Tuesday, September 2, 2008

parallel paths crossing/MY HERO?

Sometimes, people ask me what artists I like. Until a certain point in my life, I had to think about it for a long time. I'm a fan of my own work, but few other artists come to mind. When I go to galleries, often I like some things I see, but little stands out in my memory. We have lots of good artists, but far fewer great. Three years ago, that all changed for me when I rode a free bus to the Aldrich Museum in upstate New York. A friend was having a retrospective in the main space, and I went to show support. After hanging out for a time, I began to wander. In a smaller side room, I stumbled upon some of the most remarkable sculptures I've ever seen.

flyer from the exhibition
The first thing I encountered was a large ship made from plumbing, with hundreds or maybe thousands of tiny toilets installed within. It appeared to have been made by a modelmaker, with a meticulous eye for surface and detail. I was impressed.
The next piece I approached was a falling missile, supported by an ungainly undercarriage, which looked sloppy, as if it had been made by a college student. This was far less impressive to me, and I wondered how the same person who transformed plumbing into a tanker vessel could have also created such a crude looking bomb.
However, when I examined it closely, I noticed that the panels each bore the logo of a major corporation, likely from a list of companies that hold defense dept. contracts. This was up my alley. High theme points, low craftsmanship score.The next sculpture was just plain cool. The artist had turned the surface of an aircraft carrier into the iconographic American parking lot. Entitled "USS Mall", this piece combined skill in construction with relevant subject matter. I was tickled. For the first time in all my life, I had a hero who was a visual artist: David Opdyke.
My later work would use similar images, however, our approaches are much different. My work has a freedom to it, a buzz of energy that comes from planned placement and relaxed repetition, whereas his seems clinical and sterile. Both methods hold power: mine look alive, his look real.
Moving on, I came to a piece with which I was familiar. I'd seen it in SCULPTURE Magazine, and thought it was cool. In person it was even better. The work is called Oil Empire, and is the size of a dining room table.
A recent work of my own has similar visual character, yet is only half the size.
The density and treatment are much different, again, his being linear and organized, mine being random and organic. Both are undeniably complex, breathtaking to behold and difficult to fathom, and, most importantly, we both are trying to make a statement.In a world where most gallery pieces are titled "Untitled", I find it difficult to relate to many artists. I have no reason to make art that does not address some sort of issue. "Untitled" is not an option. When I saw his artwork, I felt comaraderie, like we were on the same team.
A close inspection of Opdyke's piece reveals a vast network of pipes, tanks, and pumps, spanning the entire nation.
Zooming into mine yields soldiers and athletes.
Our choices are different, but our concerns the same.
Both of us understand that sculpture is a powerful tool, capable of making people think.
Both of us are frustrated with our country.
Both of us are sick of corporate control.
After the exhibition, I emailed the friend who's show I'd gone to see telling him I was interested in meeting David Opdyke. He forwarded me a copy of an email he sent on my behalf to the director of the Aldrich Museum, asking him to put me in touch. Pretty cool, yet I never heard a response. In time I forgot what I'd seen.

Recently, after receiving a link to his website in a mass email, I realized that in 2005 our paths crossed even more dramatically than I realized.

As I was walking through his solo exhibition, my mind was occupied with thoughts of the sculpture I was making back home. I had moved to Brooklyn several months earlier, and immediately began searching for army toys.(mine)

I had an overwhelming urge to assemble them into an American one-dollar bill.
It had seemed like an obvious but necessary metaphor, and I worked on it for almost an entire year.Flipping through David Opdyke's images a few months ago, I was startled to realize that he too had been making a US $1 bill also from army toys. He picked one corner, whereas I rendered the whole thing. As usual, our approaches were completely our own, yet our subjects and materials had been identical. This was cool. I became extremely excited.I shot David an email, sending him a link to my version. I thought he'd get a kick out of it. I told him I respected his art and that I was interested in having a dialogue with him. I never heard back. This perplexed me. When I tried to contact him in 2005, I don't know if he actually got it, but this time he definitely had, yet still no response. I wonder if success has distanced him from his fans, or if maybe he's always been reclusive. For me, email conversations with complete strangers are a regular thing. I'm flattered when people dig my stuff, and I like even more discussing it in person. I consider my work to be a reflection of my thoughts, and simply installing the piece does not make those thoughts cease. When people hear me vocalize my intent, they are even more impressed by my art, and I feel the same must hold true for David Opdyke. Soon I will find out.
This Saturday I am planning to attend the opening of his solo show in Soho. I want to see what a gallery artist who addresses politics looks and acts like, as well as what type of gallery shows this kind of art. I will introduce myself to the artist, tell him I'm a fan of the work, and give him my card. I sure hope this time I get a response.

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