Anticipation

Jeff has a piece that you may not have heard of before. It’s called Anticipation, and it’s pretty different from his other work. The first time I saw it, I kinda freaked out. Watch this video and you’ll see why:

Unlike Jeff’s other sculptures which run on their own once the motor gets started, Anticipation requires the complete involvement of an interested human. The crank must be turned for the hammer to move at all. The interactive nature of the sculpture makes it seem more game than art at first, but the range of feelings the machine generates as the wheel turns and the hammer rises are genuine and very intentional.

Even more unlike Jeff’s other works is the presence of an actual name attached to the sculpture. Last week, I spent almost a whole blog post exclaiming over the fact that Jeff numbers but doesn’t name his work. He leaves his sculptures free of leading information so that his viewers can draw their own conclusions about what they seeing. Why does  Anticipation need a name, then? What is he trying to get us to see?

When Jeff gave his TEDx talk in Westlake, TX, he talked about the alternate realities or “reality bubbles” that surround each of us and are made up of the stuff of our lives. He talked about how his reality as an artist with a background in a solid family differs from that of, say, his adopted daughter Kaila, who came into the Zachmann home from a background of neglect. She still deals with the truths of her early reality every day, but her bubble has expanded to include the structure of a loving family and the joys and despairs of growing up in today’s world. Like each of us, her reality is relatively unknowable to anyone outside her personal bubble (which is, well, everyone). Her actions, however, offer an outsider a glimpse into her reality.

Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #710

Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #710

As an artist, Jeff has a more concrete way to offer glimpses into his reality: his work.
His love of movement and his fascination with machines can be traced back to his childhood, and as we’ve learned along the way, his art is also informed by his father’s practicality and the inventive necessities of farm life. His sculptures normally offer a deliberately open-ended view into his reality so that his creative energy can be easily assimilated into another person’s reality, but in this way Anticipation is different. It’s his grown-up sister trap; it’s artistic creation with the end goal being full participation in his reality. Rather than scaring unwanted siblings out of his bedroom (the sister trap’s ostensible purpose), Jeff is giving the person cranking the wheel and winding up the hammer the ability to feel the anticipation he feels when creating his kinetic sculptures. Something is coming, something will happen, and it will happen because the person turning the handle will make it so. There is a time when the hammer slowly crawls along upside down, nowhere near the nail that is still buried deep in the wood base from the last cycle of the sculpture, where excitement may wane and frustration may take over. When will it work? How long do I have to crank this thing? Suddenly, the nail pops up of its own accord and the hammer is no longer upside-down. All that remains is for the wheel to turn just enough for the hammer to swing and drive the nail back into the wood. It crashes down, and the motion is complete. It’s exhilarating and noisy and so cool because you’ve made something happen just by turning a wheel. Those emotions, that frustration and that excitement, are what Jeff wants to share directly. He’s not just giving you a glimpse into his reality, but the option to be fully immersed in it for a minute.

Just wait ’til he finishes his version of Anticipation made with a 10 pound sledgehammer. You’ll really feel it then.

Anticipation is for sale for $2,500 and will be at Red Dot December 3rd through December 8th!

 

Don’t Bore Me.

Jeff and Carl are in Pennsylvania this week at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show, an exciting show filled with lots of amazing artists. They’ve been enjoying life Philly-style and are looking forward to a great rest of the week! Be sure to check Facebook for updates from the show.

Sampling the local fare in Philly.

Sampling the local fare in Philly.

 

While they’ve been away, I did some work that involved me sending off an artist statement to a firm interested in Jeff’s sculptures. While I was putting together the things they needed, I got to thinking about artist statements. I know what you are thinking; it is an exciting life I lead. Anyway, for those unfamiliar with an artist statement, it is a short piece of written work that the artist puts together to describe his/her art. As an example, here’s a short one that Jeff has on the homepage of his website:

The short intro to Jeff's work found on zachmann.com.

The short intro to Jeff’s work found on zachmann.com.

 

One thing I’ve never really understood is why artist statements are so ubiquitous. First of all, I’ve never met an artist who enjoyed writing them. Second of all, a lot of art that has an accompanying artist statement is visual art. Why does something visual need words to accompany it? Can’t you just look at the art?

I guess there is much to be said for contextualizing a piece of art. One certainly does feel more connected to a piece when one knows something about the artist’s process, interests, influences, and motivations. I’ve grown more and more interested in Jeff’s recent work the more I’ve learn about how much his childhood is influencing his artistic style. It’s fascinating to learn about his motivation to create things using found materials because they connect him personally to an earlier time and place. I appreciate having these insights because it enhances my experience with his art while still allowing me to view his work on my own terms and through my own lens.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of artist statements that don’t simply contextualize the work they accompany. The artist has accidentally overwritten their statement, and suddenly a piece of art that should speak for itself is forced to take on meaning that is larger than life. When Jeff and I were in Grand Rapids at ArtPrize, we saw a sculpture that I immediately hated (I make my judgements fast, people). It was a naked baby doll propped upright in a glass display case. The baby had one of its arms and one of its legs sawed off and replaced with robotic-looking limbs that hovered an inch or so away from the body. The whole thing was macabre in a very juvenile sort of way, but for me the worst part was the artist’s statement. Here is a sculpture that leaves very little to the imagination already but that is supplemented by a statement claiming it is opening my eyes to children’s dependence on technology. It does not discuss the artist’s inspiration or choice of materials. It does not place the work in any sort of historical artistic context. It simply explains what it means. I as a viewer have had to do no work, and I am no better off having seen that sculpture than not having seen it.

Perhaps you are wondering what is so wrong about an artist wanting his viewers to see exactly what he sees in his work. I respond that there is nothing necessarily wrong with it; it is their art and they may do what they like, except that it is boring me. Part of the joy in looking at art is discovering one’s own feelings along the way.

"Artist Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive)"

William Powhida, “Artists Statement (No One Here Gets Out Alive)” (2009), graphite and colored pencil on paper, 18″x15″ (Image courtesy the artist and Charlie James Gallery)

 

One of my best friends from college is an artist named Anda Tanaka, and I like the way she thinks about artist statements. I remember watching her get ready for her art shows when we were still in school. For her, one of the most stressful parts of putting together a show (I mean, besides doing the actual artwork, getting the venue ready, and doing all the rest of her schoolwork) was writing the artist statement. She could sit for ages trying to come up with the words to adequately contextualize her work. I always liked her statements, as once they were finished they were very clearly written pieces that matched her determined personality (plus she always wrote them out by hand on beautiful paper, so they ended up being small works of art themselves). When she did pieces that were deliberately done in a certain style, her viewers were always treated to a succinct explanation of the historical context of her work. But when her work was less obviously rooted in history, she definitely struggled. “It’s like, you know how I play the trumpet? [Anda is also a very accomplished jazz trumpeter, no big deal] Well, after I’ve improvised, people will be like, Wow! How did you come up with that? Was it based on something?, and I have to say no, because, it’s not… I’m improvising. Art is like that. Sometimes you’re just improvising.” Indeed, as Iris Jaffe explains in The Anti-artist-statement Statement, “for a fine artist to be entirely aware of his or her creative process and the resulting artwork thereby created is a nearly impossible feat- and one that would require essentially super-human levels of self-awareness and analytical ability on the artist’s part.” Anda, like so many artists, doesn’t want to have to trivialize her work through the over-generalization of a complex and beautiful artistic process. She also doesn’t want to over-analyze her own work for the perceived benefit of other people, because in the end there is no real benefit to dumbing down art for a viewer. “My art is often about myself. It’s personal, like a self-portrait or a self-analysis. But I don’t want what I’m thinking to influence the people who see my work. I don’t want to put words or thoughts into people’s heads. I want them to think for themselves.”

I think her desire not to over-influence her viewers is (as it should be) a genuine concern for many artists, Jeff and Carl included. They hope to garner unique and genuine responses to their work and tend to be very successful in their endeavors, which I think speaks to their integrity as artists. At shows, they rarely have up much more than a short description of their work. The visitors to their booths have the distinct advantage of meeting the artists themselves and are able to form a much more organic and human connection to the art and the artist than are viewers who are simply confronted with disembodied work. Jeff and Carl take their viewer’s connection to their work so seriously, in fact, that they have chosen to use serial numbers rather than titles to keep track of their creations. “People ask me why my pieces are numbered and not named.  It’s that I think of them as machines and the numbering reflects that. It’s a serial number, starting from my first metal sculpture. I find that when I put a label or name on a piece, a person looks at it differently.  With a number, each viewer comes away with his or her own thoughts. An engineer, a child, or even a scrap metal dealer comes away with a different view, all equally valid, and all equally personal,” says Jeff.

Zachmann photos (22 of 54)

 

While I’m still a little bemused by the idea of an artist statement for visual art, I am obviously not ready to dismiss their usefulness altogether. It’s exciting, however, when an artist thinks enough of their viewers to give them the freedom for personal reflection. I truly admire the artists who give me a job to do when looking at their art. That, to me, keeps things far from boring.

Jeff and the Giant Sculpture

Many of you saw Jeff’s picture of the new GIANT sculpture on Facebook. It’s not often he works on a scale that large, so I figured I’d take advantage of the situation to give you some behind-the-scenes information on the creation of such an exciting piece!

Jeff and the Giant Sculpture

Jeff’s picture of the big one. You can see it on his Facebook page, as well!

As with most of his sculptures, Jeff starts the creative process by sketching the design of the framework and building it according to his notes. While building the framework, he has only a basic idea of what the sculpture will look like when all is said and done. It’s the addition of found metal, the track, and the lift system that truly finishes a sculpture, and he’s never exactly sure what will go where until he’s in the midst of creating it. One particular difficulty Jeff has struggled with while creating this sculptures is identifying pieces of found metal that are both large enough and in good enough shape to be incorporated into the finished design. Interestingly, this is the first sculpture of this size to feature found metal. Jeff’s sculptures used to feature powder coated pieces of metal, a style he has moved away from in recent years. He found the brightness and flatness of the powder coated colors could make a piece appear “too sterile”, a look he is no longer as fond of. He now favors the depth and character that found metal lends to his creations. For more background information on Jeff’s choice to use found metals, check out Rust is the New Black.

powder coated sculpture

An example of a sculpture with powder coated metal pieces.

For this newest piece, Jeff found an old fuel barrel that was in pretty good shape and had a nice color to it. It was about 5 feet in diameter and barely fit in the back of his truck. He stuck it in there anyway and hoped for an empty road (he was rewarded with an uneventful trip home this time, though he has his horror stories). For old barrels like this one, he tends to wait a while to use them to ensure that any remaining fuel fumes have time to evaporate away. In this case, he was worried there might still be lingering fumes. He dissected it incredibly carefully, using a pneumatic chisel to avoid sparks and standing as far away from it as he could. He straightened the curved edges of the barrel himself, as always, and was happy with the results. You can see the straightened pieces of barrel already on the piece.

Another challenge Jeff faces when working on a piece of this magnitude is finding the space for it and getting all the way up to the top safely. Here’s a picture of the most open area in the studio- taken up by a single crate!

short supply of open space.

Open workspace is in short supply in the studio, but Zachmanns always manage!

Jeff uses a ladder and scaffolding to get up to the top of the piece. Much to the chagrin of his wife, it is necessary for him to stand on the very top step of his ladder to work (evidence of this is in the first picture of the post). Deb walked into the studio while he was up there and nearly had a heart attack, convinced he was going to fall off. Luckily he hasn’t yet, and hopefully won’t! Deb’s exchange with Jeff was overseen by Scott Gunvaldson, another artist based in Fergus Falls, who later climbed up the ladder himself. Being slightly taller than Jeff, he was able to reach the top of the sculpture without precariously placing himself on the top rung. He made sure Deb knew of his safety once he climbed back down.

Overall, Jeff is surprised and pleased by how this latest sculpture is turning out. He was worried it would end up being “just ok”, since he wasn’t sure he’d get his hands on the right found metal to tie everything together. However, he feels the old barrel metal adds the perfect amount of dimension to the piece and can’t imagine the sculpture without it. As an added bonus, he announced the other day (in reference to the kinetic aspects of the sculpture) that “it works!”. He’s excited to bring this giant piece to upcoming shows, and I hope you’re all excited to see it in action!

Let Jeff know what you think of his sculpture by ‘liking’ it on Facebook and/or leaving a comment below. Feedback is always welcome!

 

Required Reading

Zachmann photos (21 of 54)Just kidding. Nothing in art is necessarily required.I am, however, gearing up to write a post about art in small towns (like Fergus Falls!). As part of my research, I stumbled upon this list. Take a look! What do you think? Do you have more small towns to add?

America’s Top Small Town ArtPlaces 2013

While you’re at it, check out the rest of the ArtPlace website. They’re a group dedicated to creative placemaking. It’s also interesting to note that Fergus Falls, the hometown of Zachmann Studios, recently received a NEA grant for creative placemaking. What is creative placemaking? Here’s the ArtPlace explanation:

“Successful creative placemaking…

…places artists and art at the center of planning, execution and activity.

…leverages the creative potential already present in a place. All places have creative potential just waiting to bubble up. Even while drawing on resources from beyond the community, leveraging local artistic and organizational talent and assets increases the value in a community and the commitment to it, while nurturing an enduring sense of place.

…creates opportunities for people of all income levels and backgrounds to thrive in place. As its value increases, a place that is intentionally inclusive and connected is more likely to spur economic opportunity and allow people to succeed where they are.

…supports economic diversity in the community, providing multiple points of entry and interaction for people of all incomes. The more economically integrated a community is, the more access to opportunity exists for all.

…creates interesting places that capitalize on distinctiveness. A creative approach improves the aesthetics of a place, whether it is the look, feel, sound or even smell. The difference sets that place apart as more interesting than others. A place that expresses its distinctiveness and resists commodification and sameness is more likely to have long-term appeal.

…creates a place where people want to go and linger. Successful places attract people beyond those required to be there. People lingering is an investment of time in a place and is apt to lead to additional investments.

…contributes to a mix of uses and people that makes places more diverse, more interesting and more active, thus making spontaneous interaction more likely. Intensifying and mixing activities creates the promise that visitors can stumble onto the fun, mingle with other people, or happen upon opportunity.

…fosters connections among people and across cultures. The relationships built among diverse groups of people create safer, more open places that create more opportunity and foster a sense that everyone is welcome.

…is always presenting itself to the public and encouraging pedestrian activity. Whether open or closed, a place that is a consistently interesting and active presence to the street promotes more pedestrian activity and creates the public perception that the place is safer and more animated. More pedestrians mean more prospective customers on the street to support more small businesses.

…creates a place where business wants to be. As a place becomes more active, commerce is likely to respond, thus giving people even more reasons to be there.

…convinces people that a place can have a different and better future.”

See more at: http://www.artplaceamerica.org/articles/principles-of-creative-placemaking/#sthash.fNqHZVI4.dpuf

Pretty cool, right? Stay tuned for the upcoming post about art in small towns.

Metal and Blues

When the sound waves emanating from Zachmann Studios aren’t carrying the sharp noises of a spinning saw or the blare of Carl’s train whistle (seriously), you can hear the music that plays almost non-stop during creation hours.

Carl's very loud whistle. It was an unexpected gift from a client, and it's rigged up in the studio with a very long pull-cord so they can stand outside when it goes off.

Carl’s very loud whistle. It was an unexpected gift from a client, and it’s rigged up in the studio with a very long pull-cord so the operator can stand outside when it goes off.

Jeff has a radio and a computer hooked up to a speaker system in the studio that pumps out music hour after hour and keeps things upbeat. He likes all kinds of music, but is especially into blues. His favorite artists of the musical variety range from B.B. King to Muddy Waters to ZZ Top. In fact, Sharp Dressed Man is his no. 1 pick for best song (currently). When I asked him what song he liked best, he had to think for a minute to remember the name of it. He landed on the words “well-dressed man”, which was close enough for me, but his wife Deb heard the words as “weld dressed man”. He couldn’t help but laugh at that. If there was a song about a weld dressed man, I think it would be very appropriate to hear over the speaker in Zachmann Studios.

A Tool In The Artist’s Hand

At the show in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, Jeff had a little girl around 5 years old stop in his booth to look at his art with her dad. She asked Jeff how he makes his sculptures, and he told her he takes wires and bends and welds them together. Her dad pointed to the pliers Jeff had sitting out and said, “He uses those.” The little girl got really excited and yelled at her dad: “You have that! You should make these!”

Inside Zachmann Studios

Inside Zachmann Studios.

Zachmann Studios, though modestly sized, is full to the brim with metal scraps, machinery, welding supplies, and tools. Lots and lots of tools. I worked in the studio the summer after I graduated from college, trying my best to be useful to Jeff when in fact the only tool I had ever really handled was the purple hammer I received as a high school graduation present. He taught me how to solder (I was ok!), weld (I was not ok!), and cut metal with a large saw.

Zachmann Studios sparks flying

Sparks fly as Jeff cuts some metal.

Jeff uses those more “exotic” tools on a regular basis- he welds and melts and cuts things down to their proper sizes and shapes with the precision and accuracy of a machine himself, and he almost never has to go to the emergency room. Despite the cool sparks that fly when he cuts metal and the awesome helmet he gets to wear when he welds, however, Jeff swears that his favorite and most useful tool is a dingy old pair of pliers.

Jeffrey Zachmann Kinetic Sculpture

Jeff using his trusty pliers to shape a wire on a nearly-finished sculpture.

“They look like crap to anyone else,” he says, “but they fit my hands well and they work great. I have a lot of tools that work and get used a lot that, when I’m gone, will go straight away into a dollar bin.” Somehow, I doubt Carl or his sister will let their Dad’s tools disappear into a dollar bin somewhere. Tools in Zachmann Studios hold a lot of memories and meaning. When Jeff’s father passed away, Jeff inherited his large collection of tools (his father was a mechanic). He now uses them to make his work, and they offer him a solid link to his father’s memory and his do-it-yourself attitude. It is that attitude that inspires a lot of Jeff’s artistic endeavors. Clearly, a tool in the artist’s hand is more than just a tool. It’s a vehicle for creation.

Operation: ArtPrize

artprizegraphicWednesday, September 18th was the opening of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI, and Jeff and I were there. ArtPrize is a crazy carnival of a competition, with art spilling out of buildings into streets and parking lots, spanning into and across the river downtown, and covering the walls of indoor venues across the city. Its website touts it as a “radically open” competition with the biggest prize in the world: $200,000 for the most crowd-pleasing piece of art. Anyone can enter the competition as long as they can find a venue to host their work within a predetermined three-mile block of city space. There is art in every medium and a large range of skill levels are represented. The event is overwhelming but exciting.

Jeff and I visited as spectators only this year. Jeff has been hearing from people for a while now that he should consider entering ArtPrize, and we wanted to see what it was all about. Even though I had done some research on the event beforehand, I still had no idea what to expect. Even expert reviewers of the event aren’t entirely sure what to make of it and tend to go to extremes in their coverage. Here’s an excerpt from a piece written about ArtPrize and its founder, Rick Devos, by Matthew Power for GQ:

“Critics have derided ArtPrize as a naked bid to buy cultural cachet in a flyover-country backwater, and fans have hailed it as radically open, a populist wresting of aesthetic judgment from the snobbery of elites in New York and Los Angeles. The New York Times mocked it as “Art Idol.” The critic Jerry Saltz called it “terrifying and thrilling” and wondered what effect such a model would have on the traditional bastions of art-world power.”

(For those interested in reading about artistic hubris, the economic benefits of art in a “backwater” Midwestern city, bad politics, the uber-rich, and conspiracy theories, Mr. Power’s article is a must-read. Click the link on his name above the quote.)

Now, having visited, I can better understand the terror (slightly mitigated by competitive excitement) that an event like ArtPrize must bring to art critics and serious artists alike. The competition itself is a big commitment- it runs from the 18th of September until the 6th of October. An artist like Jeff, with pieces that move and require electricity, would probably want to stick around for the whole competition to ensure nothing goes wrong with his work. But beyond even that is the terror that comes with having a jury of the public. People are unpredictable! What kind of decisions will they make? Will they be blown away by the giant dragon sculpture on the sidewalk outside the bank, or will they venture into one of Grand Rapid’s two participating museums to see the temporary installations there? Will they pay attention to skill level, time commitment, and uniqueness? Will they just vote for their friends? There are a lot of local artists, after all. Does asking these questions make ME one of the snobs fans of ArtPrize love to hate?! I still don’t know what to think!

 Historically, Jeff fares well with the public. He’s won several popular choice awards at shows around the country. Most importantly, however, I think Jeff strikes the kind of balance with his work that lots of ArtPrize goers are probably looking for: it’s fun to look at, it’s different, and it took skill to create. He presents his work unpretentiously and gives the viewer a chance to make of it what they will. It’s just good art.
We saw one piece of somewhat comparable kinetic sculpture that, by 7 pm on opening day, had already broken and was flanked by a very hoity toity artist statement (the bane of my existence). We decided that next year, whether we understand it or not, ArtPrize could be worth the effort. Maybe Jeff will see you there!

The Exotic Traveling Artist

Jeff and Carl in Zachmann Studios, photo courtesy of Scott Wagnild

Jeff and Carl in Zachmann Studios, photo courtesy of Scott Wagnild

Jeff and Carl just returned home to Fergus Falls from one of their whirlwind trips across the country. Though a bit tired, Jeff is happy to share his experiences and give a little insight into the life of a traveling artist. While we’d also love to hear from Carl, he’s a bit busy repairing a wall in the garage of the new house he bought with his wife, Krista… Ah, the life of an artist and a homeowner!

Jeff and Carl left on Tuesday, August 27th for Portland, OR. After days and weeks and months of preparation, Jeff’s giant van was packed and ready for action. The van looks a little like the Mystery Machine, though without the ridiculous paint or most of the seats, which have been removed for optimal sculpture storage and transport. The two left town in the late morning and made it about a mile out before the van broke down. It was turbo troubles, but as luck would have it, Jeff had an extra in his shop at home. They got the problem fixed and took off again around 5 pm. This time they made it all the way to Fargo, N.D. (about an hour drive from Fergus Falls) before Jeff realized he had forgotten his wallet. He drove halfway home to meet his wife, Deb, who brought the wallet and allowed them to continue on their way. Continue they did, switching off driving, talking in the car, and reaching Portland at 1:45 pm on Friday afternoon. Their setup time was scheduled for 2:00, so they made it with plenty of time to spare…

Setup example: Carl's booth

Setup example: Carl’s booth

“Set up”, Jeff says, “takes however long I have.” If he has 24 hours, it can take 24 hours. If he has 3 hours, it can take 3 hours, though that’s about the shortest amount of time in which he can still do a good job. And doing a good job is important, especially at shows that take place outside.
After checking in, he pulls his van up to his booth area, unloads everything he needs, and parks it elsewhere to leave room for other artists to unload their own goods. He sets up his tent, which shows do not provide. He puts 40 lbs on each leg to help hold it down, and often drills into the ground to secure his tent fully. He says he’s seen artists get complacent about nice weather, only to have their tent blown over in winds that start up later in the day. That isn’t just bad for their work, but for the work of the artists around them. A blowing tent can take out the tents surrounding it, too. Jeff and Carl are very careful, especially since their work is so heavy.
After the tent is up, Jeff lays down his carpet. The carpet plays several roles: it looks professional, gives his tent clear boundaries, and protects the glass balls that may escape a sculpture during the show. With the carpet down and the tent up, he’s finally ready to set up his walls and support bars and hang his sculptures. The physical labor is done, and he can retire to his hotel until the show begins. To take the edge off, he and Carl visit the legendary Voodoo Doughnut.

Voodoo Doughnuts in a box.

Voodoo Doughnuts in a box. Note the one being stabbed.

They wait in line and get a dozen to eat over the next few days, but after just one each they decide there is just WAY too much sugar for them to keep them all to themselves. They leave the rest in the Artist Hospitality tent at the show. Jeff still claims his favorite doughnut is the Bavarian Cream made by Service Foods in Fergus Falls.

Jeff’s booths tend to be really busy. To set himself apart from the milling patrons, he sits on a stool. That way, if someone wants to talk to him, they can find him easily. Check out his booth on a busy night below:

A busy night in Jeff's booth, St. Louis, MO.

A busy night in Jeff’s booth, St. Louis, MO.

Art in the Pearl took place over Labor Day weekend, and Jeff and Carl spent Labor Day evening making deliveries of sold sculptures. They left Portland on Tuesday morning and embarked upon what Jeff and some of his friends call the “Cannonball Run”, driving cross-country as fast as possible. They had 30 hours to get to St. Louis, MO and had to work in a delivery to Colorado. They managed it and made it to St. Louis with no problems. The drive on Highway 53 through Colorado, they say, was gorgeous.
They had planned to visit some patrons to make repairs upon their arrival in St. Louis, but cut it a little too close and had to make their visits after the show. That’s one unique thing about being kinetic artists: sometimes sculptures needs a little tweaking to keep working beautifully. Luckily, Jeff and Carl are flexible guys who take great pride in their sculptures and do everything they can to keep them looking good and working well.
[If you own a Zachmann that needs a repair, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Visit the Contact page for info.]

The St. Louis Art Fair kicked off without a hitch that first week of September. Jeff met a nice boy with a young sister who deciphered the secret to great art (or great anything): “It’s simple, you just figure out how to do it, then you do it.” Jeff was also characteristically embarrassed by a female fan who saw his work in the Brisbane Airport. “Oh my gosh! It’s you!” she said excitedly. “I saw your piece in Australia!” She then turned to her friend and said “It’s him!”. Jeff explained away the experience as “pretty strange”.
Honestly, I don’t think one can get much more Minnesotan than that when confronted with fame or recognition…

Fun Fact: Jeff and Carl do some restaurant exploration when traveling. They often ask visitors to their booths what’s good in the area, to get the local lowdown. Artists also share recommendations among themselves. In Portland they got sushi, and in St. Louis they visited a local diner one night and enjoyed some Italian on another.

The banner outside Jeff's booth in St. Louis, MO.

The banner outside Jeff’s booth in St. Louis, MO.

On the evening before the last day of the St. Louis Art Fair, a banner appeared outside Jeff’s booth declaring him an award winner. The only way to find out which award he had won was to attend the awards banquet the next morning. “They have to do that in order to get artists to come to the breakfast,” he explained to me. “It used to be the free food would get artists to show up, but now it’s like… It’s too early, they’d rather just sleep”. He managed to be there on time, and as the breakfast unfolded, he got more and more excited. “They gave out all the lesser awards first, and my name wasn’t being called,” he said. Finally, they got to the award that was chosen by the staff of the show in honor of the show’s founder, Sally Murdaugh. She was a gallery owner and lifelong art lover, and relatives of hers flew in from Colorado to bestow the award. Jeff was honored when they called his name. “I’m always amazed when I win an award. I mean, I win more than my fair share of awards. There is always such phenomenal work at these shows that it amazes me when I get chosen over other great artists.” Awards like the Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award are always exciting to win, because the juries are usually driven by taste to pick a winner. That means the people who run the show really like Jeff’s work, and it’s definitely nice to be recognized for greatness by those who are also working hard to bring art to the world.

The Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award, won by Jeffrey Zachmann in St. Louis, MO.

The Sally Murdaugh Memorial Award, won by Jeffrey Zachmann in St. Louis, MO.

The show over and another award under his belt, Jeff is ready to tear down and begin the journey back home to Minnesota. Packing up only takes about an hour. He and Carl do their deliveries and repairs and are back on the road. “I like to joke that I’m an over-the-road truck driver who sells art on weekends,” says Jeff. “People have this idea of the exotic traveling artist, but honestly, I sometimes just feel like a truck driver”. He laughs.
Two weeks and 4500+ miles later, he’s back home.

For The Young At Heart

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN

I have a challenge for you: name three artist (other than Jeff and Carl) that make kinetic sculptures without Google-ing “Kinetic Sculptor”. Honestly, I get as far as Duchamp and his bicycle wheel and I’m out. Not being trained in art history could be a factor in my failure, but I like to think it’s because theirs is a field not populated by many. Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art last week, I saw nothing that could compare to a Zachmann original. It was kind of cool to think about, but it also made me wonder if Jeff finds particular kinetic inspiration or feels “kinetic kinship” with any artists in any museums around the country. Turns out, he does!

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Jeff’s favorite museum is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Among other amazing works of art, they have a piece there called Calder’s Circus. Created from 1926 to 1931 by Alexander Calder, the piece is a sculptural, kinetic representation of a circus. Using wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps, Calder made movable models that performed all parts of the circus. The circus has everything from a ringleader with an impressive top hat to a daredevil lion tamer. Check it out:

Calder's Circus, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Calder’s Circus, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Calder first started the piece in Paris, where he would perform it for friends with comments in French. The circus went back and forth with him from Paris to New York until it was finished in 1931. Each piece in the circus moved mechanically with manipulation by Calder’s hands. Jeff says seeing the circus was one of the things that turned him on to kinetic art in the first place. The energy and heart that went into the creation of such an intricate work is arguably what is most impressive about the circus, and the artist’s wholehearted involvement with his work really struck Jeff when he saw it for the first time. It inspired him to do what he loved and what interested him the most. “The guy never grew up,” he says of Calder. “He grew up just enough to use the tools.”

While Calder’s work is much different from anything made by a Zachmann, it still proves to be an inspiration and a peer to their form of kinetic art. Creating intriguing movement from static pieces in order to bring joy and/or excitement and/or childlike wonder to the viewer is not something most artists can do or even try to do. It is my hope that in a couple decades, someone will watch a video of a Zachmann or see it hanging in a museum and will think to themselves, “That guy grew up just enough to use the tools, and that’s where I’ll stop too.”

Below is part 1 of a video of Alexander Calder performing and explaining his circus. It’s really fun to watch, so I encourage you to take the time to do so. Then, leave a note about your favorite museum or your favorite piece of art and why you love it in the comments for this post!

Rust Is The New Black

Jeffrey Zachmann #701, 2013

Jeffrey Zachmann #701, 2013

One of the things that makes a Zachmann piece so unique is the use of found metal. In Jeff’s pieces, found metal juxtaposes interestingly with the clean lines of stainless steel to create an internal dialogue between old and new. The depth a piece or two of found metal adds to his work is as necessary as the motor to the finished product. Imagine a piece without found metal: it would seem almost clinical in comparison.                                  Carl’s pieces rely on found metal to an even greater extent, exploring America’s industrial background through the use of the original materials. His archeologist’s eye is trained to see the beauty in the used and forgotten.

Carl Zachmann, Serial No. 9

Carl Zachmann, Serial No. 9

But why the interest in what most people disregard as scraps? Jeff says the metal that comes to him already beat up and with a past of its own seems more alive than the newer, cleaner metal he uses to create his frameworks. The used metal has ready-made focal points in the scrapes, rust, and patina that cover its surface. Since the metal that Jeff and Carl use comes from a variety of places- scrapyards, the side of the highway, friends- it can be fun to try to guess what its history might be. Often it brings Jeff back to his childhood visiting his uncle’s farm, far from a hardware store. To him, reusing metal that has had a previous life is the ultimate in frugality and resourcefulness. It gives the metal a new purpose. Rather than rusting away somewhere, it is incorporated into a piece of art that gives it a new voice. What the metal says to Jeff echoes what his Father used to say to him: Everything there is, somebody made- and you have the option to make it, too. You just have to decide if you want to.