It is mid-morning. Andy and I sit outside at Pablo's Cafe on Sixth Avenue, enjoying the early autumn warmth and contending with the noise of the traffic.
May I ask your age? I’m 72.
How long have you lived in Denver? I have lived in Denver for 32 years. I initially moved to Boulder in 1969 from San Francisco for a teaching position at C.U.
Tell us about the formation of Spark Gallery [Denver's first co-operative art gallery]. It was born of necessity. Really, at that time, there were very few places to exhibit art. Local artists began creating co-op galleries in order to find an audience. Spark was formed with the collective energy of many artists, Paul Gillis and I, Marylin Duke, Charles di Julio, John Fudge, Margaret Neumann, Jerry Johnson, and others. Many of us are still working on our art, others are no longer with us... Two other co-ops which were started during that era were Edge in Boulder started by Clark Richert and soon after Spark was formed in 1979, Phil Bender started Denver’s Pirate at 16th and Market. [Pirate gallery, now at 37th and Navajo, will be hosting an exhibition of these Spark alumni. The show opens January 22nd, 2015]
Spark's first home was at the former Mancinell's grocery? In 1977 I was looking for a studio to work on my art. I heard about an empty space in the former Mancinelli’s grocery store at 33rd and Osage. My friend and local artist, Paul Gillis was living in another part of the building. There was enough space on the main floor to use as a gallery so amidst the lingering odors of sausage and parmagiano we patched the floors and built walls to conceal the storefront windows. Then we built a grid and attached clamp-on lights and started having shows. The rest, as they say, is history...
Please tell us about your earlier years as an artist. I was raised in the Inwood section of New York, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. As I think about it, living in the city influenced my aethestics for architecture and design. As an example, I can still remember the many beautiful late art deco style apartment buildings in my neighborhood with their rounded corners and decorative brick work. When I was a teenager my parents moved to Connecticut. My father’s keen interest in cars rubbed off on me so my friends and I rented a broken down garage near the railroad in Stamford. As we worked on cars we accumulated tools and knowledge and that is where I learned how to weld and first began experimenting with welding chrome automobile bumpers to create sculptures. I can still recall the fumes... So basically my teenage years were spent building cars, working with metal, listening to jazz which I’ve always loved, and drawing and painting.
What did you paint and draw? The drawings ranged from landscapes to cars and buildings. In the city there was a lot of art energy with abstract expressionism, pop and minimalism. I would go to New York to get canvas and stretchers and buy my paints in hardware stores. Mostly I worked in enamels. My father encouraged me to apply to the Parsons School of Design in New York because of my artistic predilections.
And you studied sculpture? No. I majored in Graphic Design. After graduating I worked at Butterick Patterns in Lower Manhattan, working on the catalogues that contained the patterns for women's dresses. Basically I was cutting out paper dolls. After Parsons I met Jason Seley, an older artist and sculptor who would become my mentor. He was also working in metals and I observed how he used the material. Later, when I was teaching in Boulder I invited him to the school as a visiting artist. Later he developed cancer and died, perhaps because of the hazards involved with working chrome metals. Eventually I was drafted and was stationed at Edgewood Arsenal near Baltimore where I was an M.P. At the conclusion of my time in the service I studied sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute (no more graphic arts for me!). For a summer job I worked in the shipyards in the Bay area, scrapping the interiors of the cargo bays of WWII Victory ships, prepping them for service in Viet Nam. My experience there gave me some perspective on how ships were built. In 1969 I received my MFA in sculpture from Stanford in Palo Alto and then soon accepted a teaching position in Boulder.
How was your art changing during this time? There were these strains that were coming together and weaving around one another. There was welding and automobile bumpers, the metal work of Jason Seley and painted sheet steel, the architecture of New York, and then the minimal art being created at that time, and there was all that jazz energy. After Parsons I learned metal casting at the Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, Connecticut. I realized that I really did not like casting. I was more at home with assembling. My sculptures became more spare. The assembled steel was abstract and often I would not use color, only a clear lacquer. Although I always worked from thumbnail sketches I began to create large three dimensional wall work based on 'X' like forms. I was influenced by images seen in art magazines and by space satellites, with their exposed linear structure and the arrays of solar panels extending outwards. Over these X-form armatures of the wall work I would place masonite, perforated steel, and tin.
What are you working on now? Taking a cue, perhaps, from the image of the 'X' (and maybe from the New York subway of my youth, and the heavy wooden turnstiles found there...), I am developing a new body of artwork with the working title "Turnstyle". The art is comprised of fundamental structural forms - off the shelf stuff like square tubes and other kinds of raw steel. The work has a "marine-ish" quality. Some of the work will be powder coated and in color, and some of it will be as is.
And you are leaving Spark Gallery? It is time. I love Spark gallery, it has showcased many talented and important local artists, too many to mention here. It is just that I feel like it is time for me to leave.
Any final thoughts? My journey is to discover something that is in my subconscious and present it. The impulse is not to make something to sell (though that would be nice...).