Jason Middlebrook – Mixed-Media Artist
Jason Middlebrook – Mixed-Media Artist

(upbeat music) – This evening, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome Jason Middlebrook
to our final MFA fine arts talk for the 2016-17 academic year. Jason’s an artist who
gathers creative inspiration from both nature and technology and transfers their complex relationships into works of sculpture,
installation, painting and large-scale drawings and lots of wood, lots of stuff on wood. Jason’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art, MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Aldrich Contemporary
Art Museum in Connecticut, Galleria Paolo Bonzano
Arte Contemporanea in Rome, Museo de Arte de El Salvador,
Nylon Gallery in London and the Charlotte Lund
Gallery in Stockholm Sweden, among many others. He was a 2010 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and the Pollock-Krasner
Foundation Grant in 2016. His MTA public commission,
Brooklyn Seeds, was named one of the best public art works
in the United States in 2012 by the Americans for the Arts Convention. He has also worked with
organizations such as RxArt, Wave Hill, The Drawing Center,
Smack Mellon and many others. Jason received a BA in Fine
Arts from UC Santa Cruz and an MFA from the San
Francisco Art Institute in 1984, back when it was great. In ’94, ’95, he was a participant in the Whitney Independent Study Program. And in 2009-10, he participated in the Lapsis Residency in Stockholm. He has been represented by a
number of excellent galleries in New York and elsewhere over the years, and he’s currently represented by, try to do this all in one breath, David Smith Gallery in Denver,
Gallery 16 in San Francisco, Lora Reynolds Gallery in Austin, Texas, Monica Meloche Gallery in Chicago, Ameringer McEnery and
Yohe, here in New York, Jeff Bailey Gallery in Hudson
and Gallery Pack in Milan. Please join me in welcoming
Jason Middlebrook. (audience applauds) – Thank you. Can you guys hear me? Thank you, Mark. All those galleries are made up. I don’t work with any of those galleries. (audience laughs) All right, so I have a lot to show you. I’m really pretty schizophrenic
in my art practice. And I’m basically, I’m
gonna break things down into about three distinctive groups. I studied painting. My father’s a sculptor. My mother is a native plant
kind of advocate in California. She has a nonprofit. So I come from the West Coast. And I studied painting. I grew up in this artistic
family in California, but as I evolved, I became much more of a site-specific artist. Yet I still make paintings. I still draw. I had a teacher in graduate
school tell me once that I’m conceptually promiscuous. (audience laughs) That’s kind of the best way
for me to go about this. A lot of people, after
they see this presentation, they say, “Oh my God,
you’re all over the place.” But there’s some continuity, and there’s a lot of major threads that intersect one another. And I’m gonna kind of just start. You’re gonna look at about
a 10- to 12-year span of work that I’ve been making. This project from, I’m
starting at this point, ’cause it’s a very site-specific project. There was a show at the MCA 2010-ish, kind of responding to Alexander Calder. The MCA has got a large kind of holding of Alexander Calder’s work. They were looking at artists,
contemporary artists, that were responding to
Calder, and so I was invited to do a project there. And I really got into
the history of Chicago and how Chicago was rebuilt. Chicago was this amazing
architectural kind of template after the fire. So I scanned all the neighbors of Chicago, and I started collecting objects throughout the neighborhoods of Chicago. And I kind of set up this criteria that I was gonna just
collect kind of wood, kind of an organic material
that had a function in the homes of Chicago and
that had gone through this life and been expired and kind
of dumped in the streets. So this is kind of a storage facility that I started collecting
all these objects, three-legged chairs, mantles,
windows, window sashes. This is a spindle for the
electric company, cribs, and so I set up these kind of rules that I was gonna spend weeks
on end collecting this debris. A mantle, here’s some lattice. I got into a few, Hyde Park, Oak Park, some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students, and so I went back to my studio, and I made this kind of model in my studio that had a relationship to Calder, but it also had a relationship
to the kind of debris versus this log that I found
in a mill about 75 miles east of Chicago, a mill that
fed Chicago through most of the turn of the century. So I picked out this kind
of 2,000-pound maple log. And the idea was to try to
find this equivalent amount of debris that had been
discarded in Chicago. This is the model and how the
sculpture would be positioned. I went back to Chicago, and
I started to assemble this with this kind of cluster on one side and the equivalent weight on the other. A lot of what I’m gonna
show you tonight is I’m a real process-oriented artist, and I find that it’s nice
to give a little story about how these things kind of evolve. So here we are installing
this kind of cluster that is kind of exploding out on itself. You can see ironing boards. You can see the bottom is a floor from a Frank Lloyd Wright
house that was being renovated. I really had a blast with this project, because it was kind of
scavenger, antique dealer, you know, artist, sculptor, engineer. We had one hanging point
that was established for this Jeff Koons heart
that was put into the ceiling, up into the top of this I-beam. So I had to keep this sculpture
under a certain weight. I think 5,000 pounds was
the weight of the heart. And so I had to stay under that. And the log was really there. It was like the little cluster. You’ve got this dresser. The drawers are actually hollow. There’s some superstructure in there. There it is, kind of balancing. The log was interesting,
’cause I cut the log in half. And the museum required that the log had a superstructure inside. That’s what the bolts tie
into, a steel superstructure. And so down here, you kind
of see there’s like a seam where we split the log, and
I was so kind of obsessive that I saved the bark, and then
we hid the bark on the seam that goes the entire length of the log. So we split the log open,
like cutting a banana in half. And then at the very end, the sculptures didn’t
weigh the same amount. So I was able to get up here
and pour sand into the log, which was pretty cool. We left a hole, so I
could get the sculptures to equal themselves out. And the title of the piece is a mouthful, From the Forest to the Mill to the Store to the Home to the Streets and Back Again. So it was this real process,
project about the history of these objects, how they’re discarded, their source, where they come from, at what point do we
get tired of the things that we live with, that
we need something else and the kind of functionality
of those objects. So that project led to a
bunch of these architectural, I want to call them renovations,
but they are these kind of architectural identity pieces I did. This one is at Art House in Austin. Art House was going
through a large renovation, and they invited me to come in and remove all the debris
and make a kind of comment about the history of this building. This building, Downtown Austin, was in it’s like sixth generation of identity. It was a toy store. It was a movie theater. It was a department store. And so the architect had planned to cut all these slices
out of the building. And I was so inspired by kind
of Austin’s history with food and being this progressive
city in Central Texas that I invited people to send
in recipes, homemade recipes, recipes that were passed
down from each generation. So you can see these slices that are existing in the building. This is the existing architecture that they didn’t mess around with. And so on the opposing
wall, I took the recipes, and I had 168 recipes, and
the idea was to have this, almost like Judy Chicago
kind of dinner party. And so each sculpture represented like a table setting, and the name of the project was called More
Art About Buildings and Food, which was kind of inspired by
the 1977 Talking Heads record. And so here is some of the table settings. I worked with a couple of
glass blowers in Austin, recycled a lot of the wine
bottles from restaurants. This is an Absolut Vodka kind of platter. Here’s some Martinelli’s
apple juice dinnerware. Then this was the original
sign, the Texas Art Association. Those became benches. Here’s some of the wine bottles I turned into kind of these chandeliers. This was the old railing from the department store
as you came upstairs. And there’s the existing Art
House after the renovation. Here’s more, more, and then there was a large
drawing of a two-by-10 I found, kind of an oversized drawing. I spent about three months in Austin working on this project. So the exhibition opened
in kind of a still form, and then there was a series of kind of dinner parties
scheduled with guest chefs and like a gingerbread-making
house kind of workshop. And then this chef came in and did this kind of
slow food presentation. I was proud that he ended up
getting Top Chef that year and he volunteered his time. That was pretty sweet. Here is another slow food presentation. And then at the opening
I auditioned a few bands, and I picked a band, and
they specifically had to only play songs from that record. So it was a total control freak (laughs), a controlled kind of installation. Here’s more gingerbread presentations, and then, let’s see, that’s the last one. So that was kind of the grand
opening of this transformation of Art House, from their old
space to their new space. And then I’m gonna go
through a series of pieces that are just one-offs, individuals. This Calder-esque piece
pre-dated the Calder show before. I really got into kind
of Calder’s mobiles. So I just wanted to make
one with just driftwood. This is Wood From All Over the
World Mobile, it’s entitled. And then this is a series
of 500 cast concrete bottles from Gatorade, Tide,
motor oil, Smartwater. I started thinking about
sediment and archeology, and it’s been a big
theme in a lot of my art to kind of think about
future and past generations and what’s gonna happen to
all the plastic, you know, in 500 years or 1,000 years,
and I kept imagining this idea that a bottle gets thrown out the window. And it sits there for a
couple of hundred years until it fills with sediment and then a few more hundred years until it actually becomes
a petrified shape. So I just started pouring
concrete, colored concrete, in all these bottles. And it’s amazing when you start
to look at the differences between the corporations and
the symbols that they put on the Gatorade versus Coke versus Tide. And then I show these in about six or seven different
different configurations. And that kind of led to
a series of drawings. I think this is called
Inspired on the Countless Trips from My Kitchen to My Studio. And it’s a combination of Juarez, Mexico and a couple of other shanty
towns, Soweto in South Africa. There’s a few different shanty towns that are all kind of
crushed into one mound. This drawing is called Vein. This drawing here, I
think, is a continuation of this drawing, even
though it’s separate. So this is called, oh, it’s something like You Can Take the Country Out of the Boy But You Can’t Take the
Boy Out of the Country, or something stupid like that. I can’t remember what it is. It’s a really big drawing. It’s about 15 feet. Here’s a couple of others. Right after I had kids, I
went through this whole kind of alteristic bird phase (sighs). You’ll see this throughout my work. I tend to sometimes get a little cheesy, but it pays the rent. And so for some reason,
birds and mushrooms tend to pay the mortgage from
time to time (laughs). (audience laughs) It’s a good thing for you to learn. If you’re ever completely broke, just pick birds and mushrooms. (audience laughs) You’ll make a ton of money. Anyway (laughs), this is
the log jam on the Hudson. I tend to take on these kind of exercises that are months on end. So this drawing is pretty big. It’s an eight-foot drawing. It’s been shown a few different times. For many years, it was a
graphite drawing, but recently, it’s started to become a,
some color has come into it. I think there’s a few artists out there, I think Glenn Brown once said his paintings are never really finished, which drives most art historians nuts, but this drawing I don’t
think is ever finished. I continue to work on
it from time to time. Here’s a couple more. And then, this goes back
to the mushroom thing. I got invited to make an
addition for the Aspen Museum in honor of Fred Tomaselli. And in the early part of Fred’s work, it was all psychotropics. It was psilocybin and
marijuana and pharmaceuticals that he was burying in his paintings. And so I just started doing
all these mushroom drawings and kind of treating them
like they were different. Each one was a different object. And literally for the next five years, I did a tremendous amount of mushrooms, not actual mushrooms. I didn’t take mushrooms, but
I made a lot of mushrooms, and I mean a lot, to the point where I was kind of
embarrassed about them. But in this kind of Jeff
Koonsian way, I had a studio. I had employees. I had this kind of production
and assembly line going with these mushrooms,
and for me, it was a way to exorcize a lot of
kind of artistic demons, because I like these projects
where you have a subject that you can kind of beat to death. And you can kind of
saturate all your ideas into this one form. So I would be like well,
why don’t we try slate? Why don’t I try bronze? Why don’t I try illuminating them? Why don’t I try different scale shifts, a big one, a small one? Let’s work with a glassblower
and make additional lamps. So what I kind of like about it is that at first I wasn’t proud of
the kind of subject matter, because it was so Alice in Wonderland. It was so ’60s. It had all this kind of
kitsch weight loaded to it. So I treated it like a challenge. I would say, “Okay, I’m
gonna turn a mushroom “into something interesting. “How can I do that?” So anyway, the lesson, I think, there is as an artist, sometimes
you don’t know the path you’re gonna take, and you don’t know which way it’s gonna lead you,
and you land on something, and you kind of, at least in
my case, I beat it to death, but on the other back end of it, you get something out of it. And you learn something about yourself, and I make a lot of art. I’m really prolific, and
it’s not always good. But I like the idea of volume. I like the idea of kind of
beating an idea to death to see what can come out of it. You’ll see more mushrooms coming. These are some computer,
digital kind of mock-ups for a subway commission. I had applied for one subway commission. I didn’t get it. I applied for a second one. I didn’t get it, and the third one, I got. It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s one of the best public
art programs in America, the MTA subway art program is wonderful, because there’s so many
opportunities for artists, and it’s so site-specific
based on the station. So I applied for this. They worked with me, and we
picked the right station. It’s an above-ground station. So as you enter into the subway, it’s on the way to Coney Island. You enter at the ground level, and then you kind of go up these steps. And the idea behind this
commission was every one of these native plants is
selected from Brooklyn. And the seed pods are floating in the air. And the seed pods are here,
and they’re kind of a metaphor for the commuter, the subway traveler. And the MTA’s really smart. They don’t let the artist
actually touch this. It’s all farmed out to fabricators. So I got a chance to work
with a real mosaic fabricator. The piece was made in Italy. And you get to kind of
manage your own project, which was a good experience
for future projects that I’m doing now to kind of learn how to manage a big commission
when you’ve got insurance and people and a site and engineers and bureaucracy and all the stuff that they don’t teach
you about in art school. And so that led to a series
of, I discovered this mill about an hour from my house
in western Massachusetts that specifically deals in hardwood trees, like maple, elm, oak, indigenous
trees to the northeast, no exotics, no trees from California, tree farms, basically, from the northeast. This tree here on the left is beech. This is a large slab. It’s about six feet by five feet. That on the right, I believe, is maple. And the idea was I always felt,
kind of, a little confused about painting them. I’m always between the wall and the floor. And I had come from California and this kind of surfboard tradition. I was always a big fan of John McCracken. I had spent time in northern Australia, and so I was really turned
on by aboriginal art. And I was trying to kind of occupy a space that existed between here and here. Most of these lean. This one here is 14 feet. That one down there is 12-and-a-half. I was looking at people like
Frank Stella, Agnes Martin. It was like I was reacting to my own kind of whimsical
practice such as the mushrooms and trying to superimpose
kind of my own grid on top of this beautiful wood grain. And I kind of stumbled upon something, because the tree is just, the pieces of wood are so magnificent. And I felt like I just had
to be kind of a visitor on top of these pieces of wood but all the while kind of looking at people like Stella and
Agnes Martin, kind of looking at Ellsworth Kelly, really
hardcore minimalists. This piece of wood like
four-and-a-half inches thick. This is a big piece of wood. It’s been exhibited a few
times in different climates, and I’m always worried it’s
gonna just separate and pop, but it’s held in there. Here’s another one. I kept trying to play with
geometry and how it collides with the organic kind of compressed time. I always use this metaphor
that mankind is kind of trying to put a skin over the earth, like the asphalt or the
sidewalk that exists in a city, and that sidewalk is constantly
being broken up by weeds or tree roots or erosion. And so the paint kind
of sits right on top. It’s just kind of visiting the
organic form of these shapes. And it allowed me to kind
of leave the rectangle, leave the square and
deal with this live edge. So I started going to this
mill, and I started buying a lot of this wood and bringing
it back to my studio and doing these drawings and
looking at Bridget Riley, looking at like hardcore minimalists and kind of op art from the ’60s and ’70s. And then I started looking
at geology and going back to some of my interests in
kind of sediment and Smithson and entropy and that kind of thing. It’s all acrylic. I got better and better at kind
of real hard-edge painting. This one here is called Something Left. So the idea is maybe there
was a larger painting there. – [Audience Member] Is that masking tape? – It’s tape, but it’s not masking. It’s a different kind of tape. But it’s a lot of matte medium. It’s a lot of razors. The surface, I sand it
down to like 600 grit, so it gets really smooth, like glass. Here’s another one. And kind of like the mushrooms,
like the sky was the limit. I could sit with the planks in my studio. I built a studio specifically designed to take a 20-foot plank. This piece was like the
painting I’ve been trying to make my whole life. I was really proud of this painting, because it’s about the non-painting. And so this is all one tree, curly maple. This is nine feet by nine feet. And this tree was milled,
the mill that I go to, imagine the tree is stacked
up like kind of sandwich meat. And you can buy the whole tree, or you can select parts of the tree. So this tree was maybe seven pieces, and I bought four pieces. So imagine the tree is like this. The tree goes through the mill, and then it’s leaned up and stacked. Sometimes the first or second
pieces aren’t so interesting, but the heart of the tree
is really interesting. And so I was looking at Frank Stella. I was thinking about the Black Painting. I was thinking about that negative space and how powerful what we can’t see becomes when we give it a painting,
when we give it a border. And I feel really proud
about this painting, because it took a certain
amount of restraint. And I wanted it to be kind
of a signature statement about this whole body of work,
and it was the first time I kind of got off the
floor and on the wall. Here’s a little step of the process. That entire piece of
wood is covered in tape. I do a really precise drawing, and then my assistants cut it out. I’ve also learned over
the years that sometimes, other people make your art
a lot better than you do. And it’s a really important thing, because you’re gonna go down that road, and you’re gonna say, “Well,
I want to make this out “of porcelain, but I
don’t know how to do it. “And someone’s got to help me do it, “or I have to collaborate, “or I got to work with
a porcelain artist.” And I have no problem giving up control. It took me a long time
to learn that skill, but it’s really important
to give up control. And other people
oftentimes execute your art much better than you can. Some people have a hard
time with that statement, ’cause their art is so personal. Painting is so personal. A sculpture or a
performance is so personal. But sometimes the idea
is just as personal, and other people can execute it better. I’m showing you a lot of these
to really pound home the idea that I can’t stop making them. There’s kind of an idea of a drawing. There’ll be kind of a sketch or something. And then the beauty of
this is I try it out. If it doesn’t work, I sand over it. Sometimes black works
really well, or white. Here’s a real kind of Agnes
Martin influenced one. This is called Corner Steps,
where it’s just two shades of brown and two shades of
orange going up the side. Here’s a photograph. We’ve often seen this in
the city, but I found it, and it kind of made me
think about the planks in relationship to the last
piece, this kind of broken line. There’s definitely kind
of a California surfboard, snowboard thing sometimes happening. Fashion might be part of it. The one on the right’s
a little more connected to kind of aboriginal, geometric thing. There’s all white on the right. There’s like 12 different colors that go in and out of light to dark. Here’s a show with a
friend, a two-person show. And then that leads me back to
another site-specific thing. MASS MoCA came to me, and they wanted to do a big installation. I had always wanted to do a
mobile that was a waterfall. And MASS MoCA’s the kind
of place that says yes to the craziest stuff, because
they have a lot of space, hardly any money but tons of resources. So digging around one of
the buildings in MASS MoCA, I found these giant pieces of styrofoam. An artist had carved the
Boston Harbor, years ago, and left the foam in
one of their buildings. So I kind of was playing with
this idea of falling water that I wanted to make this
kind of stationary mobile that recycled the water within the space. And so we started with some pools, started welding up this thing
and putting it together. And it was kind of an adventure. It was a real challenge
to make this thing. But then in the end, we got it to work. So this was pretty cool. The water drops in here. It goes through the floor. It goes up the wall,
shoots across this I-beam and drops into the top one here. This one cascades here,
and it cascades here, and it cascades here. And it was a real, it was a
challenge to make this piece, but I’ve never made a piece
of art that makes people have to urinate when they come into a museum. And so that was (laughs),
that was a big surprise. And it also created a
certain amount of humidity. And that created a problem
with other works in the show. So we had to dial it back. I worked with an aquatics
guy, and it was so cool, the amount of energy that it took to get this water up to here. There’s a huge mechanism
underneath the floor of the museum. And the pressure was dialed so far down, because if we turned it up, this would just spray
and destroy the floor. So I kind of like these
engineering challenges where you’ve got to fine tune this thing. And the shows at MASS
MoCA run for 10 months, which is awesome, because
you get a lot of exposure. You can see the water there,
come in here, off that tier. And of course, for me, it
wasn’t powerful enough. I wanted to turn it up, but
they kept turning it down. We had real problems with water collecting and coming down and hitting
the floor of the pool, up here. The water wanted to go this way. Water is impervious. So if you decide to work with water, I met with someone today
that’s working with glass. She stepped out, but water’s a dangerous
material to work with. It’s completely unforgiving. Here it is, going into the floor. We had this kind of base in
here that’s completely submerged in silicone to protect the
water from jumping into here. Little bits of water would
get here, and then in one day, you’ve got a puddle, ruining the floor. So the control on this thing, it was weeks of fine tuning it, so the water did exactly
what we wanted it to do. The next body of work, I was still kind of on this recycling mode. I was going to the dump a lot. So I started collecting these tires, and I would take them
to my fiberglass guy. He would fiberglass them. And I’ve started mosaic in these tires. Both my grandfathers worked
for Goodyear in the Midwest, so I felt I had right
to make art about tires. You can see some of
the fiberglass in here, where we would coat, encapsulate the entire tire in fiberglass. I guess I mean to say it in that, that they had spent
their entire life working for the Goodyear Corporation. I remember my dad telling me
that when his father retired, they gave him a tie clip,
and it always stuck with me that you’d spend your entire life working for this corporation,
and they give you a party and a tie clip, you know. I feel like I say that, because tires, it’s part of my subconscious,
coming from the Midwest and coming from this kind of
working-class part of Michigan, where I was born, even though I grew up in a much different
environment in California. So it’s kind of like you experience these things through osmosis. You experience them subconsciously. You hear the stories that
your parents talk about. And growing up in small-town
America, where everyone works for the same factory,
it’s kind of a cliche. And I was always turned
on by Rauschenberg. You’ll see Rauschenberg’s influence later. And I think I was approaching it in more of an environmental way, but by saying I’ve got
the rights to use tires as an image was kind of
justifying my desire to make work about Goodyear, about our
relationship to the automobile. It’s a very American, a tire
is a very American thing. All the time, oh yeah, all the time. I mean, we talk about that all the time. What does privilege really mean? You know, what does it mean? Like, I just watched this
Dave Chappelle Comedy Hour, and everyone’s giving him slack. At what point can you
make work about something that you have no relationship to? Are you only allowed to make work about something that you’ve experienced or something that you’re upset about? And I think it’s, especially
now, because everything’s up for grabs, and it’s a really
political time right now. I tend to mask it by saying
all the things that people are upset about now are
basically human conditions, things like sexism and
racism and homophobia. Those are things we’ve invented. I’m trying to be inspired by nature. I don’t want to go down that road, to be inspired by those
things, because I find that the more energy we give
them, the more power they have. Nature for me is far more complex
than those human problems, not to discredit those human problems, but the kind of theme of my work is that nature is the
guiding force behind it. And the ultimate force behind that is that we don’t truly understand nature. We’re all kind of afraid of it. So back to process, here’s more toxic things
happening in my studio that end up becoming this. Here’s another one. Here’s a big piece I did for the Albright-Knox in Buffalo. Here’s a tree in my creek that fell down that was kind of the inspiration. So I went out and made a smaller one and kind of extended its root system. I was asked to do a sculpture for the Albright-Knox in Buffalo. As many people probably don’t now, Olmsted designed the
park system in Buffalo after he did Central Park. And he planted over
20,000 trees in Buffalo. So I wanted to make a
piece about kind of Olmsted and the relationship that
the parks had to Buffalo. So many people think of
Buffalo as the Queen City that’s snowed in all the time. But Buffalo has this amazing park system. So here I am welding this piece, kind of like this big, sci-fi,
War of the Worlds monster. And then the next phase is each
piece gets covered in foam. And then each piece is
covered in fiberglass, like a pile of tentacles
that all bolts together. And then I’ve got a wonderful
thing called interns, a lot of them, and I ended up
hiring a bunch of my interns. Usually, because I live
Upstate, I work with a lot of kids from Bennington and Bard. And so here we are in Buffalo,
putting the piece together, but there was still a lot to finish. So I kind of made this
makeshift, you know, Leonardo da Vinci scaffold (laughs). And then there’s the piece. It’s called Underlife, which
is really about the celebration of the root system and not
so much the tree above. And there’s a nice bench
here that you can look out at the lake that Olmsted designed. There’s about six primary
reflective tiles on there. So it was kind of this
bedazzled tree root. I kept thinking about wet tree roots, the life force beneath the ground. This piece took a while. This piece took two years. And then that led to, a lot of times, I get invited to go to a site, whether it be a private collection or an institution, and I met some people that were affiliated with Art House, and they wanted me to come to Santa Fe. These people are like dream collectors, because they wanted me to
spend time on their property, and they wanted me to take a
year to come up with an idea. It was like, you know,
the ultimate collector that they take their time. Their whole process was
to get to know the artist and have the artist respond to their landscape, to their land. So here’s their house. I spent about a week hiking, just kind of studying the landscape. I got into these pinyon pines that drop off these beautiful pine cones. And so I proposed a couple
different ideas to them. One was to enlarge this pine cone, to kind of celebrate the seed behind this kind of
native tree of New Mexico. And so I kind of plopped
it on one of their hikes. I went to Bangkok to produce it, just ’cause of the craftsmanship,
and Bangkok was so good. And there’s the wax pine cone. It was kind of a mathematical
problem to make 56 petals that all fit into the same kind of shaft. And there we are kind of patinating it. And here it is getting
installed in Santa Fe. And then I got to go up inside the crane, to see it from way up high. So it really did look like a
small pine cone in the end. Here’s another site-specific
project, the tires. There’s an old race track in the Hamptons that is now a golf course. And so these tires are
kind of interspersed with the normal tires that are out there. This was kind of a fun project. Back to the mushroom, I’d
done so many small ones, but I thought it was time to do a big one. Here we are kind of carving the form. And there it is before
it gets fiberglassed. Then there’s like a
spigot that I had to make in order to tile it. And there’s the collector
that sponsored it (laughs), kind of a funny picture. He’s not that small. (audience laughs) Or it’s not that big. The slate is all from tile slate from the turn of the century. Up in Saratoga Springs,
I found some tile slate that was on a roof for
a couple hundred years. Here’s another one in New Jersey. And then here’s back to the
tire piece for Roshenburg. I always loved that piece that
he made with the angora goat. So I kind of made a riff on one. This is bronze and paint. And it’s tough to make a goat, so I actually had to find a goat. And it was tough to take a mold of a goat, and I found hair spray
for horses, actually, believe it or not, to keep the hair, for show horses, they make hair spray. And so I had to spray the
goat, in order to get some of the hair, to capture the hair. Here’s some more stumps. Here’s another mosaic plank. And then the plank pieces have now led into a series of wall pieces, kind of still dealing with that live edge. These are all roughly about this big. They’re smaller than the planks overall. So as you can see, there’s
kind of a pattern developing of my schizophrenia here. It’s always going back and
forth between the studio and these kind of site-specific projects. I had made a series of
birdhouse kind of colonies. And this one’s made up of 145 birdhouses, all different kind of historic
and non-historic components of architecture, the pyramids. I think there’s the Parthenon over there, a lot of classic barns, a
Quonset hut, some graffiti. These are all cast aluminum. That’s a tenement house,
a tenement building. There’s the Transamerica building
with some graffiti on it. And then there’s the final, and the idea here is that
it is inhabited by birds. This was in a cluster of
aspen in aspen groves. Here’s the Farnsworth House here. This is a Chicago Tower. Here’s a pueblo there. There’s a couple of pyramids. There’s another tenement house. There’s the Alamo. This was a fun project to make. Everything had to be made out of wood and then cast in aluminum. Here’s a painting that was the inspiration for a wall drawing at the MFA. This is still up right now. It’s up for one more year. It’s kind of a show about
geometric landscapes. This was fun to do. The shift in scale was a challenge, but it’s there number one selfie, which is kind of something
nice to say (laughs). (audience laughs) This is going back to the
pine cone client, again. The second half of the
project was what happens to the pinyon pines? After about 150 years, they die. So I got to go back to the property and look at some of the pinyons. I made a sample to bring on the airplane, which was kind of fun
with the airport security. And then here’s the finished
product, was this tree. This was more of a
challenge than the mushroom, because I had to put the stones on edge. But it was the best way to
kind of capture the dead growth of these pinyon pines. I really love working in this capacity, because you leave the
studio, you get to the site, and then you let the rules of the site dictate the
inspiration behind the project. And here’s another one in Southern Idaho. So it’s this classic kind
of practice of spending time in nature, then going back to the studio, fabricating these structures,
then become a kind of homage to these dead trees. This was also slate. Here’s a couple of my assistants. We’re working on a reclaimed Etsy. A corporation in Brooklyn wanted me to make a painting on
all their farm tables that they’d been feeding their employees since the inception of their company. So that was kind of fun, to
take apart all their farm tables and kind of make this landscape painting for their cafeteria. I’m really into these
projects, where there’s, like I said, there’s rules in play. This is an ongoing project
that I was in this show in Santa Fe, the SITE Santa Fe Biennial, and the theme dealt with
kind of borders and commerce. And I’ve always wanted to
make a barter general store, kind of going back to the 1800s, where your money’s no good here, that you kind of need something. You go down to the general
store, and you trade it, trade labor for rope, or you
trade feed for a birdhouse. So I invited about 50
artists to submit work to start the trading basically. And I converted the inside
of the shipping container into this kind of structure, recycled pallets, old barn board. I used a graffiti artist. A graffiti artist did the ceiling. But the idea is that you kind of browse, and you get inspired, and
if you want something, you’ve got to trade. You’ve got to make
something of equal value. And so the piece went on a
little tour out in the Southwest. It was in the Santa Fe
Biennial, and then it went on a university campus for a semester. So the students got really engaged in it. They were allowed to participate with it and make objects, trade
objects, curate things with it. There’s a stained-glass window in it. Here’s Lydia. She was my kind of curator at New Mexico State for a semester. And so there had to be a real, you know, she had to learn how to say
no, to keep the criteria high, to keep the caliber of
objects at a nice level. Here it is, next to the art department. And that initial photograph
that I showed you is, Mark would’ve seen this. This is where he had the party, Mark. So I was pushing to get this finished. When I turned 50, that’s where the bands
played, on that stage. So the container came
back from New Mexico, and now it’s open for trades. Like, once a month,
it’s opened for trades. It’s kind of a cool project. It’s called Your General Store. There’s a website, yourgeneralstore.org, where all the objects are inventoried. This artist made concrete silverware. I thought those were pretty cool. People really got into it. There was a real challenge to make things that had a high kind of criteria. Some of it was junk, but
the longer it’s opened, the more people, it’s a real process. You go there. You have this experience. You find something you like,
and then you go back home, and you make something to trade. So it started as a general store, and now it’s kind of a
revolving barter art project. Here’s more recent wall pieces that just went out for a show. Here’s a new plank. This was the first piece I
made after Trump was elected. It’s called We’re All in
a Big Hole Now (laughs). And then this is the last thing. This is what I’m currently
working on right now. This is a commission for a development in Northern California. In the foreground here will be fountains that project this water, and in the back, this is kind of a mirrored
mosaic composition. There’s the detail. So here’s the piece back here. The columns have now been removed. So this is all retail. This is commercial. People will come back
here, have lunch, hang out. There’ll be a water
fountain right in front that matches that arc, and it’s
all being shipped in pieces. There it is, laid out. So here are the arcs. This is regular mirror. This is smoke mirror,
black mirror and ceramic. And this was also an
engineering challenge, because each piece has to
be like a puzzle piece. And certain pieces were left off, because we have to
attach it to a big wall. So in May, I’m going to
do that, and that’s it. (audience applauds) – [Student] Can you expand a
little bit on the relationship of the use of natural
materials and the kind of, the fracturing of that
with these geometric shapes and where the need to work with
these materials comes from? – Well, there’s two types. There’s the outdoor
materials, and I’ve learned there’s some real problems with nature. It really destroys everything, everything. And I don’t like a lot of
the traditional materials that you have to make work out of, that goes outdoors, like
bronze and steel and aluminum. And so I really love kind
of painting with sculpture. I saw the mosaic has been a real, the history of mosaic is so
interesting, ’cause it’s so old. And so that’s been one material that I’ve really fell in love with, because it, like I told you
before, it’s like a skin. It creates a skin over an object. But bronze is also great material. Some of the tension that, I
guess, I’m interested in is that the geometric world doesn’t coincide with the organic world all the time. It collides, and I kind of like that. But with contemporary materials, there’s so many different materials that I’m still learning about. I’m still working with. Fiberglass has been a really good one, because it’s impervious to nature, but it’s toxic to work with. So with every one of them,
you’re either talking about money or your health, you know. There’s not a lot of
materials that you can afford that are healthy to work
with, that are gonna last. Like bronze, it’s not
healthy to pour bronze, but sometimes you have to do it. And so that’s a concern, you know, is what material is right for the, stone, for me, is the
one I’ve used the most, because I love the organic
nature of it, its origins. It’s easy to cut, adhere, shape, carve. Stone’s a really good one. – [Student] Where do you feel like that need comes from, though? Is it, like, your upbringing
of being, you were raised in California.
– Yeah. – [Student] Was it Southern California or Northern California? – Yeah, I was raised
in Northern California. I just think it’s a materiality, you know. I’m just kind of stuck between a painter and a sculptor, all the time. And the physicality of
sculpture needs, for me, needs a material that kind
of comes from the Earth because of the subject matter. This piece, for example, is pretty glitzy, as far as things I’ve made. It’s a little bit more of a decorative solution to that space. I’m doing another one that goes back to the plants in the subway. I’m going back to kind of
like these nature motifs. But I guess, it’s the physicality
of living on the land, owning the land Upstate, having a garden, digging in the land, you
know, the physicality of stone and how it relates to
me, physically, you know. – [Student] So you say
for some of the work, you had to build a studio to make it, to fit the attributes of the work. – Well, I designed it to fit them. – [Man] Designed it, okay. Do they sometimes outlive,
like, do you have to move on from that, and do you
still maintain those, or do they, like, what happens if– – You mean the planks? – [Student] Yeah, ’cause
you go back and forth, so if you have a studio
space for one particular body of work, but then you’re not making that work–
– Well, for this example, for this piece, I had to
rent a more industrial space. I’ve kind of got three studios, because I’ve basically
three bodies of work. And the dust is such an issue. The painting is so precise and clean that that has to be kind of in my home studio. The stonework is so dirty and dusty that it’s in an industrial in Hudson. And so I just divide the spaces. And yeah, I mean, it’s a constant problem as to what’s gonna be made
where, what’s gonna be stored. I was talking to Mark about that. I’ve got three storage units full of art. – [Student] But you haven’t
had to, like, close a space? You’re still able to maintain the ones that you already have? – Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s not Brooklyn,
so yeah (laughs). – [Mark] Will you talk a
little bit about money? (audience laughs) – Yeah. – [Mark] I mean, you and I were saying how things have changed. You can’t count on galleries to do all the business work for you. You work with a lot of galleries, but I think you also, well,
will you just talk about how, I mean, because you’re
crankin’, making a ton of work, selling a ton of work. – Yeah. – [Mark] And what, you know, we have a big professional
practices curriculum, but I think you have
a perspective to offer that our students maybe not
have heard a lot yet of that. – Yeah, I kind of grew up, my dad was a tenure-track teacher. I got this message that
I needed to get an MFA to get a teaching job. I definitely got that message,
and so I did the CAAs. I got my MFA, and I kind
of went down that path. But I think I always made paintings. I always made objects. And I always, you guys
should read Working Space. I know it’s dated, that Frank Stella book, but I think it started with me, I started selling paintings
early on, like works on paper. And I started realizing oh
shit, people buy paintings. They really buy paintings. It’s the one thing, historically, people will buy, is paintings,
like they buy shoes. And so I think because I am so prolific, I build these relationships with dealers. I really do love the
artist-dealer relationship, certain aspects of it. I love having someone that
truly understands your work, that is in it for the economic gain. It is an economy, a
commerce, that exists there. But those galleries and
those relationships fail, and people can be dishonest, and galleries go out of business. So that model sometimes
doesn’t always hold true for a long career. I think to sustain it, you
have to fight for everything. The way I do it is I have
the site-specific projects. I have things that I apply
for, like public commissions. And then I have gallery sales. And then I sell stuff out of the studio. You know, you never stop emailing people. You never stop sending JPEGs to people. You just have to be kind of
a self-promoter all the time. And some artists don’t like to do that. Some artists think it’s bullshit. They don’t want to be bothered with it. They want to make the work
and present it to the world. I don’t think sometimes deep
down I’m talented enough to just be the crazy guy on the hill that they come and take his art from him. (audience laughs) And I feel like you all need to be self-promoting
yourself from day one. You need to believe in yourself and say, “I’m a damned good artist, “and you need to have this.” It’s kind of a self-confidence thing. It’s like, “There’s only
one of these in the world. “You have to have it.” And it sounds like a car salesman. But I approach it in this
way, that I believe in my art. I believe that art will save the world, that art is important. And I believe that people
should have to pay for it. And it sounds a little capitalistic and maybe a little narcissistic. But I’ve always had that approach, that if I spend a lot of pride, and I spend a lot of time
making things that are beautiful or making things that
say something to people, that they will buy them. I kind of learned it
in the Whitney Program. I remember Ron Clark told me the art world is just another economy. So much of the Whitney
program was about activism. And you get to the point where you’re reading
so much Marxist theory, that you start to question production. Like, why am I making
anything to feed this economy? What’s the point of this? But then about two years
after the Whitney Program, after the paralysis wears off, and Mungo and Carrie can attest to this, you enter that economy. And all of you are gonna enter an economy, the art world economy, whether it’s a performative
art world economy, or a film art world economy. And so you figure out how
you’re gonna insert yourself into that economy. Am I gonna make painting that
sell for a million dollars? Maybe, am I gonna give drawings away or trade them for housecleaning? There’s a little economies
that we’re all involved in. And I guess, I’ve embraced
that part of the art world. I like those economies. I like that I’m gonna sell a painting, and sometimes I’m gonna trade a painting. Or I’m gonna do this,
and you do that for me. And I’m gonna have that
barter general store. And we’re gonna have commerce there. We’re gonna have an exchange. I remember John Filipchuk. When Mungo went to school with Filipchuk, he made sculptures that
were a dollar apiece, and he sold them out of the
studio in graduate school. And he made hundreds a day,
and they were a dollar. And I always thought
that was kind of cool. Now they’re worth a lot more,
but his philosophy was always like more, more, more,
trade, trade, trade, $1, $1. And he always had beer
money (laughs), you know. So I guess, to answer your question, Mark, you guys should be aware of
the economy that you’re in, that you don’t know you’re
in, that you’re gonna enter, and that your work has value. It has economic value. It has artistic value. And it has worth. And I believe people should
pay a lot of money for art. I do, I think it’s so valuable. Unfortunately, there’s a
lot of bad stuff to that, but I’ve always had this approach that slow and expensive
is kind of my motto. If the work is good,
and you put your heart and integrity into it, you should be able to charge a lot of money for it, so. But you guys could
criticize that, for sure. You know, there’s not an artist I know that hasn’t been burned
by a gallery financially. So you have to fight for yourself. I’ve had many galleries close
when they owe you money. That’s just the reality of it. And that you have to protect
yourself for, in the future. Yeah? – [Student] I want to ask, how do you deal when your budget doesn’t allow
you to make perfect work? – It’s a good question. You just try to find the right materials, and you try to find the
right solutions, you know, to do what you want to do. A good example is maybe Turrell and that crater he’s been
working on his entire life. And that’s probably about
the most ambitious thing you could possibly ever conceive of. But he’s been in a position
that he sells work, or he does an installation to pay for it. Some people consider him a genius. Other people consider him mad, you know, but he never gave up, and the
amount of integrity he has to see that project through. I had a teacher once tell me
no matter what your ideas, no matter how much it
costs, find the money, spend the money, do it,
to complete your idea, that sacrifice whatever it
takes to complete your idea. Now if you can’t pay rent, and you want to make a gold painting, you know, you might want to
think about, reconfigure that, and make it out of aluminum
and patina it gold. There’s ways to cheat, but you kind of want to stick to your guns and say, “This is what I want to make.” And sometimes, you get lucky
and you make some money, and sometimes you don’t, and
it costs too much to make. Everything costs a lot
more now, obviously, to make than it used to. – [Student] You work in a variety of ways. Is there one that is more
personally satisfying, or do they satisfy different things? – I like these big projects, because you become like
a producer, you know. And I get really jacked
up like it’s a concert, like you’re doing this thing together. I like this kind of
collaborative thing that happens. I’m not as a loner in my
studio as I used to be. Sometimes painting is really
solitary, and it can be dark. And you’re in there grinding it out. So I need these things that are
a little more light-hearted, that I can go with a
crew, and we can have fun. And I like the kind of
cinematic part of it. But I also want, like, a
residency within my own studio. I really want to draw again. I need to take like six
months off and draw, ’cause I miss it so much. But I’m so ADD, that these things satisfy that kind of attention deficit disorder, ’cause you’ve got a common goal, you know. – [Mark] Thanks. – Thank you. (audience applauds)

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