Arts Center at Duck Creek. I enjoyed our conversation tremendously and I thank Sean for being a part of the fantastic show.
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Hiroyuki: How did you come to pursue visual art? Do you remember a special moment or a series of events that convinced you that this is something you want to do with your life?
Sean: I really came to art – drawing, writing poetry as a teenager right around the time I discovered music. Music opened my world up – gave me an awareness beyond my own experience. It’s always been and still is a very important part of the process for me.
As a teenager I was too shy to get up and sing songs so I channeled my energy into drawing and writing poetry. It felt like I was sending signals to unseen allies from behind enemy lines (still does). Drawing and writing poetry in a notebook felt possible to me somehow – both so close to the ‘self’ – idiosyncratic like handwriting. In other words, no one could tell me I was doing it wrong. Intelligence didn’t matter, training didn’t matter. I could pursue these ‘secret’ activities in earnest, at all times – even while in the classroom listening to the teacher or later on the job or traveling on a train, etc.
Coincidentally as I write this on Father’s Day – it was my father who really pushed me to pursue art and the creative life. He really believed in me and told me every chance he got.
Hiroyuki: I like how you as a child recognized the essential quality of art to be an expression of who you are for those who can accept you as who you are. Ultimately, I think this is one of the fundamental aspects of art that validates its meaning in our society today. In fact, your work does resonate in me at some deeper levels.
I’ve learned that you have a special process that’s in between painting and print making. Could you describe how it works and what it does? And how you came across it and why?
Sean: I began using the oil transfer process about ten years ago. I came to it by accident – out of frustration really. Basically I apply oil stick to a sheet of newsprint and thin it out with a silkscreen squeegee until it resembles something like carbon paper. I then place the found paper face down on top of the oil transfer paper and make a drawing on the reverse of the found paper with a Bic ballpoint pen. Each color in a finished piece is represented by a different sheet of oil transfer paper – a hybrid sort of drawing/printmaking process.
Over the years the process has refined some and evolved conceptually as I began to think of this process akin to plate photography and musical recordings.
I use ‘found paper’ not out of some nostalgic yearning but because I find new paper to be kind of cold and homogenized. The history embedded (the marks and color) in found paper give me a head start somehow – something to react to. I source the found paper mostly from books (used bookstores and antique stores) that I either buy or many times friends pass along.
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Carnival, 2020, Oil on found paper, Unframed: 7.75 x 10.5” / Framed: 10 x 14”
Hiroyuki: So you have a real setting with its history and characters somehow when you start. And your action is an interaction with it as much as your own narrative coming out of your psyche. And perhaps the print aspect allows your process to manifest in unexpected, yet organic ways? And what about the imageries?
Sean: Yes exactly. The history embedded in the paper offers a starting point and the process allows for both predictability as well as improvisation. The imagery is improvisational – instinctual even if I try and start with a plan it always goes off track and I just go with it. A piece usually falls flat if I’m trying too hard to ‘do’ something – to control the outcome. Hope that makes sense.
Hiroyuki: It certainly does. How do you describe your improvisational process? Could you describe your work environment for the readers?
Sean: I think improvisation begins before you even sit down to work. It’s an exercise in faith or the practice of faith maybe? I don’t mean that in a religious sense per se, but faith in ability, in intention and in good outcomes. A trust that you can make something from nothing and even if there are ‘mistakes’ or setbacks, by adjusting expectations you can land in a more unexpected, inspired place. There is no right, there is no perfect and starting from that point – everything, every mark makes sense and has a place.
My studio is full of natural light and close to the family – a small sun porch attached to our living room. Marie and the kids are in and out all the time. It’s a perfect situation for me – I need them close by. The paint I use, R&F Pigment Sticks, I make for a living (for the past 13 years). It’s all close by I guess.
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Rodriguez Solitaire, 2019, Oil on found paper, Unframed: 8.5 x 12” / Framed: 11.5 x 14.5”
Hiroyuki: I like that. There is an element of faith in facing the unknown as we make. When I visited you last time, it was eye-opening to see your work being so much a part of your family. This also extends to your position at R&F Pigment Sticks. Instead of seeing the creative process as an opposing element against your circumstance, you have put good efforts in creating an environment that enhances your work as much as your life and people you love. I think this is very significant in terms of making your “faith” grounded to your reality.
In your booklet “This Means I Always Have Something to Do. A Conversation Between Sean Sullivan & John Yau” you talked about differences between working within set conditions as opposed to being more flexible and organic. To me it seemed that you are good at putting your life in a cohesive framework so that you can be free within it.
Now, I assume that you must have challenges on your path. Could you describe some of the biggest obstacles and how you deal with them?
Sean: My apologies for taking so long to respond to this question – time is elusive! which brings me to a challenge I’ve always faced (I think many of us face) which is time – finding the time to make work. At this point I’ve come to terms with the limitations and to be honest if I had ‘all the time in the world’ I’m not so sure I’d be making better work or more work. Having said that I would like more time in the studio – even just for looking, moving things around – thinking. Another challenge I’d have to say is doubt – at times, extreme doubt – I think in some ways the other side of the coin so to speak. Normally I make work and don’t look back but every now and again I do turn and take stock and that can be sobering. I do have to say through all of these challenges I feel very, very lucky to make work and to share work and for all the talented, devoted individuals that I’ve had the opportunity to work with – galleries, artists, etc. and that I get to continue to make work and maintain balance in our family life is so important. I’m grateful.
Fairgrounds, 2018, Oil on found paper, Unframed: 6 x 8” / Framed: 8.5 x 10.5”
Things huddled together surrounded by uncertainty, 2019, Oil on found paper, Unframed: 7.5 x 11” / Framed: 10.5” x 13.75”
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Futures, 2018, Oil on panel Unframed: 36 x 48″
Hiroyuki: You said “doubt–at times, extreme doubt”. Could you elaborate?
Sean: I think doubt in the studio, in life, extreme or otherwise, goes hand in hand with those moments of clarity and inspiration – grace. Time is really the salve. I think you just have to get through it, work through it, until there’s a ‘break in the clouds’. Maybe just the natural order of things – balance. Sometimes I think my doubt stems from not understanding where the work comes from so the ownership of it – the ego is thwarted a bit. If you didn’t ‘think of it’ then maybe you can’t entirely claim credit for it. Where does that leave you as an artist? An ‘originator’. But that is also what I love most about the process. The unknown – the mystery of it. This also works in reverse for me. What I mean by that is if I do have an idea, a ‘concept’ meaning the ego wants to direct the inspiration – it almost always (in my experience) leads to frustration and disappointment. I will say those excursions into frustration and disappointment are not fruitless and often lead to things unexpected – breakthroughs even.
Hiroyuki: Yes indeed, I feel what you are saying. Our perceptions seem to struggle at times, clouded by our immediate interests or lack of understanding, or often both. But, paradoxically, those obstacles also prompt us to explore and seek cohesive expressions that somehow resonate with us. In doing so we struggle to see and we face the unknown in an honest manner. This I regard as one of the most crucial aspects of the making process, which I believe resonates with our struggle in how to be.
Thank you so much for the fascinating conversation and I look forward to seeing more of your fantastic work.
Sean Sullivan’s paintings from Three Painters at Duck Creek. Here is a list of works at the Arts Center at Duck Creek site.
Sean Sullivan (b. 1975 Bronx, NY) lives and works in the Hudson Valley, NY. He received the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts Grant in 2017. Sullivan has participated in group exhibitions at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz, NY; the Markus Luttgen Gallery, Cologne, Germany; and the Museum for Drawing, Huningen, Belgium.
‘T’Space Rhinebeck ShowIn Art, Artist, Exhibition, Installation, Interview, Painting, Sculpture, Video on
I am having a show at ‘T’Space in Rhinebeck, NY. It’s a beautiful venue surrounded by trees and the fresh air of Hudson, NY. The orchestration of the light and space in the compact venue creates a shrine-like serenity and harmony.
Lori and Joseph from Bookstein Projects have done an excellent job installing my work. The show will be presented at the ’T’Space website along with a poetry reading by Arthur Sze, and a musical performance by String Noise. I thank Susan Wides at ’T’Space for her hard work in putting everything together. We will also have a video production by Jack of Diamond LLC, which includes an interview between myself and Robert C Morgan. Notes on the making process with images from my studio are also presented. Read more about it at ‘T’Space site.
I’m excited and happy that our collaborative efforts have been going very well, and the show will be presented in an online livestream opening August 22, 2020 at 3PM. Register here.
Here are some images from the show.
Conversation with Elliott Green
Here is an interview I have done with artist Elliott Green. Elliott is one of the artists in the show Three Painters at Duck Creek, which I curated for the Arts Center at Duck Creek. I enjoyed our conversation tremendously and I thank Elliott for being a part of the fantastic show.
Paintings by Elliott Green from Three Painters at Duck Creek
Hiroyuki: What prompted you to pursue visual expression?
Elliott: In college I was majoring in literature, but a girlfriend of mine ran the slide projector for art history lectures, so I sat in on those classes, and in the dark lecture halls I was gratefully transfixed and transported through time and all over the world. It was a beautiful escape, and I started to draw in my notebooks, and finally dropped out of the University of Michigan in my third year to move to New York City to learn how to paint. When I landed there in the summer of 1981, I took a couple of month-long courses at the Art Students League, then painted on my own ever after.
Hiroyuki: So, you felt it was a “beautiful escape” when you saw the images in the art history classes. Were you conscious about what you were escaping from? Did the momentum to quit school and move to NYC have anything to do with it, or were you simply under the spell of what art could do for you?
Elliott: That’s a very good question! I was bored and frustrated: mostly with myself, the Midwest where I grew up, and my waning interest in writing fiction. I felt I was in a holding pen — and I had ambitions to do something good and tangible — to test and prove my Self in the larger world; but I didn’t know how that was going to take shape. I was inexperienced. I was immature and impatient. But it turns out that I did find my life’s work after all — in making paintings.
Dressmaker, 2011, Oil on linen, 43 x 40″
Hiroyuki: It sounds like you had something in you that needed to come out. Naturally, I think of the explosive energy, poised serenity, and exquisite dynamism of your current work. The colors, movements and rhythms are just bursting out of the canvases. I’ve read that the current direction emerged after your trip to Rome as well as your move to Athens, New York. What do you think has allowed you to be expressive in this way? It seems that your interests in visual elements themselves has been liberated, as opposed to your former expression through recognizable figures, the narratives and more limited usage of visual elements.
Elliott: Actually, catharsis has been a leitmotif in my work, and that was probably something I gleaned from studying literature and film. Often in my paintings — from out of some placid zone of quiet painting–a loud gestural eruption occurs. It’s dramatic, and it’s something I can do by heightening or lowering my physical — my muscular and emotional energy, like a musician or an actor. Another narrative that occurs a lot is to have a constricted space that blasts open into a vaster one. A remarkable thing happened in Rome: the density and compression of the two-dimensional abstract paintings I had been making for several years expanded outward when that information was transposed into the landscape format, into perspective: that was like an explosion. The additional space gave the previously contained subject matter freedom to move from the distance to the forefront, and it was like an infusion of fresh air. It was liberating. And the shapes, like the round or sharp ones of the mountains, took on characteristics–recognizable personalities–like the figures I had painted years before.
Beach Mountain 2015, Oil on linen, 76 x 54″
Hiroyuki: The reference to landscape does work wonderfully to express the vast scale while also putting the element of time in a geological time frame. Combined with rich visual characters weaving narratives, the dramatic expression certainly brings out a strong emotional quality. But then, all that merely presents a challenge of actually constructing a functional whole which you manage very well. How does your painting start? Can you describe your making process? Also, were you always interested in colors? The striking use of colors can be seen as playful and absurd. In a way, it echoes your use of figures in your previous work.
Elliott: I start by brush-sketching on the canvas with a mixture of oil paint and graphite, and sometimes added colors, and I move without conscious intention for meaning, seemingly randomly, wiping away a lot. There is no pressure, because it is impossible to make a mistake at this stage. On one level, it is warming up my muscles, relaxing, emotionally diffusing, and at very least, spreading the tone on the canvas. If I make sweeping gestures that transverse the entire space, that will precede the final composition somehow, and foreshadow a theme. Motifs of shapes occur and through addition and subtraction some sensibility, personality and perspective arrive, and then I do more conscious analysis – editing, adding and tweaking to focus on the most interesting aspects and activities. For the benefit of the whole painting, some beautiful passages have to be sacrificed and painted over. Somehow, given enough time, a coherent vision arrives. I’ve made stop-action films of me making my paintings – and those let a viewer see how many decisions, reversals and revisions are involved, all of them impossible to predict.
I think I always had a sense of which colors got along beautifully with each other. I remember staring at children’s books as a toddler, immersed in them, like I was fascinated by their tonal harmonies. But not long after I began painting as an adult, I was looking for more excitement, and one way is to use colors that are unappealing on their own and to put them in with the naturally beautiful ones: the result is often very interesting. For example, the pink and green used to seem like a viscerally offensive combination to me, maybe because it reminded me of insects or rancid meat. But that is exactly where the meaning resides in color, in its good or bad associations with aspects of the world. A rainbow means connection and vomit means rejection — that’s good content even by itself, and then more dramatic when they conflict, or even better, if they somehow become unlikely friends.
Fungus, 2018, Oil on linen, 16×24″ and Interesting Dirt, 2019, Oil on linen, 40×30″
Hiroyuki: I just saw the videos that show the progress at your site. I can relate to the dialogue you create with the dynamics. I know that there are moments of excitement, disappointment, frustration, a sense of achievement and so on. And there is nothing like feeling that everything merges as the process culminates in presenting a cohesive wholeness. I don’t always feel it but sometimes the moment is indeed a catharsis. And it is also fascinating that the complex dynamics often reveal “unlikely friends”, as you say, it strikes us with unknown chemistry in viscerally concrete ways. It allows us to explore and makes us see unknown potentials explode before us. Strange thing isn’t it? Are there any activities that go with your studio practice? I mean, everything ultimately does, but things you are conscious about to keep you going.
Elliott: I realized in Rome, where my eyeballs were literally aching from looking so hard, that new environments absolutely stimulate what I will paint. I think it’s because when shapes and tones fill my short-term memory to capacity, it speeds up my decision-making, and the improvisations flow faster. So, my method is to just look around me with an innocent curiosity. I never deliberately seek out material for painting, nor do I sketch with the intention of inserting some phenomena directly into a painting. I have to be honestly, genuinely compelled by something to study it and enjoy it for itself, and then maybe, sooner or later, some essence of that thing I was paying attention to will emerge effortlessly at just the right time and place in a painting.
Interesting Dirt, 2019, Oil on linen, 40 x 30″
Hiroyuki: I’ve heard artists talking about appreciating things around us visually. I always thought it was more about our attitude toward life in a general sense. But that makes sense. We learn and we are conditioned by our environment. Our actions and thoughts are affected by those. I was just talking to Eric Banks and he was also saying that he paints landscape paintings to inform himself about visual structures. And by choosing what to look at and how you look at it, you make a conscious decision (to a certain extent) as to where you sharpen your craft of expressing visually. That’s very interesting. It makes me think that artists should talk to each other more. Do you feel that you belong to an art community?
Elliott: Before a gallery represented my work in New York, I had no artist friends. But after 1989, when I was 29, I met many artists, mostly at first through another painter and sculptor named David Humphrey, who is very popular and active in the art community. He’s what the sociologists call a Super Connector.
Pierogi, the gallery where I show in NYC, is run and owned by a couple, an artist and a poet, so there is a lot of mutual respect, and also camaraderie among the artists who show there. The openings at Pierogi have always been packed with many artists. Joe Amrhein, the co-director, had a show at Postmasters Gallery in Tribeca last year. His paintings are great, but he also thinks of the gallery as a long running conceptual artwork about the moving messages of contemporary artists. There have been many historical shows there — it was the most active gallery in Williamsburg for decades, before they moved to the Lower East Side a few years ago. Its existence has documented the emergence of that neighborhood as a cultural community. Many of the artists that show there are my friends. And then I have made new friends, like you, on Instagram, which has really widened my horizons by introducing me to the work of friends of friends and talented people outside my generation, younger and older.
Hiroyuki: Elliott, thank you for sharing your insights and angles on many topics on art and art communities. Do you have anything to add to our conversation?
Elliott: Not really. Just thank you for this chance to think about my work from a fresh perspective, and for your interest. I think your work is great, and it has been enjoyable to compare notes on the shape of our different quests, and to see how our work has arrived at its present place.
Fungus, 2018, Oil on linen, 16 x 24″
Elliott Green (b. 1960 Detroit, Michigan) attended the University of Michigan, where he studied World Literature and Art History. He moved to New York City in 1981 and has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Jules Guerin Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, a Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Residency, The Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant, a residency at the BAU Institute, Cassis, France, a MacDowell Colony Residency, and three residencies at Yaddo.
Conversation with Eric Banks
Here is an interview I have done with artist Eric Banks. Eric is one of the artists in the show Three Painters at Duck Creek, which I curated for the Arts Center at Duck Creek. I enjoyed our conversation tremendously and I thank Eric for being a part of the fantastic show.
Red Sea, 2019, oil on canvas, 42×32″ and Alley, 2019, oil on canvas, 29×26″ from Three Painters at Duck Creek at the Arts Center at Duck Creek
Hiroyuki Hamada: What prompted you to pursue visual art? Was there any specific event that you can remember? Or was there a moment of realization that art is special to you?
Eric Banks: It’s hard to point to a particular event in my life that was the impetus for becoming an artist. I often think of Auden’s poem on the death of Yeats where he asserts “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” applying to myself in my own psychological need and the disillusionment I felt after going through a more political and activist period of idealism and action towards a hope for a better more equitable society, a parallel. (As in “Mad America or maybe more specifically “Mad Queens hurt me into poetry”)
As a child and teenager I always had a kind of peripheral interest in art but it always seemed to be something that wasn’t very primary in terms of the way I saw myself as a person going forward into the world. It was only later after a year or so in college when the structure of my family’s life came crashing down with the descent of my father into a protracted period of mental illness which ended in his early death at the age of 53 that I found in the pursuit of art a way to channel both my anger and pain and a growing interest in literature, psychology, and philosophy into a positive and meaningful direction.
I started reading literature and poetry most notably Albert Camus, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Allen Ginsberg among others, and I started initially to make sculpture under the tutelage of Tom Doyle, Jake Grossberg, and Larry Fane. I worked primarily in metal, clay, and wax, both figuratively and abstractly. I then gravitated towards drawing and painting and then went to graduate school in Baltimore studying with Grace Hartigan and Sal Scarpitta.
Red Sea, 2019, oil on canvas, 42×32″
Hiroyuki: I can certain relate to the path you’ve taken. I feel that there is a sense of liberation in pursuing art, as well as a sense of authenticity of working with real elements in real interactions. You really can’t deceive yourself about those dynamics if we are to reach a meaningful expression. Can you describe a bit more about how your pursuit developed? What prompted you to choose sculptures initially, and how did your interests shift to 2-dimensional work?
Eric: It’s hard to say that there was much intentionality to any of it. The events and course of my life were in such disarray and confusion at that time and certainly lacking in guidance either externally as in from parents or internally as in having had a sense of driven-ness. I sort of gravitated to taking a sculpture class with Tom Doyle and was immediately both attracted to the freedom and the depth of knowledge and history that was being presented. Tom was a guy from the Midwest, kind of a real country boy but with incredible sophistication as an artist. I didn’t know at the time that he had been married to Eva Hesse, didn’t even know at the time who she was. I actually didn’t know very much at all about contemporary art. I might’ve been impressed if I’d known that he had shared a studio with Roy Lichtenstein at Ohio State but probably not. Tom showed me a lot of images of sculpture and after having made a small piece in folded paper pronounced that I was a metal sculptor and proceeded to introduce me to a guy who was working in the shop(who was tripping on acid) asking him to show me how to weld and cut steel. As there was no specific class in metal sculpture at the time I pretty much had run of the place. For about a year, or year and a half I played around with steel and made sculpture. In that time I took some figurative sculpture with Jake Grossberg who was a brilliant and very tough teacher, and Larry Fane also brilliant but not as tough. They both looked at my metal work and gave me advice and encouragement.
But still at 21 I was still uncommitted and pursuing different avenues of expression. I began writing -sort of stream of consciousness stuff and attempts at poetry. I started to draw from the figure and became fascinated with the strange interrelationship between the mechanics and the poetry of space in a two-dimensional format. At the time the Queens College art department had a somewhat conservative focus but with a deep resonance of the New York School and in which most of its professors were educated and to some extent rebelled against. This was true mainly in the two-dimensional studies as the sculptors were more in step with contemporary developments. Though I struggled with my own rebellious nature I begin to learn something about drawing and perhaps more how one could channel one’s emotion and intellect through very simple means which were very accessible. As an indigent student I found this very attractive.
And as an organic flow from drawing I begin to try to paint. As I knew nothing and wasn’t an art major I just kind of floated around, took a couple of classes and sat in on many others including graduate seminars mostly with Rosemary Beck who was perceptive enough to see something in my awkwardness and lack of experience and was very encouraging. At this time I began a lifelong friendship with Glenn Goldberg with whom I shared a couple of apartments and a lot of art and life developing.
I began to look at a lot of painting in museums and in books and was most attracted to both the postimpressionists and the abstract expressionists and began to paint landscapes and still lives.
Alley, 2019, oil on canvas, 29×26″
Hiroyuki: You know, when I started to paint again a few years ago after working with sculptures for two decades, I felt the striking sense of freedom in spontaneously reacting in the making process, and seeing the process becoming the structure itself. I feel that it does allow me to express myself in a more intimate fashion. So I totally understand why your interests in existential matters could draw you to two-dimensional works.
I find your work very distinct in the way that the colors, textures, shapes and so on are very much tactile. And the cohesive structures seem to present solidness that allow viewers to grasp your work with an impact. Can you talk about some of the prominent features of your work? Can you describe what typical roles those elements play in your work? How do they relate to each other?
Eric: I’m very interested in materiality and the transcendent capacities of how paint functions both as color and form both illusionistically and physically. I suppose it’s an aspect of the fusion between one’s scientific nature or more physical interests and one’s poetic inclinations. I think we as humans are innately fascinated with the ability to make pictures that convey something, whether it’s an aspect of recognition, reminiscence or feeling, a hint at what is known in the subconscious or something more specific, but I think always when it’s really painting, at something subliminal even if it’s a painting of, you know, trees or a street, or a person, or apples and pears on the table. It’s probably a more complex dynamic when it comes to pure abstraction if there actually is such a thing. But I think it gets back to the same elemental aspect the same existential longing for a connection with some unknowable essence that is so paradoxically both familiar and universal.
And to your point on the structural cohesion in my work I think it relates to that dynamic of a comfort in a familiarity and recognition that I need to grasp onto when mining the depths of the unconscious.
Hiroyuki: The physicality of paint is certainly prominent in your work, but your equal interest in an illusionistic, or poetic, quality perhaps gives your work some sort of hyper presence that I recognize. As a sculptor who paints on the 3D surface, this is something I am very much aware of. And I like how you describe your basic momentum as an “existential longing for a connection with some unknowable essence that is so paradoxically both familiar and universal”. It really proves that there is something more to life than what we can perceive with our regular senses.
Factions, 2020, oil on canvas, 54×48″ and Point d’Arret, 2019, oil on canvas, 27×26″
Where do you think your work is going right now? What are you excited about?
Eric: As to direction? I don’t really think very often of where the work is going. I guess I’ve always relied on a more instinctual perhaps intuitive approach. It’s kind of like absorbing all of the stimuli, the physical, intellectual, spiritual and just allowing my processes to flow.
At times though and I think this is happening more frequently as I get older, a kind of intent is becoming more of a prominent aspect. I think I’ve always felt that for me art needs to serve some purpose beyond the decorative/illustrational, or the creation of objects of either commemoration or worship or meditation, though I do have some appreciation and interest in all of those functions.
For a time I thought that one could express all the aspects of human pathos and aspirations within the context of a shape or form in space, that with color and scale and touch and conception one could communicate just about anything without having to illustrate or deal in any way with recognizable imagery or metaphorical illusion. So now I think I go back and forth between anarchic flow that allows me to find forms to isolate in spaces to a more willful attempt towards a figuration that is more clearly symbolic or expressionistic and pointed.
The sculptural work when I resumed the activity kind of opened up a desire to be more direct in the formulation of my imagery, not that the forms are all that specifically anything depictive but more that the very physicality of 3 dimensionality lends a “presence” that is more immediately familiar. I’ve always thought my work to be about an attempt to achieve some sort of understanding of where the deeper aspects of human consciousness meet with the more prosaic. Also I think I have a growing desire to be less detached and more able to communicate what it is that I’m trying to say. Of course this isn’t all that easy as I’m not all that certain most of the time of what it is I’m really trying to say, which is why one of my favorite quotes is that of Samuel Beckett who said I think in “The Unnamable”-
“I no longer know who I am, or what I am doing.”
Perhaps it’s something of an attempt to reconcile the issues of being an artist for the reasons that I was originally drawn to Art and all of the subsequent issues of being an artist in the world, professionalism, the “Art world”, the commercialization – valuation, commodification. It’s like looking back in trying to recover that first blush of excitement all the time to somehow or other find that energy and courage that one had at the very beginning. Again one of my favorite quotes from a poem by Theodore Roethke – What Can I Tell My Bones?
The soul knows not what to believe,”…
So I guess the best answer to that question would be just that to find a way back, back to a beginning back to a feeling, inspiration, and hope that that came out of perhaps a conflict between ones idealism – pain, cynicism, hope, faith?
Factions, 2020, oil on canvas, 54 x 48″
Hiroyuki: That’s a really fascinating observation. We could perhaps theorize that a duality in a given dynamic is always a part of something that can be identifiable. When something is going to take a shape at all, it needs a background. And depending on your view, it is debatable what is foreground or background. And indeed, there might be a curious attraction in having a recognizable expression as a part of the dynamics, sort of bridging the unknown and what we can recognize.
But getting back to the dynamic, perhaps, as we shift our perspective continuously, in order to figure out the totality of the wholeness, ultimately, we become one with the phenomenon, resulting in a disappearance of self as we recognize the essence.
I wonder if this sort of intimate engagement with elements around us might be harder, if possible at all, as we must operate within our social framework which is artificial with its imperatives serving the rich and powerful.
This provokes many existential questions particularly for artists who wish to be a part of a constructive force of our time. I very much appreciate you sharing your insights and perspectives for this conversation. Do you have anything to add?
Eric: I suppose it’s always in vacillation, with the world and the attempt to access something more of a pure mind. And of course the current distractions of technology and the bombardment of media makes it that much harder to find the silence of a wished for ideal state. Perhaps I’m not even sure of the relevance in that pursuit or sublimation. At a certain level I’ve always felt that my work might almost serve as a kind of seismograph of being measuring anxiety against a sense of freedom, sadness, joy, pain, pleasure. And all of these things serve both as to the functions and processes of the world outside of both one’s immediate life experience and even those outside of one’s historical or social context. Or if one looks at things from the standpoint of seeking truth there’s still the need for reconciliation with perception and how prepared one is to understand what that even means. Wallace Stevens ends his famous poem “The Man in the Dump” with the line “Where was it one first heard the truth, the, the.” In essence we’re all kind of picking through the trash bins of history seeking treasures of sorts seeking wisdom and enlightenment at the same time as being immersed in our actual experience with its beauties and its terrors, it’s emotions and it’s thoughts, observations, memories and dreams.
So I’m not really after any kind of purity anymore, maybe I never really was, perhaps more a kind of distillation to something that seems essential in something that is evocative maybe something even that disturbs, provokes, and maybe instills some connection that might initiate a human response.
Point d’Arret, 2019, oil on wood, 27 x 26″
Eric Banks(b. 1954 Brooklyn, NY) is a Brooklyn-native and lives and works in Rhinebeck, NY. In 1977, he obtained his B.A. from Queens College of the City University of New York, NY. In 1981 he received his M.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art, Hoffberger School of Painting. Banks has been awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Edward Albee Foundation Grant, and Walters Fellowship. He has exhibited nationally; most-recently, his work has been on view at NYC galleries, such as Amos Eno Gallery and Sideshow Gallery.
Hiroyuki Hamada Immigrating from Japan to the Belly of EmpireIn Capitalism, creative process, empire, imperialism, Interview on
I had an opportunity to talk about being an immigrant, Japan, our society, politics and so on with Jeff J Brown. I think the interview turned out to be a very good one. I got to talk about making art as well.
Here is an excerpt:
“I think corporal punishment given to school kids when I was growing up in Japan taught me how a hierarchical order can be maintained for the sake of having the order. The resulting order can operate without meeting the needs and desires of subject populations, sort of like schools or prisons. And capitalist society also maintains itself by economic punishment. What’s prominent about an order maintained by fear, threats, violence and so on, is that it forms itself regardless of each individual’s intrinsic connection to self, to others, to communities, to nature and so on. It is a way to form a social structure, but it is also an effective way to detach subject populations from their true human nature. This is a crucial step in commodifying basic human rights to be turned into profit. This is why capitalism is so effective in forming and perpetuating a hierarchical order while dehumanizing the population drastically, without even their knowledge. I think we as a species should be able to do better than that. The survival of our species depends on it, I think.
Also, the art making process has taught me that in order to come up with a profound solution for a given work, one needs a certain amount of humility, ability to observe elements, openness to accept change, willingness to trust, accept unknown elements, patience to learn the systematic mechanism and so on. These conditions often contradict each other, and they push and pull each other in the process, however, the key to grasping a working mechanism is to understand how the elements act according to their intrinsic characters and their guiding rules. They do not come to a profound formation according to the punitive measures of a master mind. I mean, I can just chop up my canvas and sell them as materials, but that would not realize the potential of the elements. So, what I sense is that we need to incorporate that sort of building process in our society, which truly accounts for the needs of the people, in order to go beyond the neo-feudal hierarchy of exploitation and subjugation. The harmonious whole, with its meaningful mechanism to move our beings does not result from an authoritative coercion. Having honest dialogues with facts placed in objective historical contexts can be a good start for us, I believe. As an artist I can feel that there would be profound results waiting for us.”
HIROYUKI HAMADA IMMIGRATING FROM JAPAN TO THE BELLY OF EMPIRE
Gorky’s Granddaughter: Hiroyuki Hamada, April 2018
I had a wonderful studio visit by Zachary Keeting and Christopher Joy from Gorky’s Granddaughter a few weeks ago. They captured it nicely for you to see it as well.
An Interview With Ted Larsen
Ted Larsen, Robischon Gallery Installation, 2013. Free-standing piece is titled “Lean on Me,” 2011, Valley Roll Sheet Metal, Enamel, Rivets, 60 by 42 by 30. Wall-mounted piece is titled “Structured Space, Happenstance, or Whatever Makes You Feel Good,” 2012-13, Salvage Steel and Rivets, 89 by 35 by 1.5 inches
I first became familiar with Ted Larsen’s work through art fairs. I am not a big fan of art fairs for many reasons which I won’t get into here but I have been to some of them. Ted’s works at the fairs were not big flashy pieces; they were modestly sized and rather quiet. But they all had very solid presences to stop me and to make me want to ask about the artist. And I had asked about Ted Larsen not once but probably at least three times at different fairs before I solidly registered his name in my head to make me go “oh that’s the artist I like” when I see the work. That might sound like I have no brain to memorize or his works are so unmemorable. Of course that is not my intention. The point I’m making is that it is close to impossible for me to come out remembering names or the works by particular people from going through numbers of art fairs which include thousands of art works in less than ideal viewing conditions. After a while, many works get categorized and generalized into certain types with generally unflattering connotations in my head. But good works by good artists do stand out repeatedly even if they are rather rare. Ted’s work was one of those. The work projects a recognizable atmosphere with its very efficient, smooth and potent visual narratives, most of them are very brief, economical and most of all very effective.
I became his facebook friend. And I have been fascinated by his process and the works, which are more complex, more diverse in varieties and larger both in the presence and the size than the ones I saw at the fairs. My interest in his work has been growing.
He’s agreed to be interviewed here and I am very happy.
Ted Larsen, Untitled (The Killer), 2012, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware. 72 by 60 by 5 inches. Collection of Fidelity Investments, Boston, MA
Ted Larsen, Single Copy, salvage steel and rivets 50 x 65 x 1 1/2 inches
Hiroyuki Hamada: So, Ted, how do you define “art” in a few sentences?
Ted Larsen: Limiting my response to what defines art feels like limitations on the definition of art and let me say, I abhor anything which limits art. So let me back up before I begin.
I don’t like art fairs either. I understand they have become a necessary venue for dealers, but the art fair itself poses considerable problems to the viewer. To discover the truth in a work of art one must slow down. Before I describe what art may be, let me say that it is often not found by going quickly, in loud environments, and with many people around. Potentially art might exist in other situations, like noisy, fast, crowded circumstances, but art fairs frequently do something else to art; they degrade it. For me the basic problem with art fairs is that they are designed to be fast. The best gallery spaces on the other hand are created to be slow. These are interesting problems for which dealers have to contend; artists don’t have to do this work. They have their own work to accomplish. Because most of the artists I know work by themselves and at a slow pace, the work they make must likewise be taken in slowly. (As a caveat, it is possible to become proficient at viewing artwork at art fairs, it would just take time to develop that skill for that environment. Personally, I don’t have the time on hand to develop that skill.)
This brings up a second and important other situation for art. The best galleries know how to “own” their spaces. Because they work in them everyday, they have a certain knowledge of how the space works with art. Art fairs don’t generally allow for this kind of working relationship.
More importantly, a well developed and mature artist knows how important it is for them to own their “space.” What I mean is this type of artist understands how important it is to be informed by their own work. The work becomes the artist’s master, giving them directions, requirements, and the terrain it must inhabit. The artist must become a scholar of their work. I am talking about the architecture of the work: its underpinnings, its foundation. This is the conceptual element which must be developed before work can be created successfully. The best art is created with a deep understanding of what it is attempting to accomplish. This gets to the first part of the conversation, what is art?
I believe “art” is something which exits between the viewer and the artwork. It is enigmatic. The artist brings to the work all of their background and life while likewise, the viewer brings their own life and history. Each element in this dance may not know about the other. The commonality is the artwork, which the viewer interprets through their own personal understanding. The more narrowly the artist chooses to focus their work, the more didactic it may become. The opposite holds true as well. By this I mean, if the artist works in a very open-ended and broad fashion, it leaves more room for interpretation. Issues around craftsmanship, skill, narration, form, media, style, genre, theory, and purpose are all focusing lenses. They may or may not add to the interpretation of the artwork. The condition of the viewer may add every bit as much as these lenses do. Great art exists in a timeless way, it lives beyond any one particular condition or state. It speaks to the individual as much as it does to the universal. It is alive and always open to interpretation.
HH: I like your description which brings the art in between the viewer and the art object itself and the addition of the word “enigmatic”. I very much agree. And obviously the width and the depth of the description imply the complexly of art and in turn the enormous complexity of the making process.
In one of your previous interviews you talked about setting limits in your making process in order to work more intuitively. Initially, I found it odd to limit the process but I quickly realized that we all put limits by having our own styles, approaches, materials, fields, numbers of components we work with and etc. I found it very instructive that you are conscious about this adjustment process in order to be productive while allowing yourself to grow as an artist. Are there any other things you have in mind to facilitate the complicated process of making?
TL: In the interview with Lynette Haggard (2010) I talked about some strategies of my creative process. I sometimes employ a rules based system in which I create games. These are ways of working. Working as an effect on the worker. While I cannot predict the effect on other people, I wonder what the effect of working will be one me. So I create rules based games for making work. I am interested in what I will discover about my nature in this process. I often work with serialize form and repetitive elements, compounding them to create new, unpredicted outcomes. Working this way means I wind up doing a lot of repetitive work. I create rules for this work to see how doing the work will effect me. Some of the rules might involve long periods of time while others involve significant amounts of unvarying procedures.
An example of working over a period of time was the development of the Serial Killer Project (2012). I created an object which I knew precisely how long each one would take to build. It was a serialized form: a ziggurat-shaped, horizontally-stepped structure. Taking this form as a base unit, I decided I would make multiples of this form. It was a highly repetitive process in which making the 27 total pieces took almost 7 months, one each 5 day week (I took the weekends off!). It was kind of like being a factory worker. It was a very blue-collar kind of process where everyday, at the same time each day I would be doing the same thing as other days. I thought it would drive me nuts and at points it nearly did! However, along the way, with the decision making component removed from the work, it became quite meditative and peaceful. It was a confrontation of my nature to play this particular game.
Ted Larsen, Serial Killer, 2012, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware, 3 by 12 by 5 inches
Ted Larsen, Endless Form, 2012, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware, 26 by 3.5 by 5 inches. Private Collection, Santa Fe, NM.
Lately I have been thinking about architecture and real-estate. The ideas, theories, and constructs which the artist builds the artwork upon are critical; think of this as the architecture. Critically they form what will evolve in every step in making the work. This is the content issue. But there is something even below the the architecture: the real-estate. While artists are concerned with creating new architecture, I don’t believe enough of them consider the terrain where it exists. It is my belief that artists need to find a way to “own” the entire place where their work resides. This is the context issue. Where the work is seen can alter how the work is seen and what is understood about the work. It can also inform the architecture of the work. They work hand in hand. If we separate them, they feel foreign from one another. There is heavy coding and semiotics in this way of thinking.
HH: That’s really eye opening that you put 9-5 schedule in the making process. I thought I became an artist so that I didn’t have to do that. Ha ha. I’d be killed many times in the repetitive process. Pretty funny title. I like how playful and free you are. Also, I understand that repetition can sometimes get us into an intuitive mode. It can be a gateway to the unknown as we see it used in religious rituals or music. It allows us to be connected to the selected parts while allowing us to be very sensitive to the special dynamics among the components we work with. Are there any other things you do to stay in that mode?
Also, I hear you about the context. Some artists end up having their own spaces to show to make sure the context is right–Noguchi comes to my mind. Do you have any particular ideas in how to ensure that the work has the right context?
TL: The strange thing about being an artist for me is how it mixes the blue-collar-construction-type-of-worker with the poet/philosopher. I really resonate with how Carl Andre described his status as worker-artist. Most of the artist practices (if you don’t mind my calling it that) I admire are fairly labor-intensive, even if they don’t appear to have much labor involved in the work. I also like that we call it “work.” The 9-5 workday that I developed for the Serial Killer Project was made to reinforce the “work” aspect of making “work.” Otherwise and generally I don’t really follow that regime!
I find that I am best able to make critical, creative decisions for about 4 hours a day. I have also found I am at my best in the morning. I generally get into the studio sometime near 8am, but I work through the afternoon. Lucky for me, a good bit of my work is labor intensive and doesn’t require my full creative attention. There is always wood which needs milling; steel which needs processing; or cleaning the space for a safe environment to work. I make most of the important considerations in the morning while I am fresh and leave the hard labor, (milling, welding, grinding, sanding, processing materials) for the afternoon. Finding that first step into the work can be a slow process. It also takes me many weeks and sometimes months to fully understand the work. I have to live with it in the studio long enough for me to be impartial to it in order to successfully evaluate the work.
The pictures (above) and the text (below) from one of his Facebook posts:
“Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, or other medium to a surface (support structure)-Wikipedia Quote.
What if the paint/other medium applied is already made (as is normal for 95% or more for most artists). Yesterday I spent time getting my painting materials. 5 hours with a sawzall got me the hood from an early 1980’s school bus, the hood from a 1970’s Ford F-150 Pickup truck, and the tops from two Chevy 70’s Custom 10 pickups. This seems like it is significantly more difficult than going to the store!”
Over my almost 28 years of being an artist I have discovered many things about myself. Some of my insights I accept and some of them I push back against. I don’t really try to stay in any particular “mode” as you put it. Maybe I am just always in that mode (which can be problematic!!!) I guess one thing I definitely do is not to overwork. Doing that just makes the whole of my decision-making process muddled and slow. In the middle of the day, I take the dog for a walk. In the early morning during the summer and early fall I often go for long mountain bike rides outside of town. If I don’t get out for early AM rides I take one at the end of the day. In the winter, I often take a day away from work to go skiing. For me these activities are like moving meditations. I can find solutions and working strategies in these situations. Like I said, finding the first step into the work can be a slow process, and I may not find it sitting in the studio.
I am searching for something in my work which I find somewhat inexplicable. I choose not to over-evaluate what that discovery may be, and I have also decided not to add words to something which is non-verbal. I am not a fan of the current moment’s drive to have the artist articulate all things in their work. I think it is fine to talk about the systems we make to work within, but to describe the nature of the work itself presents problems. That said, part of the joy of being an artist is knowing the long and beautiful history we are apart of; therefore, it is incumbent on all artists to know that history.
Ted Larsen, Past is Prologue, 2010, Salvage Steel, Rivets, Mechanical Hinge, 12 by 8 by 10 inches. Private Collection and Promised Gift to Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX.
For me, context is much more than the place where the work is installed. Context is the place where the work “lives.” It is the conceptual environment and not just the theories in the work. It is the whole field of what we consider in making the work. We need to “own” it thoroughly. We cannot afford to abdicate any portion of that real-estate when it informs what we make. This is part of the discovery we are involved with in making the work.
That said, context is also the place where the work is installed. Sure, work could be placed in coffee shops, restaurants, very commercially-driven galleries, at street fairs, and many other like-places. Nothing is wrong with any of these places generally, but something might be incorrect with these places specifically. Choices have to be made. (Choosing can be difficult!) Finding an appropriate place to install work sometimes means having to wait to exhibit work, saying no to certain places, and not working with certain people. It is important to remember content and context are always in conversation. They influence one another. A wrong or inappropriate place to install work does contribute information to its content.
HH: Hmm… I’ve been suspecting that perhaps I might be somewhat lazy and your account seems to make a strong case for it. You are disciplined! My argument against that has always been that it is hard to know when to dive in. But surely you’ve also pointed out the importance of taking time to examine before you start and the difficulty of it… I’ll have to keep in mind what you said about the studio practice.
By the way, I just noticed something interesting. I always find it really special, fun and engaging to talk to artists who’s work I enjoy and who’s process I can relate to. I’ve had many such interactions with artists, writers, composers and etc., when I used to attend art residencies a lot. We knew the basic concepts through what we do in our studios and we could start the conversation immediately. As I read your reply, I notice that I am enjoying our differences more than what we have in common. I think that’s quite significant when in many social occasions we try to find things we share, and quite often, slight differences we find can antagonize the atmosphere, seemingly without any good reasons.
I guess I brought that up because I’m increasingly aware of what art can do to our societies. Something positive, you know? And understanding each other through art while accepting our differences can be one of the ways, I guess. And that also relate to your notion about the context. Our culture, our community and our various social settings can definitely be parts of our works. What do you wish your work to do in those larger context? Or is that something you think about at all?
TL: The problem, if you could call it that, I have is not finding my creativity, it is harnessing it, directing it, and channelling it. I feel as if I have many more ideas than I have time to realize them. Therefore, it is part of my practice to find clarity and then direct my efforts towards a clear-eyed solution. Otherwise I could just bounce around endlessly. That all said, because I have a challenge in finding my focus (which must be part of my nature), I do allow myself several theoretical systems or threads to develop during one period of time. Because I am suspicious of my work for some period of time after I make it and I generally have several works in process/development at one time, this allows me time to consider different perspectives.
This brings up something I feel is important. Immanuel Kant developed the theory of Pluralism in his seminal text The Critique of Pure Reason, which basically meant that there were multiple modalities of perception. Pluralism was a new way to describe and understand the world; we were allowed to consider the multiple aspects influencing perception that take place, often at once, or as states of conditionality. Pluralism and theories of epistemological relativity (the basic theory that there is only one absolute truth or validity) form an important aspect of my philosophical working position. If there are multiple ways to understand (and see) an issue, and our understanding of the topic is based on our position relative to the problem, it follows that it is important to fully “circumambulate” the matter at hand to fully understand it. This allows me to have multiple genre threads all at once, so long as they all involved in resolving one central meta point.
Ted Larsen, Here & There, 2013, Welded Steel in Two Elements with Salvage Steel Riveted to Structure, Dimensions Variable depending on installation. Consigned to Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO.
The work I make is intended to question some of the basic constructs and beliefs of Minimalism as well as High Art practice generally. The work I create is not intended to be merely self-referencial; it points to other aesthetic and social issues as well. If I felt my work was only self-referencial and didn’t hold the possibility of illuminating other humanistic topics I wouldn’t do it. We live in an important and pivotable period of time. Making work which would merely be pleasing and decorative would be the worst! Art can be a kind of medicine for culture and society.
HH: I agree that coming to contact with the essence of a work is a lot like channeling to a larger reality–or something–than finding a creative machine enclosed in our mind. I find the process to be one of the most essential acts to stay human. I always think that a lack of this deep observation process to connect to this mystic ground can lead to dehumanized aspects of our lives today.
I find it interesting that you are describing having multiple pieces going in your studio as examining different perspectives. Are you always conscious about the central theme of the group? I work on many pieces at once also but I always thought that’s because it helps me to be more objective about the pieces–which I am sure you are aware of. But looking back what I’ve done, your description applies to some of my making process as well. By the way, I hope the readers are as intrigued about your answers as I am.
TL: Let me shift gears for a second. I really admire your work! There are qualities which seem closely related to what I am interested in pursuing. The forms and surfaces of the work are absolutely delicious. There is a sensuousness to it which both allude and misdirect simultaneously. They are very subversive! As much as the work inhabits the world of the senses, it is equally intellectually rigorous. There are hints of Tadao Ando, Constantin Brancusi, Le Corbusier, Brutalist architecture all while resting softly on something which is quite other-worldly. The work contains all kinds of humanness with suggestions of something much more grand, in fact spiritual. The sublime is put forward for consideration in your work.
Let me answer your question regarding my awareness of any central themes in my work. You know how it goes; we develop belief systems which define who we are; they become the lens through which we see our choices, and therefore, define what we do. While I am continually redefining my sense of self and what I believe to some extent, I don’t actively think about philosophy daily. I live both a structured life and one which allows a fair bit of freedom of my time. Sometimes when I go into the studio I know exactly what needs to be done and other times are much more experimental. (I am in the latter mode right now.) I value the results of my time in the studio, and I value the process of working every bit as much. I spend considerably more time engaged with the working aspects of my practice then living with the results (I wish I could say I collect my work, but the simple truth is I cannot afford my work!). My life with the work after completion is generally limited while the process is continual. Because the process is always happening, my ways of working are always developing.
HH: Did I make you talk too much about the indescribable field of the making process? I get frustrated when people do that. Ha ha ha. There are areas where words just fail…at least my words. And I often try not to define things too much in those places in order not to limit anything in the pool of possibilities. And quite often, the essential parts are not even visible to our conscious mind at that stage. They are buried in the obvious impressions…
And thank you for your beautiful descriptions about my work. I feel that one thing we make sure in the making process is that the work actually engages the viewers at the deeper levels. We actually want to move the viewers at the cores of their beings as opposed to just laying down instructions of how the viewers should be reacting or why. And I believe the delicate making process we discussed above is extremely important in what we are trying to do.
Could you talk a little bit about your latest works?
TL: I have included two working exhibition statements. The first formulates my thoughts regarding two dividing phenomenological aspects of perception.
Most of the phenomenological artwork you encounter in the art world is pristinely made, where craft sort of disappears because it is so perfect. However, there is another kind of phenomenal aesthetic as well. It is not built on the premise of craftsmanship disappearing. It is much more crude. In either case, perception is central to what is seen; and what is seen is based on a kind of visual trickery. In either case, it is necessary to see beyond what is actually seen. That is the trick involved in both aesthetics. If there is trickery involved in making a work of art, it lays in the architecture (both physical object and the theory with which it is made) of the work. The trick is how it is perceived and how the underlying architecture (both its physical presence and the ideas which make it) is understood.
There are two opposites which divid phenomenological perception; one is the pristine and the other is the rickety. These differences point toward something bigger; the differences between something clean and something rickety is really what defines the difference between something spiritual and the supernatural. In this definition, the spiritual is the realm of god, where nature is pure while the supernatural is the domain of magic, the artifice where perception is based on illusion. The clean is spiritual; the dirty is supernatural; the light is spiritual, the dark is supernatural; the rich is spiritual; the poor is supernatural. At this point, the logic begins to fray. There is heavy coding and semiotics in all of these distinctions between the spiritual and the supernatural.
My work draws on the idiom of minimalism, with all of its possible connotations, yet heavily draws on the architecture of the supernatural, where craft is drawn into question, resolutions seem uncertain, and visual perception as well as value judgements (good taste versus bad taste or high brow versus low brow aesthetics) are questioned.
The second involves my interests in the connections between drawing and painting (sculpture too!) and the objectness of these concerns.
Acclaimed Naturalist and author Peter Matthiessen makes the statement, “it is the responsibility of the writer to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” It is a true enough statement and holds tangency to other forms of communication: in this case, visual art. Therefore, it could be said that it is the responsibility of the conceptual artist to visually show the semiotics of art with all of its associated meaning-making images (analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication) and the minimal artist to distill form and create a literal, objective approach to the subject. While I don’t consider my work to fit neatly into any particular category, I do feel deep affiliations to both conceptual and minimal principles. As a contemporary artist, it is my responsibility to re-evaluate historic art movements and their contexts.
While working primarily with alternative and salvage materials, I am creating work which signifies the connection between drawing and painting. In some of these works I used my old drawing table in conjunction with colorful salvage steel. Because I have a heavy drawing hand, I chose to show that hand metaphorically. I used a router which allowed me to create deep recessed lines which I then inset with salvage steel. The subsequent geometric patterns refer to drawn images. In others works I used pre-painted materials over the top of physically dimensional structures to create perceptual links between drawing and specific conceptual theories behind drawing, namely that drawing can infer the idea of space. In a series of shaped painting-like structures I overlaid brightly colored materials to draw out the historical references within both the Conceptual and Minimal High Art practices. The titles of the work often allude to their meanings as well as offer insight into their material natures. These works blend both my mark-making with mass produced, now-salvage materials in which I had no hand in making, but considerable effort in altering. All of the work is made to question the basic underlaying principles of what constitutes drawing or painting and the value we place on how these practices are historically described.
Playing the Angles, 2014, Salvage Steel Inlaid into Used Drawing Board, 42 by 29 by inch, Consigned to McMurtrey Gallery, Houston, TX
Art is alive and can critically reflect the moment in which it is created. Artists often attempt to make judgements about historical artworks and the movements which effected them. Challenging established meanings is different from changing these meanings. We are in the midst of a total re-evaluation of our entire society, from our aesthetics to our politics, our distribution of wealth to our natural environment. Likewise, this body of work offers its own re-evaluation and re-contextualization of Minimalism and Conceptualism and offers new outcomes to old solutions.
The reason I am including these in my response to your question is to illustrate my interest in establishing working paradigms, limits, parameters to what I am developing in the studio. Sometimes these are written before I begin work, often during the work, and at other times towards the end of a new body of work. I almost never write at the end of a project. Most of the writing involves quick notes while working which later get modified into these kind of statements. I like taking notes and keeping track of my thinking.
I have not written anything yet for the beginning of this new project. I have several threads I am considering. One involves patterned relationships to other patterns; think of pattern on pattern on pattern and you will get the general idea. One is based on component parts in association to other component parts; think of looking into the engine bay of your car and how all of the components are assembled in relation to each other. While both threads have a certain kind of connection to each other (formal or functional relationships), they are very different visually. They also resolve physically in quite divergent manners. In this way working, one of these routes will show itself more clearly to me and I will follow that path. As of yet, I don’t know. I kind of like not knowing.
The final thing I would like to respond to is about the issue around control. As I said earlier, I have no idea what the viewer brings to seeing and therefore I can’t predict, solicit, or guarantee any particular outcome whatsoever. I’m not a magician! In fact, it really is none of my business what they experience from my work. I’m sure that sounds strange, but it’s the truth for me. Don’t get me wrong, I “need” people to resonate strongly with the work; that’s how I pay my mortgage, send my kids to school, and eat! However, if my endeavor is to get people to resonate with the work, that feels salacious and not truthful to the work for me. So I try to leave that out of the creative process.
HH: Oh, yes, certainly. You don’t want to be manipulated by other people’s perceptions in the process. Although, I have found that sometimes people can shift artists’ perspectives in looking at the work, helping them to gain understanding of the essence. And as you indicated, there is certainly an aspect to “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves”. But the process, I believe, is ultimately rooted in our own perception and the practice of gaining access to the deeper reality. It is not a straight forward process and I feel that you strive and struggle to make your own path with passion and honesty.
And I very much agree that we have a great need to reevaluate the values and norms today. And the fact that the quality, which usually is associated with words like rickety, dirty and poor, becomes a part of the building blocks of the solid presence in your work does make me wonder about some aspects of the minimalism or high art, which are often expressed as flawless, as if they are the logical conclusions proven to be sound and correct, but ONLY as long as we are sticking within the norms and values of the accepted standards. There is something limiting and authoritative about the realm of the high art and that can easily be translated into the issues we face today in the real world. I think those are very thought provoking statements.
Thank you so much for taking time in answering my questions, Ted. I have a lot to digest.
I have one last question. Could you name some artists you are interested in today?
TL: Allison Miller, Joseph Ferriso, Joe Fyfe, Chris Johanson, Colby Bird, Alexander Goilizki, Carroll Dunham, Katherine Bernhardt, Matt Connors, Daniel Cummings, Tony Feher, Fergus Feehily, Sergej Jensen, Jonas Wood, Chuck Webster, Jered Sprecher, Anne Seidman, Stanley Whitney, Mary Heilmann, Thomas Nozkowski, Mark Grotjahn, Richard Tuttle, Andrew Masullo, and the late great Paul Klee just to name a few. But there are many other artists whose work I admire and think have contributed significantly to today’s aesthetic dialogue.
Interesting that most of the people I mentioned are primarily known for their paintings. While dimensional space interests me intensely, it is really painting which informs me most. That said, the other day I was reading a lovely transcribed passage by Phyllida Barlow where she talked about how sculpture vanishes. Her take on it was quite fascinating. When you circumambulate a sculpture, the view you see from one perspective is gone when you arrive at another position. She noted how different this quality is from painting, where no matter where you stand, it appears the same. I liked that a lot. I am going to have to consider her words carefully.
Thank you Hiroyuki for this conversation. It was quite enjoyable.
HH: Wow, what a list. Thank YOU, Ted. I feel that I need to come back to you someday and continue our conversation…
Ted Larsen, Lost in Space, 2011-12, Salvage Steel and Rivets, 60 by 20 by 3 inches. Private Collection, Aspen, CO.
Ted Larsen, Never Again, 2010-2013, Welded Steel, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware, 14 by 45 by 11 inches. Studio Collection
Ted Larsen, Same Difference, 2012, Salvage Steel and Rivets with Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware Kick Stand, 44 by 35, by 3 inches. Studio Collection
Referee, 2010-2011, Salvage Steel and Rivets, 52 by 34 by 28 inches. Consigned to Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO.
Ted Larsen, Bounce Back, 2008-2013, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware, 68 by 36 by 2.5 inches. Consigned to Conduit Gallery, Dallas, TX.
Ted Larsen, Step a Little Closer, 2010, Salvage Steel and Rivets, 23 by 6.5 by 4 inches. Studio Collection.
Ted Larsen, A Fine Mess, 2014, Salvage Steel, Marine-grade Plywood, Silicone, Vulcanized Rubber, Hardware, 7 by 6 by 2.5 inches
Ted Larsen, Slipped, 2008, Constructed Object, 7x7x7Ted Larsen (b. 1964, USA) is a nationally exhibiting artist and Pollock-Krasner Foundation recipient with a BA from Northern Arizona University. The work he creates supply commentary on minimalist belief systems and the ultimate importance of High Art practice. Since 2001, Larsen has used alternative and salvage materials in his studio exercises.Ted Larsen’s work has been exhibited widely in museums in the US, including the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, The Albuquerque Museum, The Amarillo Museum of Art, The Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin, Missouri, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as in over eighty gallery exhibitions. He has received grants from the Surdna Foundation and the Pollock Krasner Foundation, as well as residencies with the Edward F. Albee Foundation and Asilah Arts Festival in Morocco, where he was the selected to be the USA representative. He has guest lectured at The South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville, South Carolina; University of Art and Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico; The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California; The New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Texas Society of Architects, Dallas, Texas.Larsen has been featured in Art in American, ArtNews, SouthWest Art, Mountain Living, Architectural Digest, Sculpture Magazine, and Art Gallery International magazines. He has had reviews in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Denver Post, and The Dallas Morning News amongst others. Larsen’s work appears in the books Art On The Edge, Biennial Southwest, The Curtain of Trees, New American Paintings, and Millennium Collection. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) produced an interview with Larsen.Ted Larsen is included in the collections of The New Mexico Museum of Art, The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, The Edward F. Albee Foundation, Proctor & Gamble, The Bolivian Consulate, Reader’s Digest, PepsiCo, The University of Miami, Krasel Art Center, Dreyfus Funds, JP Morgan Chase, Forbes and Pioneer Hi-Bred, Inc.