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!

 

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.

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.

The Inside Scoop on #702

Zachmann photos (33 of 54)In order to better understand Jeff as an artist, I think it’s important to occasionally sit down with him and have a focused discussion on a single sculpture. And while Jeff is constantly making sculptures, it’s not often that he makes one without a home ready and waiting for it. This is a good problem for an artist to have, but it also means it can be difficult to find the time to talk about a piece before it’s crated up and out the door. I therefore took advantage of #702’s unsold status and asked Jeff to share a bit about his creative process through the work he did on this specific sculpture.

blog702Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #702

What did you know about the sculpture before you made it?
Before I made the piece, I just had an idea of the size of the piece I wanted to make. One of the things I try to do is have sculptures in a variety of sizes and prices so patrons at art shows can find something that will fit their space or budget. With this piece I had an idea of the form I wanted. I had made a similar piece in the past and wanted to fine-tune the composition. Sometimes, after looking at a piece I’ve had finished for a while, I start to think I should have done this or that differently. It’s usually a composition thing.

What was difficult about the creation of this piece? How did you get over the difficulties?
This one took me a while to find the right pieces of metal. The blue bits were pieces of a barrel that someone had repainted a couple of times. The sizes of metal pieces let me highlight the over-painted parts. If the pieces would have been larger they would have been too busy for people to really look at. I think the larger vertical piece with the perforations is part of an industrial fan guard. When I found it, it was still shiny and unrusted, but I liked the perforations. I left it out in the weather all winter to get the rust to start forming. The smaller bits of screening are pieces from a larger screen used in sorting gravel and sand. I love this kind of screening as it adds a really nice texture to the sculpture. I’m starting to run out of it and am having a hard time locating more, so it’s nice when I have a couple of small bits like this that fit right in.

What surprised you about the way the piece came together?
When I was building this piece I thought I had messed up a bit and left too large of an open area to the right of the jump. The counterweights for the element that holds the three balls before releasing them (on the left side) gave me a way of filling that spot. It seems like a logical fix now but the problem had me scratching my head for awhile before I came up with it.

What about the piece makes you the most excited?
I really like the high arc the ball takes with this jump. It can be difficult to get it to work right when I do a high arc- the aiming can be difficult- and where the ball ends up can vary unless it’s tuned just right.

How does this sculpture fit in with the rest of your work?
I think my work is a progression of things I’ve learned: how to use the laws of physics to my advantage, how to use the juxtaposition of panels, numbers, and stainless steel, how to construct the frame to work as a both a support structure as well as an artistic element at the same time. I think I’m working toward the perfect sculpture. That’s something that will never happen, though. Each new thing I add to what I’ve learned adds millions of possible combinations to what I already know. Exploring these combinations is what keeps my work interesting.

What do you think of sculpture #702? What interests you most about Jeff’s discussion of his sculpture? Leave comments below.