What was your childhood like?
There was a lot of family trauma. When I was five and my father worked with eighteen-wheelers. When he was thirty-five, he was struck in the head by a hub cap that flew off a truck. He survived, but his personality was affected. There was so much trauma around that. The strain was too much for my mother, and she eventually left with her four girls (I have three older sisters, 3, 4 and 5 years older).
There were times when we lived at poverty level. Mother was very good at making things look better than they were; she would serve lunch on beautiful dinnerware. But she was vulnerable and emotionally weak and wept a lot. She let us feel insecure. So as an adult, I feared security for a long time.
The family was so split. For a time, I lived with my mother’s relatives in central Minnesota. Her mother, my grandmother, lived on a beautiful farm, but there was something brutal about life there.
Did you have any interest in art at this time?
I was always drawing as a child. My earliest memories are when I was about six years old. I was disconnected from my family, so I drew. It was really about retreating and avoiding. I only did drawings about women, since I was so familiar with them.
I got a lot of encouragement for my drawings. My third grade teacher was very important for me. Every time I made a drawing, she would hug me and praise me in front of the class. So I kept it up. I was living in Minnesota at that time. I consider Minneapolis to be my home town even now.
Did you have formal training in art?
I entered a Junior College in Hibbing, Minnesota, at twenty-three. The same year, I entered one of those “Can You Draw Fido” contests in a magazine and won a free course. Back then, there was no “on line” schooling; I took the course by mail. At age twenty-six, I entered college. Before that, all I did was draw with graphite pencil. In college, I rarely used color. I received a private art school scholarship to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I did not study fine art, I studied design, though I did have some illustration courses.
In my second year, one of my instructors hired me to do design work. I worked for him for five years. He was German and reserved, but he knew how to handle me. He was encouraging; he upgraded me. He let me know the truth but was restrained and diplomatic. While working for him, I won an award for package design; I remember that the project was called “Profiler”.
How did you become the artist you are?
I was making so much money with my design work that I left school before finishing the last semester. No one seemed to care about the degree, and the last semester was full of courses that I had put off because I had no interest in them. I thought I was going to be a designer forever.
One day – literally one day – after something negative had happened to me, I don’t even remember what. Maybe I had an argument or someone had upset me. I felt that I needed to do something creative. I found a few pastels around the house and some paper, and I started to do something. Afterwards, when I looked at it, I was sort of shocked. It was unlike anything I had done before, and I thought it was really good. Strong. I had always been attracted to fast, expressive art, and this was totally spontaneous and energetic. I got results very fast, and it had a tone that felt real for me.
I took about a dozen pieces downtown and walked into five or six galleries. Some wanted to show my work. Within six months, I had gallery representation in Minneapolis, and within two years I was showing in Chicago and Atlanta. My fine art belongs in my life for sure, because it supports itself. It is a solid rock in my life. It tends to build very nicely.
Where do you do your work?
At the moment, I am staying in Houston. I have a good studio to work in. I have my dry pigment studio, and that is all I can do there. The pigments get all over everything, even though I do clean up, so I can’t do other work there. I also have a place where I do my wood work – basically a tandem garage with a patio in the back for sanding. The former owner had equipped the garage as a workshop. But it gets too hot to work there in the summer.
My house is full of my ceramic stuff. It takes up so much room that I really need more room for it. All of my studios are messy, smelly and noisy.
The ceramics are something new. What are you doing with it?
For ten years, I have been looking for something to build sculptures with. Whenever I need a new material, I go to stores and look at everything that can be used. I tried water putty, but it will decay. I needed the material to be self-supporting. Clay is difficult to figure out how to work with and move with. But it is perfect to join with wood. I had to figure out how to do it by myself, and I had a huge epiphany. A lot of the work is a combination of wood and ceramics. It is still at the infant stage.
I have been obsessed with ceramics for about a year. First I did a lot of reading for about four months, then I worked with clay for about four months, and now I have been spending the last 4-5 months learning glazes. A lot of pieces blew up in the kiln. Nothing has blown up lately.
I am doing some very simple figures, some to be attached to the wall, about 15” – 19” high. There will be several in my show. These are simplified people, not beautiful people. They are humorous, quirky, light-hearted. I call them “Tumblers” because they are a spoof of the reaching, arching, stretching figures that lots of sculptors do. They are about color though the color palette is limited.
I am also doing a ‘heads’ series, about 9” high, and a loose group of people that sort of remind me of scruffy people with torn clothes. I haven’t got a name for them yet. They have non-complicated shapes so that I can pay attention more to the surfaces than to the forms. Some pieces are serious, some quirky. I am also doing a group of birds. I like birds a lot. They are calmer, more placid.
It is so exciting, and I so love it. It is an interesting process and very complex. I am growing with it a lot. Working in different media is very satisfying. It is never the same. Your brain never stops. You are always challenging yourself. I am always in a state of development.
All the work I do is related to jig-saw puzzles. If I had free time, I would do jig-saw puzzles. It is the thing about shapes fitting together (laughs).
But you are still working in dry pigments.
I have been doing the pigment work for some ten years, but recently it has been more sporadic. It is good to take a break from it. The last pieces I did were really light hearted. When I am working, I don’t know what they will look like. When the market started to go down, my work got darker. That is my favorite kind of work, because it is serious. But that isn’t an issue anymore. Now the work is innocent and very light.
There is something extremely spontaneous about your work.
One recent book had an impact on me. It was about a sculptor, and she said that she learned not to edit herself. That’s what I try not to do. When you do not think about what you are doing, there is an organic thing going on. You have the music on and you are feeling…I don’t have a word for it…and the work takes on a life of its own. I do not think about what the work looks like, and what I am feeling is what comes out. Organic is a big word about a lot of my work. The process is organic and the forms are organic. There are a lot of elements.
I grow with work. I let instinct take over. Since I work by blocking out huge areas with tape and paper, all I can see is a small part. I can’t see it, so I am not able to tell how I am connecting the dots. I rely on instinct, intuition – based upon experience and the materials, of course, but what I do feels unconscious to me. I don’t “understand” why I’m doing what I’m doing. My work is related to surrealism, particularly the earlier work, in that it comes from the unconscious or the dream state…when something appears without a cause. Every work kind of appears on its own.
The richer, deeper part of that is I have such a long history of working with my materials that it becomes automatic. Have you read Blink? It says that conscious decisions are based sometimes on outside things and can cause you to make choices that are not your own. Blink says it the way I feel it. It is the only place I have been in.
If I am working on a dry pigment head and an eye looks sad, there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t know how to make an eye look happy or sad, looking to the side or directly at the viewer. It is an unconscious level, not about understanding the structure. I can’t be concerned with the way something looks. I need to let it go. Sometimes when I am working, I think, man, this is never going to work; but if I keep going, it works itself out.
What do you feel have been important influences on you?
Traveling has been a big food for my work. I have traveled to Thailand and South China; I like countries that are really rough and different. You get completely in the moment and there is newness, fresh fuel for work. When it has some movement to it, I’m interested. Disorientation is part of it, so I am now going into new areas, new media. They move you out of habits. That very much affects my work. My work is very much part of my life. It is a very conscious effort to challenge myself to stay interested.
I have read about phrenology and physiognomy, related to psychology. I had a really old book on phrenology that had woodblock drawings. I actually loved that book. I don’t know what happened to it.
Events in my life put me in a different state of mind. They create a dynamic for my personality at the time. I am impacted by how I interact with or dissociate from people in my life.