May 19, 2016
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice. What's one of the first pieces of art or artists who you saw that made you interested in art?
Off the top of my head it would be a combo between the first time I saw a Mark Rothko and a close family friend of mine. I saw Rothko’s big red and orange painting in middle school while on a field trip and recall the feeling of color and mass drawling my young self in. By no means understanding his intentions, the history of Abstract Expressionism, or anything of that nature I was lost in the void of his work and touched by something I had no awareness of. It is that moment in which I try to connect to and reflect upon when I’m within my own studio.
As far as influential artists goes it would have to be a good family friend of mine, Jill. She is still practicing pottery today and while I would consider myself far from a skilled potter, she was someone who opened my eyes to the lifestyle of a marker or artist. Growing up, I’d go to her house to help load and fire kilns, make glazes, and throw on the wheel. Experiencing all those actions at a young age not only introduced me to clay as a material (something I would go on to work consistently with) but also gave me the addicting taste of what life as an artist and maker could be.
How would you define your philosophy toward art?
Honestly I find the art world too big to pin down to any one philosophy. I enjoy the experience of art on so many levels that to pick a philosophy would only seem to contradict other aspects of art that I find intriguing. My making is a combination of being autobiographic, a reaction to a moment in history or point of research, or simply an intuitive exploration within the studio. Sometimes the studio serves as means to physically explore a concept or idea, other times it is simply the exploration itself. I guess if I had to pick a philosophy towards art it would be that all things in life are ever changing and so perhaps art and making art should be that way as well.
How did you first become interested in Western iconography?
I’ve had some manor of interest with the ethos of the West and its iconography for a while, not always at the same level but it certainly has been on my mind. The spark was from my undergraduate experience at the University of Colorado. I worked closely with my sculpture professor, Richard Saxton, and later went on to assist him in his own studio practice along with his collaborative M12. Studying and working under Saxton got me to look at my surroundings differently and really shaped how I experienced the West then and today. However, it wasn’t until graduate school though that I started to work out those experiences via my own making. I think part of this came from leaving Colorado to move to Michigan as I went to attend the MFA ceramics program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. The other factor came from a multitude of Western related interest and material that seemed to just find its way back to my studio and daily life via critiques, visits with guest artists, and the further pursuit of a natural interest.
Aside from using common Western symbols, how do you bring this historical influence into contemporary society?
By simply being a maker/artist within the present I inevitably am contemporizing these historical influences. More specifically these histories are flushed out through the combining, paring, or in some aspects juxtaposing of materials, forms, and images. For example, a spittoon made of ceramic and glazed with a white mucus texture, a terra cotta blob moving its way across two magazine pages depicting a cattle range, or in the case of the Black Cube project a series of neon tumbleweeds.
What do you think our relationship to the West is like nowadays? Is it more or less romanticized?
Personally I’m drawn to the West because of its multitude of characteristics – its ability to remain as this pure void to be lost in. The West is life, death, success, struggle, venture, failure, growth, and decay all wrapped up into one giant package of desert, mountains, and plateaus.
I don't know if it is anymore romanticized then it was in mid-60s during the wake of the Spaghetti Western film genre, but I do think it has perhaps taken on different forms today. Aside from the continued depiction in films or novels such as No Country for Old Men or The Revenant, the sprit of the West we often cling to has played out in today's DIY movement, farm to table, and other aspects of homesteading. All and all though I don’t believe that these movements or trends or whatever they are to be labeled as are truly romanticizing the West. I feel that they act in parallel to what are our general associations of the West, but are not necessarily 1:1 moments that are directly romanticizing.
What's one of the biggest struggles you've faced as an artist?
Time, defiantly time. Between teaching adjunct for Wayne State University’s ceramic program and working at the Cranbrook Art Museum as their Associate Preparator, time is a luxury I often strive for. Fortunately my wife Lindsey and I built a studio in our backyard, which allows us to defeat the baron of time with a bit more ease. I’ve found out that I can a lot done in just an hour the challenge is finding that hour if not a few more.
Can you describe your Black Cube project?
Roam is a five-part neon and steel sculpture, which resembles a typical roof top billboard structure. The five neon components are a slight abstraction of a tumbleweed rolling on an endless loop along the horizon line. Neon as a material has transformed as a symbol of adorned high-end venues/restaurants to becoming a symbol of seedy establishments and old country tunes. These flickering metaphors of loneliness in society match the icon of the tumbleweed and a perception of Americana. Roam sets a stage for the multiple aspects of neon and Western aesthetics. It creates a place that is devoid of either loneliness or adoration but rather floating somewhere in the middle, serving as a beacon to us all. Much like real tumbleweeds and in a sense mirroring Black Cube’s unique philosophy, the sign/sculpture will travel around the Denver area making appearances in such places as Fiddlers Amphitheatre and a top one of Rocky Mountain College of Art Design’s building along Colfax.
How long have you been working with Cortney at Black Cube on this project and what has the process been like?
It has been a little over a year at this point. The processes has been long but very instructive - the fellowship provides an open door to projects that would more then likely never take off from the ground due to expense, space, and pure magnitude. All and all it has been a very rolling and evolving process taking the initial idea of Roam (a piece that was a component of a larger whole) and turning it into its own center stage piece. In addition, I've greatly appreciated Black Cube forming the connection and network of my practice with Denver's Demiurge. As someone who insists working with their own hands, it was both a challenge and a privilege to be able to hand over a concept and watch it transform into reality via the skill set and hard work of others.