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.

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.

The First Post

Hello, and welcome to Zachmann Studios’ first blog post! I’m Klara Wagnild, executive assistant to Jeff Zachmann and marketing director for the studio (that means I’m the one in charge of the blog).

clydeandklaraThis is me (sadly the best picture I have of myself currently).

My position as blogger is fitting since I am able to wax philosophical about a piece of art at the drop of the hat, whereas Jeff is too Minnesota-nice to impose that kind of nonsense on anybody without them asking first. I come by my skills honestly after spending four years in college studying philosophy and my whole life being interested in art. Jeff was kind enough (and busy enough) to consider employing me and my questionable abilities just a few months ago. I have enjoyed every minute of my work for Jeff and am looking forward to becoming even more involved in the art world as time goes on. But enough about me. Welcome to Zachmann Studios!

Zachmann Studios is home to the kinetic sculptures of Jeffrey Zachmann and the machine art of Carl Zachmann. The father-son duo work independently to create intriguing static pieces that, when set in motion, become captivating. Each sculpture they create is unique. Jeff bends, welds, bolts and screws stainless steel and found metal into the framework for a sculpture. His pieces favor a lift system that is visually suited to each sculpture’s framework and moves marbles through a fascinating and seemingly endless path. Carl’s sculptures explore the designs and textures of our industrial past through the use of moving gears on static backgrounds. Here are some examples of the artists and their work:

jeffsmilingThis is Jeff: Kinetic sculptor extraordinaire, all around nice guy.

453This is one of Jeff’s pieces at the airport in Brisbane, Australia.

20130618_143719This is Jeff hard at work in the studio.

20130618_143720This is Jeff’s “hard at work” face.

690

This is Jeff’s sculpture #690.

headshotThis is Carl.

SN 002 JPGThis is Carl’s sculpture SN 02.

archeologycarleditThis is Carl engaged in his other passion, archeology.

photobooth

Here are Carl and Jeff in a photobooth at Carl’s wedding to his lovely wife, Krista.

So, why the blog, you ask? Blogs may be an artistic medium of their own, but used by and for artists, they can offer a unique glimpse into the creation of new works and the lives and creative processes of the artists themselves. This blog exists to actively place Zachmann Studios in the discourse of contemporary art. The blog will be updated frequently to reflect the activities of Zachmann Studios. New sculptures, inspirations, reactions to shows, and passions will all be discussed.  Comments on posts are encouraged, and the artists and I can be reached in a variety of ways for further conversation. Check out our Contact page here, and thanks for reading the first post!