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It's About to Blow Up

An Interview with Alum Chad Person

Chad Person, Dying Gaul, 2007 (Featured in Person's Black Cube Alumni Exhibition 'Blow Up' at RedLine Contemporary Art Center)
Cortney Lane Stell: Can you tell us a little bit about the Blow Up exhibition?

Chad Person: Blow Up is an exhibition of firsts for me. It’s the first time I have had all of my inflatable sculptures in one place, and the first solo show of this scale I've had in Denver. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s going to be a fun show - hopefully evoking a combination of quiet curiosity and ironic chuckles.

CLS: How many inflatable sculptures have you made?

CP: Eight to date, with the most recent being The Prospector which I completed last year as a Black Cube fellow.

CLS: When was the first one your produced and what was the process like?

CP: My first was Ozymandias Weeps, 2005. I was nearing the end of grad school and a vision of the piece came to me. I had been photographing a dying shopping mall in Albuquerque, and when I walked into to boarded up food court I pictured the Big Boy sitting there alone, weeping for the loss.

Chad Person, The Mayor Rests, 2008 (Featured in Person's Black Cube Alumni Exhibition 'Blow Up' at RedLine Contemporary Art Center)

CLS: The inflatables are fabricated in India, can you tell us a bit about that process?

CP: I’m not a sculptor by trade, so when I conceived of the first inflatable I recognized I’d need to work with a fabricator. I began researching cold air inflatables online and stumbled across a very experienced fabricator in Hyderabad India. The process was a bit of a leap of faith at first, but has gotten much better over the years. Initially, my process was to build a small scale model and photograph it on six sides. The fabricator would then build a clay model from my images, and send back six-sided photos of their own. I’d revise those images in Photoshop, leading to a revision in clay and so forth. Eventually the clay model was scanned to produce a fabric pattern. Over time, we moved to a process that involves 3D modelling and printing. It’s much more direct - although I miss the clay model.

CLS: What was the most complex inflatable to make and why?

CP: The most complex to date was The Prospector. I’ve certainly made more complicated pieces, in terms of electronics and props but the enormous scale of The Prospector took things to a new level. Uninflated, it weighs about 500lbs, but once you fill it with air he becomes a true force to be reckoned with. At that scale, every hiccup is amplified. For example, last year when we erected him at the State Capitol there was a light rain falling. Once the surface of the sculpture got damp, the weight of the water added hundreds of pounds to the overall mass. The fans couldn’t hold the tensile strength and it began to collapse. It was an interesting new problem to solve.

CLS: You often describe the sculptures as akin to depressed car dealership inflatable advertisements, why are your sculptures depressed?

CP: The reason I choose to work with the cold air inflatable as a form is quite simple. Most of the works share a common thread -- an icon that has past its prime/usefulness, and now suffers a loss of prowess. The cold air inflatable is a perfect vehicle for that metaphor. Like the used car dealership gorilla, they are gianagitc, begging for attentions. But in the end, there is no substance, just a massive empty void, ready to collapse at the slightest failure.

Chad Person, Blow Up, 2016

CLS: This is the first time that all 8 of your inflatables are being exhibited together... How do you think they will interact with each other?

CP: This is the first time all of my inflatables are being shown together. I’m not sure what to expect as they dialogue with one another. Perhaps it will reveal a string of interconnected ideas? Or perhaps it will feel like the same bad joke told over and over? Ultimately, it’s up the viewer.

CLS: How does it feel to be one of Black Cube's first alum? What’s it like working on a Black Cube alumni project? 

CP: I feel really fortunate to have been one of the first Black Cube fellows. It has been a real pleasure to see the organization evolve and take shape recent months. I’m looking forward to more chances to network with, mentor, and support the upcoming fellows.

CLS: Are there any unrealized inflatables that you would like to produce?

CP: There are so many inflatables I’d like to produce. I have a sketchbook full. Unfortunately, the scale of each is such that I can’t produce them as fast as I’d like.