Sunday, August 21, 2011
Every once in awhile I stumble across a new artist whose work totally grabs my attention. I subscribe to the artist a day website and I usually look at the art every morning over coffee as I look through the collection of blogs, news sites, and journals and mags that I read. One morning a few weeks ago, Seth Orion Schwaiger's "Watchers" was up on the artist a day site. I was immediately drawn to the sculpture which is a finalist in the Broomhill National Sculpture Contest.
I emailed to Seth to see if he would be willing to let me interview him and he graciously agreed. He has some fascinating answers to the questions I posed to him. Here is the interview with Seth:
1.With the grand public structures, such as the cathedrals that were built in the past, no longer being financed and public art becoming less common, where do you see sculpture having a place? What do you think is the purpose of art in this time period? Do you see your work as populist?
I understand the sentiment. True, public sculpture may be becoming less grand, less heroic perhaps, but I disagree that public art is becoming less common. Though funding may no longer rest in the centralized power of the high religious and royal echelons, there is perhaps more arts funding now, from public and private sources, than there has ever been.
To call one's own work populist is a dangerous move. Within contemporary art, that label comes with a host of negative connotations. Many an art critic would see it as synonymous with “shallow” and label a work as “populist” if they can't see much to it, yet the work remains well liked. Having said this, perhaps one trend in contemporary art I can't quite saddle up with is a false elitism, a certain anti-populism – the practice of making work so obtuse, so off-putting to the common man, that you would have to be someone special, someone with refined tastes and a superb level of education to (pretend to) understand it. Few even in this false elite would lower themselves to saying they “like” the work. As a rebuttal, one might point out that the greater public has never quite been up to speed with the present movements in art. The rebuttal would highlight that many of the great works of the last 200 years only became popular well after their own time. This has been true in the past but in age of instant, free, and unlimited information, it is hard to stay ahead of the masses. Anyone, now, who has a desire to keep up with contemporary art can do so. There is this anti-populist trend however. Clutching onto the belief that the un-elite are outside the loop, and in an effort to prove one's "contemporariness" some artists have made the poor choice to create inaccessible work.
So the goal in my mind is to create works that have entry points for a variety of people, yet maintain a depth of meaning for those who choose to linger, to invest extra time, or thought with the works. Let me be clear. To make elitist work is a mistake, you alienate a large group of viewers, but to make work that is only populist also alienates a group. To me a work is successful when you can bring someone who sheepishly says “I know nothing of art” and give them a profound experience and at the same time bring someone over-steeped in contemporary art, an elite who might otherwise not look twice at a work that seems so accepted and well liked by the general population, and make them stop and say “oh wait, there's something really there. Something for me.”
Fortunately this anti-populism is by no means universal in the higher realms of the contemporary art world. Call me an optimist, but there may even be signs of it falling out of fashion. The Turner Prize winners for the last two years are exemplary of creating work that touches people of many backgrounds and levels of art understanding – Richard Wright and Susan Phillips.
2. Which artists have influenced your thinking about art? How have they influenced your thinking? What did you pull away from them?
Though I have been inspired by well known artists, I would have to say that my thinking about art has been much more influenced by the fellow artists in my studio and other artists I have worked with during the past few years here in Glasgow. Namely, Lola Dupré, Simon Harlow, Anne Patsch, Jason Mathis, Carla Novi, and Shelton Walker. They are all worth looking up. I have been most influenced, however, by the beautiful and wildly talented Elizabeth McDonald. All of these artists have influenced how I believe an artist should work, have expanded my tastes, and have fundamentally changed the way I view and create art.
3. What are your favorite pieces of art? And why are they your favorites?
Rodin's Gates of Hell. Hands down. There's no good way to take a photograph of this work, and until you see it in person you will not understand the power it has. It is a giant. Maybe it was a bit of exhaustion in my case, but when you see it you almost instinctively fall to your knees. The Gates are the kind of work that can swallow up the periphery until you feel you are seeing it the way Rodin had seen it in his own mind – a paradox of hard, unforgiving architecture and passionately depicted figures forming out of a stormy whirlpool fluid. Its as though the bronze is actually moving as you approach. At times it feels solid and at times you feel as though you could dip your hand right through its surface.
Oh, and I've got this little yellow toy TV from a german artist named Gaby Peters. It must be only an inch and a half tall. When you push a little button on the front the “screen” spins around and around until you un-push the button. Whenever you stop the screen reads “G e n u G” which translates to “enough.” I really like this one too.
4.Where did you train to be an artist?
I've tried to pick up a little something everywhere I go and this has really helped give me a variety of material and technique to choose from. Though they are unlikely to admit it, the University of Wyoming sculpture program is heavily weighted toward cast metals. I learned the basics of sculpture there, and also learned to cast bronze and aluminum as well as learning the more challenging process of iron casting. In Cortona, Italy I picked up stone carving in alabaster and marble. In Kerela, India I had the chance to learn some traditional woodcraft. I cast my first large scale metals at Keen foundry in Houston Texas, and felt like I was learning metal casting all over again. I have tremendous respect for the man who runs the place, Don Keen, and will always be grateful for what skills I've gleaned from him.
And here in Glasgow, Scotland I've learned to drink....
No. Really I have learned as much in Glasgow as anywhere else, maybe more. I've worked more with synthetics and mold making here, but also took up a healthy dose of curating on the side and that's a whole new set of tricks. In Glasgow I've learned more about how artists function as a community and the benefits of mutual support, pooling resources, and knowledge sharing.
5.Your sculptures almost look like carved wood. I have always loved the patina on copper and the ivy that survives and climbs stone. How did you hit on using Jesmonite for your sculptures? Did you know that it would be able to sustain moss and lichen? How did you experiment with this?
When I was working on “Watchers” The original positive was done up in clay. I used a subtractive method, carving away at a larger mass until the final form emerged. This in combination with influence from my previous work in wood gives the effect you are recognizing.
So here in the UK the conditions are right for moss to be a bit more tenacious then one might expect. If you leave something outside for long enough, the right kind of moss will show up sooner or later. Concrete has the right surface chemistry and porosity to act as a good substrate for moss and lichen, and it was this sort of surface that I was after. The logistics of shipping and installing “Watchers” made it difficult to deal with the weight of cast concrete, so I had to find an alternative. Cast resin was out of the question because of it's plastic-like surface. After doing a bit of research I found Jesmonite, and the company was such a pleasure to work with that it became an easy decision. The surface was just what I was after. It has a real solid feel and has the strength and longevity to survive the elements. After this it was just a matter of experimenting with the different types of moss in the area, and different techniques for application. I used a few moss graffiti recipes as starting places as these were made for concrete and had already proven successful.
6. Why do you sculpt the human form?
In my sculptures, I try to create an immediate connection between the viewer and the work. The human form does this well, it is compositionally engaging, and is simply fun to work with. By using the human form I borrow the ability of humans to sympathize, and empathize with one another. Each of us comes with this built in understanding. It's beyond body language, and is surprisingly subtle and nuanced. The slightest change in the angle of a cheek or the curve of a brow can change not just the mood of the person, but who the person is. It's an unconscious understanding, and perhaps that's why it is so powerful.
7. What was your inspiration for "Watchers"?
So you're from Aspen and I imagine you will understand this better than someone who has spent less time outdoors. Growing up in Wyoming, I spent a healthy dose of time out in the mountains and in the woods. There are places up in the Rockies you go one day, and you feel welcomed, protected even, and the next you feel unwelcome or that your trespassing. It's a subtle thing, but it's as though the forest has moods and more than that, it feels like it's keeping an eye on you. It sounds strange to those who haven't experienced it – it's not something you will feel on a ski resort, you have to go out there alone. And this is why I think so many folks from that part of the country and similar places here in the UK instantly connect with these sculptures. They've felt it before, less tangibly, but they recognize what the sculptures convey. This was my starting point. I wanted to take this subtle feeling and distill it in these sculptures. I knew the sculpture's needed to feel like they were part of the environment, the needed to feel ancient. The surface treatment worked well for that. The posture needed to be powerful and rooted, and the positioning needed to make the viewer feel surrounded. In Rome you'll find a number of colonnades where no matter which way you turn there's a sculpture staring at the back of your head. The positioning gives the sculptures an added power and it feels as though the viewer is on display rather than the sculptures. The arrangement fit my purposes and between this, the body language, surface treatment and character of the figures, I had the feel I was after.
8. The figures that compose "Watchers" are very realistic and you say on your blog that they are lined up and facing one another across a path so that the observer might feel either like an intruder or protected by them. When you were creating or placing them, did you get any specific feeling from the sculpture? How did it impact you, its creator?
There's always a point when I'm working figuratively when the figure suddenly seems human. After that point you always feel like there is another person in the room. When others have come into the studio before me and click on the lights they always have a bit of a fright seeing someone (the sculpture) who was standing there in the dark. Call it eccentric, but at this point in the sculpture's development you can't help but say hello and goodbye at the beginning and end of each workday.
Please check out more about his work at:
Please vote for Seth in the Broomhill National Sculpture Contest at:
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Today I researched and worked all day on an essay about the band Muse. Now you would think that I would listen to Muse while doing this, but I didn't. I listened to Depeche Mode, some Radiohead, and Queen. Some of the most innovative and outsider music for each of their time periods in many ways. Each pushed the envelope.
Here is a smattering of what my day sounded like:
Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence
Depeche Mode, Nothing's Impossible
Depeche Mode, Useless
Radiohead, Karma Police
Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees
Radiohead, No Surprises
Queen, Somebody to Love (with some fine scenes of Freddie Mercury)
Queen, Killer Queen (one of my fav's for forever!)
Queen, Crazy Little Thing Called Love
And if I am posting Queen vid's, I have to include Bohemian Rhapsody
And some Muse for your enjoyment!
Muse, Uprising (complete with teddy bears!)
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Yellowstone National Park is huge! I drove in through the north entrance which is in Montana and when I left I drove out into Wyoming and the Grand Teton National Park. Here a smattering of photos from my trip.
More photos tomorrow!
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I had the chance to interview Noor A. Jahangir who is an up and coming fantasy author. He has just released in ebook format the first book in a young adult series. The book is titled The Changeling King.
1. Please describe a little bit about your new book, The Changeling King.
The Changeling King is a fantasy adventure story that combines elements of urban fantasy with traditional epic fantasy tropes. It starts with the arrival of Vasch and his warband of trolls through a mystical gateway, somewhere in the Pennine Moors in North West England. Vasch has been sent on a mission to kill or capture a boy called Adam, because of who he will become. The opening of the gateway sends a rush of energy down a layline and activates a second gate that has been buried beneath a lake for hundreds of years. Nathan Celic, his brother and their girlfriends have come to the lake to cool off and make out. The gateway sucks them through and they wake to find themselves in another world, held prisoner by a race of people called the Alvorn. Meanwhile, a traumatised Adam Phelps, having witnessed his sister's and friends disappearance is taken into protective custody by Detective Karen Rainbow as a series of brutal murders begin to occur around him.
2. Your new book, The Changeling King, is a fantasy novel about a set of teenagers who find themselves transported from one dimension to another. Where did you find the elements to base your fantasy setting on? How do you go about creating fantasy worlds that will seem realistic to readers?
It is said that J R R Tolkien set out to make Middle-Earth as real as the real world. In fact, I strongly believe that in fantasy and sf, the world/environment needs to feel more real than it would need to in any other genre. So obviously you start with familiar elements like trees, rivers and mountains, but you mess with them a little to make them slightly unfamiliar, e.g. the sky over Kryllon is lilac, instead of that lovely blue we all love, based on how the sun interacts with the slightly different makeup of gases in my world's stratosphere. Another example is that in the forest of Alvorn Reach, oaks and conifers stand alongside giants that make Dawn Redwoods look small. Also there is the architecture of the world, e.g. the Alvorn use magic to encourage and shape wood, stone and marble into organic shapes and use amber for windows and doors. Kryllon also has a compliment of regular flora and fauna, but also is home to Nicors, land-bound dragons with snaking necks, powerful legs adapted for moving through wetlands, swimming and clambering over rocks.
The Socio-Cultural environment, I think, also plays a big part in creating a setting. The peoples of my fantasy world celebrate various festivals, have religious affiliations, have social norms and feature a number of political undercurrents. The Alvor have a superiority complex, they have a caste system and varied complexions. The Dvargar originated on our planet, a fact hinted at it in their names and the name of their council, the Reichstag. Names play a major clue to the different origins of the different peoples in my fantasy world. The goblins have a shamanic tradition and the trolls are in an Ice-Age equivalent level of development. All of these factors add up to create a fantastic and yet believable world . . . I hope.
3. When you are writing, do you base your characters on real life people? How do you create your characters? Which character that you have created is your favorite and why? Do you have a hard time creating conflicts for your favorite characters?
I think sometimes I may subconsciously borrow a personality trait from a person I know, but for most part, I'd like to think that I invent people completely from my imagination. Many of my characters start off as a place-fixer for the plot, then are graced with a name reflecting their ethnicity and race and a very sketchy bio. Major characters seem to develop a life of their own, but often characters feel like they are clones of each other or just cardboard cut outs. Giving them a back-story, personal objectives, aspirations and emotional context, as well as character strengths and flaws helps me understand them better, and hopefully, makes them read like individuals with a life beyond the pages of my book. My current favorite is the troll Vasch. He is what orientalists would call a noble-savage. Looking beyond the fact that he is a troll (and comes with all the nasty habits of one, e.g. cannibalism and a penchant for sorting things out through violence) he is loyal to his liege and troops, takes responsibility for his decisions and wouldn't ask his troops to do anything he isn't willing to do himself. But most of all its the fact that he is homesick most of time but also wonder-struck by the strangeness of Earth.
4. What types of fiction do you like to read? If there is a book that has influenced you more than any other, what was it and how did it influence you? Do you have to consciously try not to imitate it?
I mostly read fantasy, but occasionally branch out into other genres, sf, horror and the odd thriller. I'll even read the odd literary novel when one takes my fancy enough. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a literary influence that is hard to get away from, but it isn't the only crossover novel/story out there any more. The 80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoons are another example of this and had a biggish impact in my formative years. I hate it when I come across something similar to my book. I almost had a nervous breakdown when I read the blurb to a book titled The Hickory Staff, because it sounded so similar to mine. Of course, it was quite different once I read it. Originally, my book was titled Trollking, but then I discovered that in the time its taken me to complete the first book, someone else has published a book titled The Troll King. So to disambiguate mine from his, I changed the title to The Changeling King. But in the end, there is only so much you can do.
5. Is there an author whose work and career you admire? If so, who? And why do you admire their work and career?
There are authors whose work I love Raymond Feist, Janny Wurts, George R R Martin, Lian Hearn, Brent Weeks, etc, etc. There are authors who I really look up to for various reasons, including Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and David Farland. But I particularly admire and look up two authors. The late David Gemmell, because I love every single book he's written (even the one's that compared to his other works aren't as good) and because his characters are so brilliantly human and yet the stuff of legends. The other author is J K Rowling, though I hate the fact that I'm never going to achieve her level of success, because she has, like no other writer, made reading a popular past time, making so many people who don't normally read pick up a book. The last time that happened was when The Lord of the Rings exploded on to the world.
6. A great deal of fantasy seems Eurocentric and lacks diversity beyond having elves, dwarves, and faeries. Do you think that there is any ethnic background/cultural group whose folklore is ripe for being made into a fantasy novel?
I hope I'm leading a vanguard of writers who are going to bring ethnically diverse characters and Muslim fantasy tropes to the mainstream. Muslims have a long tradition of fantasy and folklore, though very little of it is known or popular now, except A Thousand and One Nights and other Arabian Nights styled stories. That said, I love 'Eurocentric' fantasy and wouldn't want to see it disappear or sidelined. I think a blend of the two is much more digestable and desirable and is the approach that I'm going to employ.
7. Every writer has to overcome obstacles to continue to write. Sometimes the obstacles are responsibilities. Sometimes the obstacles are things like writer's block. How do you keep writing? What is your habit and process?
I'd like to write every day, but as you say, it is not that simple. I try to write at least once a week, and put in a good few hours on the weekend. The problem is I find it hard to give my full attention to anything else whilst I've got the writer's itch. At times I feel the need to write so badly that I can feel the tension building in my arms and shoulders. But then I do have responsibilities to my employer and to my family, to ensure that they are given their due time. Hopefully, my new tablet computer will help me sneak in some writing whenever I have time to spare.
8. Give me a teaser about The Changeling King. What is a problem that has to be solved within the book?
That's a tough one. There is so much going on in the book that its hard to tease out any particular arc. One of the mysteries of the book is why is the Mughal Prince, Sultan ibn Sulaiman important to the rest of the plot? His story starts of during the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great, with his own bunch of antagonists and political challenges. Yet somehow, his destiny is linked to Nathan's and Kryllon. Why is he important?
9. What are you working on next?
I'm currently working on the sequel, The Renegade Prince, which I'm hoping to release around Christmas. I've also got a non-fantasy adventure series on the slow-cook at the moment, The Adventures of Some Kid. I'm also working on a couple of short stories, an sf inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and a story inspired by Kill Bill.
Noor has a website located at:
He also has an author page at Smashwords.
The Changeling King can be purchased through Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Changeling-King-Trollking-Saga-ebook/dp/B0056AX4D4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312516584&sr=8-1
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Friends of mine have been putting out an online magazine titled Schlock Magazine for awhile. They are now doing podcasts! Please check out number 4 at: http://schlockmagazine.net/2011/08/02/schlock-podcast-episode-4/