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Remarks on the Creative Process

I have always loved tools; loved working with my hands.  I hope, I believe, that I live a full, well-rounded life, but it is first and foremost the studio which lays claim to my time, my energy, and my expectations.  Here, at this moment in my life, I know I am well and truly blessed. When I am not making art, I am teaching others how (and why) to make art. I spend long days in the studio and the days fly by.

The nature of my work demands a diligent attention to intricacies of process and a keen understanding of material properties.  I work in relative isolation, and with maximal independence.  I have embraced working methods which are elaborate, unforgiving, and intricately interdependent.  It is not uncommon for me to invest well over four hundred hours on a single piece.  Some works can easily span two calendar years.  Because of the labor-intensive nature of my work, if I am able to make two larger sculptural works, two or three smaller objects, and as many pieces of jewelry in a single year, I regard it as extraordinary.  I have, in the course of my professional life, had several such extraordinary years.

I have learned, over the years, the virtue of defining priorities.  To be an effective artist I must be in the studio, mentally as well as physically, to the exclusion of all else.  Multi-tasking is not an option.   When I am focused fully upon teaching, as has been the case in recent years (methodically revamping everything from my assignments, to my assessment methods, to my mentoring, to the studio in which I teach), other priorities have had to rest.  Now, with my focus again fixed upon my creative work, I am in the studio, nose optimistically to the grindstone, forecasting an extraordinary year.  I do not regret my choices, which inevitably create asymmetries in my career and fluctuations in my professional record.  I am content and looking ahead.


Professional Practice in Metalsmithing

“Metalsmithing”, strictly speaking, is a relative newcomer in the galaxy of art-worlds. Very much a hybrid discipline, it draws freely upon the histories and methodologies of traditional silversmithing, modernist sculpture (in particular, Constructivism), and the ever-evolving discipline of Industrial Design.  Not surprisingly, professional practice in metalsmithing is highly diverse and pliant.  While gallery exhibitions serve as an important demonstration of professional efficacy, they are by no means the only (nor most highly regarded) metric of professional accomplishment.  For most metalsmiths, commissions provide creative challenges and opportunities not afforded by the traditional exhibition model, which too often demands conformity to tidy themes such as small-sculpture, wearable art, contemporary handicraft, etc.  Such pigeon-holing is not unique to metalsmithing, but does result in very limited opportunities for those who work outside of convenient categories.  By contrast, most commissions are genuine invitations to create genuinely new work.  My patrons have typically been admirers of my work well in advance of our first conversation. Should they proffer a set of parameters, it is always with the understanding that the work will come, in its entirety, from my own sensibility and my own workmanship.  Indeed, in my experience, the pressure for conformity and compromise is far greater in relationships with gallery owners than with commissioning patrons. 

    A case in point: in May 1994 I received a telephone call from Seymour Rabinovitch, an

    internationally respected authority and collector of historical and contemporary silver.  He had

    been aware of my work for some time, and now wished to probe the possibility of acquiring

    one of my works for his collection.  In the course of our conversations it was agreed that I

    would conceive, develop, and execute a new work, without preconditions, to join his venerable

    collection of silver table servers.  Financial remuneration was generous, but was not the

    principal reason I accepted this opportunity.  Instead, I was inspired by the challenge of the

    undertaking, the impetus to explore a new formal vocabulary, a new genre, and the promise of

    having my work held in trust, within such a notable collection as that assembled by Seymour. 

Each commission I have accepted (and I am rather selective in this regard) has presented new and provocative challenges; some intricately technical (i.e. Frank Lloyd Wright hinge reconstructions, 2009), others more broadly cast (i.e. Kemball-Cook award sculptures). 

Gallery exhibitions are, for metalsmiths and others in hybrid fields, a salient point of intersection with more mainstream, fine art disciplines.  Yet, as many exhibition prospectuses are organized along highly specific thematic parameters, metalsmiths will routinely create new works specifically for a pending exhibition.  Functionally, these are ersatz commissions, and not exhibitions in the purer sense.  It is interesting (but not particularly alarming) that after so many decades of cross-disciplinary interchange, exhibition prospectuses remain largely discipline-specific.  However sculptural, a piece of jewelry is simply not “Sculpture”, proper, and is unlikely to be acknowledged outside of its own very limited exhibition arenas. 

College and University galleries provide, I believe, the best opportunity for metalsmiths to exhibit their work outside of thematic constraints and disciplinary distinctions.  Because these galleries have an explicit teaching mission, they are willing and able to accommodate work which is not conveniently categorical or potentially marketable.  For this reason, I have always favored invitations to show at such galleries, even when it requires greater effort (and financial cost) on my part.  The nature of my work virtually demands that I deliver, install, and disassemble the exhibition myself.  For this reason, I am always more enthusiastic about accepting invitations to exhibit within my home region than at distant locations.

In my personal experience, commercial galleries, those that represent a stable of artists and exact an ample commission for works sold, are business ventures, plain and simple.  This is, I understand, not always the case in other disciplines, but in metalsmithing it is true, without exception.  My relationships with such galleries have always been short-lived and generally unpleasant. Maintaining a viable inventory of popular styles may be a wise business strategy, but it is anathema to my artistic values. 

Solo exhibitions are high points in every artist’s exhibition record.  I value these experiences above all others, yet they can be taxing endeavors.  The nature of my work is such that I may labor for four years or more to produce enough work to reasonably fill even a small gallery.  The time demands and the relatively intimate scale of my work, makes any solo exhibition something of a retrospective.  With my genetic imperative for DIY (I always choose to crate, deliver, and hang these exhibitions myself) I must make serious choices about where and how often I am able to undertake such an enterprise. Ultimately, I choose to exhibit my work when it is important to my growth as an artist.  When the business of working in the studio is what matters most, that is where you will find me.