Culture and Physics Collide
Artist-in-Residence Interview, de Young Museum:
Where are you from?
Many guess London, others Neptune, but the fact is I hail from the Queen City of the Great Lakes, Buffalo, New York. I like to highlight the fact that we all need to be born somewhere.
Where did you learn Oriental brush painting?
I received private instruction from a woman who was then living in Boulder, Colorado. At the time I was studying Tibetan thangka painting at Naropa Institute. It was in the late seventies, back when Naropa was an exceedingly interesting place to hang out.
In what media do you primarily work?
Lately, computer components (hard drives, motherboards, sound and video cards, keyboards, processers, memory, etc.) and countless other high-tech electronic devices, along with thousands of mundane objects—hardware, tools, kitchen implements, lab equipment, cameras and lenses and optical apparatus, writing and art supplies, surgical instruments, plumbing fixtures. Really, just about anything.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your residency at the de Young?
The sublime way in which time passes.
How have you engaged the public during you residency?
With passion and energy. I hope I wasn’t found too overwhelming. If nothing else, I kept them laughing.
What or who are your artistic influences?
To keep things simple I’ll skip the thirty thousand years from pre-history to the Renaissance and dive right into the stupendous explosion of the New York School. Duchamp and Beuys were the great twin pillars of conceptualism, as later on Johns and Rauschenberg were to stand guard on the painterly front. Gordon Matta-Clark and Chris Burden are colossally important, as are Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor. In the eighties I was quite interested in what people like Robert Longo, Ashley Bickerton, Cyndi Sherman, Anne Hamilton and Barbara Kruger were doing. Anselm Keifer and Gerhard Richter are giants; more recently in Germany, Julius von Bismark and Carsten Nicolai are of great interest. Christo, Arman, Bill Viola, Brice Marden, Martin Puryear, Laurie Anderson, Richard Long, Isamu Noguchi, Ai Weiwei, Robert Irwin, Lee Bontecou, Bridget Riley, Chuck Close, David Hockney, Bill Morrison, James Turell, just to drop some more names. I would have loved to have seen Richard Wilson’s “Turning the Place Over” in Liverpool. Certainly Julie Mehretu is someone to watch closely. This barely scratches the surface. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the cultures of Italy, Japan and Tibet have all been very influential in terms of my artistic development.
Do you have a favorite artwork at the de Young or the Legion of Honor? If so, what is it?
I will name two: El Anatsui’s Hovor II and Al Farrow’s Cathedral (The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro). The Frank Stella and Masami Teraoka pieces here are also absolutely terrific.
If you weren’t involved in visual art and writing, what would you do?
I have no idea; hold my breath, I guess.
How does living in the Bay Area influence your art practice?
First off, I don’t have an art practice. A doctor may have a medical practice, a dentist a dental practice, an attorney a law practice, but art practice is one of those rather shabby terms that has become fashionable of late that I suspect has something to do with a sense of insecurity vis-à-vis being an artist, and it’s bad news that the term has caught on the way it has. But my life in the Bay Area has coincided with my life as a husband and a father and in raising a family, and the entire nexus of interactions and richness that such entails has been extraordinarily influential to me as a person and thus, we can surmise, profoundly enmeshed with what I have been doing as an artist. For the most part artists are citizens of the world and we’ll do what we do regardless of where we do it.
What is the one museum or cultural site you’d most like to visit?
The Prado in Madrid and the Guggenheim Bilbao probably tie for first place, even though their offerings are quite divergent, but there you have it. Spain calls.
[Note: I did have the opportunity to visit both of these great museums in the spring of 2016.]