Tag Archives: Wood Sculpture

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jim Garmhausen: Processing The Artist’s Process

A few years ago I made a rather large shift in my artmaking process. I’ve been a working artist for the last 20 years, starting with cartooning, for weekly papers; then painting and drawing, on flat surfaces like canvas, wood, metal, and glass. Ultimately I’d work on walls, in the form of murals. As I progressed in my studio work, I began incorporating collage, using ephemera, vintage book pages, old wall paper and the like; and occasionally attached found objects, like a bottlecap, a flattened piece of metal, or a run of rusty nail heads, to whatever surface I was working on.

baby-bearman

A page from my weekly comic strip, “Dreamland,” from the early 2000s.

Looking back, I realize I was pushing the 2D form to its limit. At the time, I felt increasingly frustrated, even fed up, with my work. As a self-taught artist, I was keenly aware of my limitations, and although I pushed myself hard to improve, there was something about my work that had me feeling like I was falling short of my intentions.

My studio, until this past year, was located about ten miles outside of Ithaca, NY, where I live. A woodworker had bought a former chicken farm with a large barn for processing chickens, and a number of outbuildings. He renovated the barn, creating workspaces for artists, and set up his own woodshop at the ground floor level.

The amount of studio space I found myself with (about 1000 square feet) allowed me to work at a large scale, on rolls of paper and canvas dropcloths meant for housepainters. As a former cartoonist, used to confining my work to small boxes, this was liberating. The barn itself was full of treasures that deepened my interest in both vintage items and the esthetics of aged materials. It also put me in proximity to a host of woodcutting tools that fascinated and intimidated me, and so I avoided them for my first few years at the studio, until my interest overcame my fear.

I grew up around tools, in a sort of DIY, middle-income household. That was a time (not so long ago), when things were only thrown away when they could no longer be fixed. I wore hand-me-down clothes that my mother sewed patches on, and played with hand-me-down toys that my brothers had broken and repaired. This mentality extended to the house itself. My father was a capable, if unimaginative, carpenter. He had a Sears table-mounted saw he’d use for projects around the house. I remember the loud whir of the motor, and the high pitched whine of the blade, as he guided a piece of wood along the cut line, his fingers inches from the blur of sharktooth metal serrations. I’d wait, captivated and afraid, for the engine to cut down, and the blade to slow and finally stop, after each cut, and exhale only when his fingers were fully away from the saw.

Despite my interest in his skillset, my father chose not to pass it on to me. He made halfhearted attempts to include me (I could press the “on” button for the table saw) but never really followed through, with either instruction or encouragement. In retrospect it would have been a wonderful way to bond with a man I ended up hardly knowing. It could be that his intention, in not taking me under his wing, was to preserve that distance.

Anything my father did with me, when I was a kid, was halfhearted. We both loved baseball, for example, but he rarely got his own glove out. I don’t remember him showing up for my baseball games, or taking me to Cooperstown, which I would have loved to visit. I don’t think he disliked me. I think it’s possible he was afraid of me. I was a sensitive kid, aware and creative and emotional and easily hurt. Probably something like he was, when he was a kid. His father, an imperious, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, self-made success, didn’t know what to do with him, and (according to my father) mercilessly drove him to be something he wasn’t. I think when my father was faced with the same dynamic, he shrunk from it. How could he teach me anything, without pushing me to be more of a “man” about it? That was something he didn’t want to face, in himself, or in me.

Whatever his intentions, I internalized his lack of interest in teaching me as an indication of my built-in unworthiness of that information. I was the sensitive kid in a closed-mouth family, who merited both special handling and extra concern. In short, my sensitivity, my lack of being a “typical” boy energetically, left me feeling damaged and inferior, and afraid to show my lack of “male” knowledge.

So, as an adult, when faced with questions about car repair, or carpentry, or some other technical issue, I found I could not admit that I had no idea. Rather, I’d scramble to find a way to cover up my lack of knowledge. I had a hidden, unexamined terror of being “found out:” I can’t fix cars, or roofs, or boilers, or lawnmower engines. Sadly, I realized I would never be that guy fixing the classic car on the driveway Saturday morning, with the wife inside making waffles for the kids. In fact, I turned out to be the guy inside making the waffles, while my (now ex) wife fixed whatever car we had.

Hitting a wall as a 2D artist coincided with working in a space loaded with both vintage materials (old windows and hardware and indecipherable machine parts and more) and tools intended for the express purpose of reshaping wood. It took a while, but I eventually worked up my courage to ask for access to the woodshop, and instruction in how to not lose any fingers. Though it was sometimes difficult for me, I learned to say “I have no idea,” and ask for help. The results were immediate and empowering.

For my first project in the woodshop, I gathered foot high sections of raw cut trunk wood. Using a reciprocating saw, I cut off edges and rounded the “top” as well as I could, until I had a sort of fat domed plug, sitting on a flat base. Which I further rounded and smoothed with an orbital sander. Once I had a relatively consistent surface, I used an electric woodcarving chisel to bring out details: eyes and mouth and teeth, cheekbones, and the parentheses of cheek muscles around the mouth. Nose and ears I left for the moment. Finding these forms in the wood, bringing them out, working and sanding them, was an epiphany. I found myself lost in the small repetitions of bringing out details.  I let the overall face and form appear organically, choosing to sketch out only the simplest indications before carving: where the eyes would be, what space they’d need, and the same with the mouth; where would the nose fit; and the placement of cheekbones, brows and forehead.

GIAF_Rolling-Smoker

“Rolling Smoker”

My carving method, right from the outset, was intuitive, similar to I how work in my sketchbooks. I start with eyes, usually, and fill in around them, letting the face take shape according to whatever my emotional/intuitive response indicates. Using this technique with wood was exhilarating. Finding a simple competency with tools furthered that feeling, and began to heal old wounds, even as, Gepetto-like, I brought new forms into being.

GIAF_Jack-The-Extractor

“Jack The Extractor”

Working intuitively, rather than from a blueprint, also meant problem solving: I don’t have the wood mass to carve a nose out of the initial block, so what do I do? Searching around for items that might serve: an old doorknob, a heavy bolt, smaller pieces of wood. In the process of looking, I might find other interesting objects that don’t quite fit the purpose, but call to be used anyway. A heavy rusted hook or eyebolt would present itself, ask to be included, and I’d search for ways to do so. Which opened my process up to greater incorporation of found objects. My age-old fascination with wheels led me to fix them to the base of the heads, creating ungainly rolling toy-like things. Later I’d create pull toys, a more stable kind of vehicle, tested by my son at multiple speeds.

GIAFpulltoys

Two of the first pull toys I created.

Simple train cars of old barn wood and caster wheels served as display surfaces for smaller works, including porcelain head, soft-bodied dolls I created with the help of my mother in law’s sartorial skills, a first for me, in that I handed over the creation of a specific part of my pieces to someone else. My work was becoming more collaborative, more open. I wasn’t closed off in my studio all the time. People walking through the woodshop could see my process, give feedback, ask questions, or be asked questions, about tools, or potential solutions.

In short, I was alive with the process of coming up with ideas and bringing them into being. This new direction in my art brought in another great passion: collecting. I’ve always loved rummaging through antique, second-hand, and salvage stores. Now I had a reason (excuse) to do so: finding materials for art-making. Sometimes I’d look for a specific something to fill a need, like more caster wheels, or a small box to be used as a drawer in a cabinet. Or I’d find something that I simply loved the look of, that would be placed in my studio to provide inspiration.

Jim Garmhausen

Livery Cabinet, found object sculpture

The cabinets in this show, which I’ve written about on my website, came out of my fascination with old medicine cabinets, and my habit of collecting ornate, crumbling gilt frames. They also served as display cases for the many small kitsch items I collect. Art was no longer about making something to fit in a frame. It had jumped beyond that form, out of a specific discipline, and into something more like the messy coherence of life. I was, and am, thrilled.

The results, when introduced to the world, were immediate. My first 3D pieces were accepted into the Governor’s Island Art Fair, in NYC, and one was selected by uber-artist Greg “Craola” Simpkins to be shown in the Surreal Salon 9 exhibition at Baton Rouge Gallery. There was also a clear uptick in interest on social media. It was gratifying that this new path didn’t just feel good personally, but led to work that was well-received.

So what is my process? It’s hard to explain, as it varies from piece to piece. Usually it starts with free-sketching, in my sketchbooks. I draw whatever is asking to be drawn, that moment. I take different turns, when I’m stuck. Removing a body that does nothing for the head that sits on it, and replacing it with wheels, turning it into a bizarre vehicle or robotic/cyborgian rolling thing. My guiding principle is how it makes me feel. If it doesn’t make me smile, I’m not going to translate it in wood. I don’t worry too much about how it will be received. My in-process work often has the feel of an inside joke. I’m laughing, but I have no idea if anyone else will, ultimately. I find that keeping potential responses to my work out of my head and workspace is vital to creating something, well, vital.

Part of being an artist is facing the question: what does your work mean? The answers to that question, in conversations and interviews, in artist statements, and within myself, have changed as I’ve gotten older (in both time and life experience). I’m beginning to understand that my work (like any art) is self-exploration, and for me that means going back into my childhood, and family history, using forms and objects as archaelogical indicators. I’m piecing together the mystery of who I am. This is a lifelong process, which, of course, promises a lifetime of art-making. Passions always have roots. My passions for art, for history and collecting, for old toys, for vintage materials, for the visible effects of aging on items, all are based in deep, often unexplored parts of myself.

pulltoytrain

A five car pull toy train.

It might be cliche-ish to say it, but my art really is about me, and my life. I sometimes feel like more of a medium than a creator, and the spirit I’m communicating with is my own. It’s a powerful process, and thankfully, a very enjoyable one. Life has intervened on my art career, recently. I’ve undergone a lot of changes. My father died, two years ago, and my mother has pancreatic cancer. I broke my wrist, limiting my ability to work. My 16 year old daughter moved out, after a blowup. I lost my studio. And, worst and hardest of all, my marriage ended suddenly, due to (this will take more explanation that I can offer here, but you’re welcome to visit my blog for the more complete story) my coming out as gay, which has of course led to seismic changes to my entire universe.

There has been little time, space or energy for art, but it is calling me again, more and more insistently. I’m interested to see what comes out, when I get back to work. Changes come in the slightest shades or the greatest shifts, and it is my job as an artist to guide rather than steer that process, and not to overly influence it with what I think I should be doing. Having the chance to examine the last few years of production is a bit like examining the rings on a tree stump, or the different shades of layers of rock on an eroding cliff face. It is a record of me, set down in ways that words cannot. And I’m looking forward to the next chapter.


Jim Garmhausen is one of seven artists featured in the exhibition Perception of Time at Main Street Arts. The exhibition can be previewed on the gallery’s Artsy page. Perception of Time runs through February 15, 2019.

 

From The Director: Heightened Awareness

roberto bertoia, gregory page, main street arts

Heightened Awareness (Installation shot)

The themes that are explored in this exhibition are a nod to the fact that we (human beings) don’t fully experience life. Seldom do we allow ourselves to fully experience all of the subtle nuances that exist in our world. Many of us are glued to glowing screens, experiencing things removed from real time and processed through a social media feed. This mediated existence leaves us missing out on things in the moment and maybe some of us don’t care about that. Perhaps we relish in the fact that technology and human life are becoming one and the very idea of “being in the moment” is changing, however, it is a certainty that there are other things happening that are worthy of our attention.

Left: LPV No. 3 (Detail) by Roberto Bertoia; Right: Motifs From ISU Greenhouse (Detail) by Gregory Page

Left: LPV No. 3 (Detail) by Roberto Bertoia; Right: Motifs From ISU Greenhouse (Detail) by Gregory Page

Heightened Awareness presents the work of Roberto Bertoia and Gregory Page, two artists who are interested in these ideas and their work comes from a place of slowing down and noticing the quiet moments in life. Both artists have a desire to be aware of the minute details of their surroundings. This exhibition is a contemplation on being present in the moment and truly experiencing things.

Gregory Page, Lithography

The translucent film for the print “Euonymus Alatus Burning Bush , State 1″ by Gregory Page

Gregory Page has 11 large-scale lithographs featured in the exhibition and each of them utilize his own unique process of drying plants, rehydrating them in a lithographic drawing solution, and arranging them on a translucent film which is then used to make the final printing plate. The plants he uses in his work come from as close as his own backyard and as far away as Edinburgh, Scotland. For Greg, it is about experiencing nature and plant life first-hand.

“I love getting up in the morning, getting in the garden and getting my hands in the dirt. Moving some compost around, planting something and watching it grow. The garden has been a real inspiration for me for a long time.” —Gregory Page

Gregory page, Lithograph, Main Street Arts

“Motifs from ISU Greenhouse, Selection II” (detail) by Gregory Page

It is also about cataloging and making a record of things that exist in our world. With nature in a state of flux, it becomes important to create a record of things as they existed in a certain moment in time.

The sculpture of Roberto Bertoia is made with second-hand, salvaged pieces of wood. He turns them into something new, something other than what was originally intended. He uses his material in an intuitive way, building without a solidified plan, similar to a painter responding to each brushstroke. Through this organic and fluid process his finished pieces are an homage to architecture and design and create interesting relationships between the interior and exterior.

Roberto Bertoia, Sculpture

“Untitled 1″ (detail) by Roberto Bertoia

He enjoys the paradox of seeing and not seeing and contemplating what is hidden and what is revealed. Roberto’s sculpture can be a metaphor for the ways we hide and reveal specific things about ourselves. The subtle moments that slowly shape our perspective on how we interact with people and the world we create for ourselves is something that he finds inspiring.

Roberto Bertoia, Sculpture

“Where Am I To Live” by Roberto Bertoia

“I try to be open and receptive to what’s going on around me. What may seem everyday or mundane may seem more important when I end up in the studio.” —Roberto Bertoia

The notion of slowing down and paying attention is not a new idea but it is one that we are constantly reminded of. Specifically, I think this is the way that we should experience art. Instead of breezing through an exhibition or merely scrolling through an artist’s Instagram feed, let’s spend some time thinking in front of the actual artwork. We may be surprised by where this small, yet meaningful  experience will take us.


The exhibition Heightened Awareness will run through Friday,  August 17, 2018 and you can view available work on the gallery’s Artsy page.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with June Szabo

Most of my work begins with the natural world, often in a particular landscape. Sometimes a place finds me and sometimes I look for a location that illustrates the idea I am working on. I spend many hours exploring and researching the history and geology that formed the place I have chosen. I find myself making comparisons and creating metaphors between the events that shaped the land and the actions that shape our lives.

Artist June Szabo

Artist June Szabo

Picture2

Inspiration

To understand what each place has to teach me, I write about the connections I make in poetry and prose. The following contemplation on the purpose of scars was a comparison between glacial formations (scars on the land) and the scars that we carry.

Relics of Our Story – Mendon
June B W Szabo

Considering the damage we do to ourselves and others;
I looked to the landscape to ponder the purpose of scars.
Above and below the surface is a record of events that have left a lasting impression:
Kettles, kames and eskers, are divots, knobs and welts,
caverns, caves and sinkholes are mania and despair.
Forgotten and remembered these marks and inklings are the relics of our story,
scars and impressions resolved and unresolved.
When we stop scratching, scraping and digging like a glacier,
our wounds begin to heal.

"Relics of our Story – Mendon"

“Relics of our Story – Mendon”

The process I use to create my sculpture is also a metaphor for a connection between nature and human behavior. The layers of wood, which give my forms depth and dimension, reflect growth in nature and the layering of the earth. Wood sculptures are formed by cutting and stacking lumber, which is joined with glue, clamps and wooden dowels. Each layer in a landscape sculpture represents an elevation on a topographical map.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

In addition to wood sculptures, such as the one seen in Land & Sea, I also weave. Weaving creates thousands of connections and intersections. I warp my loom with copper wire and weave panels that are folded, pleated and bent into three dimensional forms. These bonds are sometimes unseen, but necessary for the final woven product to exist. They are a metaphor for the connections that hold our earth together.

Weaving

Weaving

Weaving

Weaving

For me each process has come to represent and illustrate the interrelated, interdependence of all things.

Comparison is the estimation of similarities and differences. Metaphor suggests a likeness as we speak about one thing as if it were another. My sculptures are reflections on questions that occur to me as I consider our place in the world. They take the shape of landscapes and natural forms. They may include an area that covers inches or hundreds of miles. The sculptures are not exact replicas of a particular place or thing, but partial abstractions representing ideas that surface as I consider each place and how it was created. They are comparisons between the forces and forms found in nature to human inclination and behavior.


June Szabo is one of 28 artists featured in “Land & Sea”, a national juried exhibition of landscapes and seascapes juried by Deirdre Aureden, director of programs and special projects at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, NY. The exhibition runs through June 29, 2018.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Chris Oliver

I grew up in southern New Hampshire, which is an amazing mix of idyllic small towns, strip malls, and beautiful pine forests infiltrated by power lines and dirt bike trails.  I have to stop writing about New Hampshire or I’ll never get to anything else.

After high school I moved a couple of hours west and attended Marlboro College in Vermont, which is a tiny school (250 students) on a hill, basically in the middle of the woods.  I graduated from there with a BA in Sculpture.  The bulk of that work was in clay, which I loved at the time for its immediacy.  By this I mean you start with something that is almost formless, or I guess just very malleable, you learn about its material qualities and from there can push it in so many directions with almost nothing beyond your hands.  In hindsight, the work I made looked very old fashioned.  At the time I loved looking at people like Noguchi or Barbara Hepworth.

Chris Oliver with his piece "Double Beaumont" in our Structurally Speaking exhibition. Best in Show!

Chris Oliver with his piece “Double Beaumont” in our Structurally Speaking exhibition. Best in Show!

After finishing that degree I stuck around Marlboro for a few years working for various local potters and doing some carpentry.  During that time I lived in a cabin in the woods, which was incredible.  You had such a direct experience with everything, and it was always changing how you did things based on the specific time of year.  That cabin was also my first remodeling project, which has become pretty central to my life and art since.

I rented space in an unused dairy barn for $15 a month and built a tiny studio out of metal roofing I had found at the dump.  My friends called it a “meat locker” because it was a freezing cold, tiny galvanized enclosure that I’d work in through the winter, usually at night.  We didn’t have a metal shop at Marlboro and this was something that I had always been interested in, so that’s what this space was dedicated to.  I had a small welder and a few basic tools and made a bunch of work that again looked antiquated. By this time I had moved up a decade or two and was looking a lot at Chillida, who often used steel like clay in some really beautiful ways, as well as looking at Anthony Caro.

I used these pieces to apply to graduate school.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get in based on the work I submitted (although I probably would have if it had been the 1960’s because I had a good design sense, crafted things well, and was pretty inventive), but probably based on the few photos of the “meat locker” I’d left the chair of the Sculpture department (Ed Mayer) at SUNY Albany.  My guess is that he saw those and thought “this guy seems really determined and he’ll probably do something good here if we can get him to not be so stubborn.”

I spent three years at SUNY Albany in the MFA program, which was amazing.  Now I was looking at was from the 60s and 70’s (of course!).  Michael Heizer drawing in the desert with his dirt bike, Smithson and all of this entropic Earth Art, and also got really into Gordon Matta-Clark and how he would use houses as a material.

While I was in Albany my thinking about art began to shift from it being something fairly separate from “regular life” to being just another part of it.  As this pertained to sculpture this meant a shift from making autonomous objects to things that directly interacted with the world.  Of course, artists had been doing this for sixty or eighty years, but I really had to work through some pretty strict formalism and still think that it’s so important.

I began working with things that were right around me that I had always been interested in but hadn’t used as art material before.  I made this very small building that filled itself with water when it rained because of the shape of its roof.  It’s size was similar to a springhouse I had collected water from daily when I’d lived in that cabin in Vermont, but its function was purely to create a space for aesthetic experience: it had a hole that you could stick your head in and another that you could stick your hand in to touch the water.

3'x3'x4', wood, cement, steel

The Salt House, wood, cement, steel, 3′x3′x4′, 2005

Inside the Salt House

 

Another was this funny red and white viewing apparatus on skis that you could drag around to isolate parts of the ground and look at.  It looked like a Radio Flyer straight from the 1950’s, and was meant to be used by some family interested in aesthetic experience, but saying that this experience is no different than some other activity like sledding or riding around in a wagon.

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Nine years ago I moved to Ithaca where I’ve worked as a carpenter off and on, but primarily help run a large wood/metal/digital shop here at Cornell where art and architecture students build just about anything you could possibly think of, and many things you or I would never think of based on the sheer quantity of incredibly creative people that come through the program.  During this time I have adopted “the digital” in the form of 3-d modeling in the computer, 3-d printing, CNC milling and laser cutting.  Sometimes I use this technology for purely practical purposes. This summer I’ll be milling foam molds for a series of large model swimming pools that I’ll be making with fiberglass and also plaster molds for a 48 pack of full-scale elongated ashtrays that I’ll be slip casting in ceramic.

Other times this technology is conceptually part of the piece.  Last year I printed a stack of picnic tables as the state parks stack them for winter.  I loved the idea of taking this most basic American form, the picnic table, and putting it through this cutting edge process.

The Picnic Tables

 

photo 1Double Beaumont (the piece in Structurally Speaking at Main Street Arts) was conceived in this fashion. I found the first ranch floor plan that came up in a Google search, used this to generate a Rhino model (3-d digital drawing) and starting messing with it in the computer.  I then used this drawing to go full circle and build the piece with pine and nails.

Double Beaumont, V-Ray rendered Rhino model, dimensions variable, 2013

Double Beaumont, V-Ray rendered Rhino model, dimensions variable, 2013

H2

Double Beaumont, Pine, Nails, 5'x'5x8', 2015

Double Beaumont, Pine, Nails, 5′x’5×8′, 2015 

You can stop by the gallery to see Chris Oliver’s sculpture, “Double Beaumont” in our current exhibition Structurally Speaking. Chris’ piece won Best in Show!

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by Rochester painter and sculptor Zach Dietl.