Friday, February 24, 2017

Brilliant artist Josef Zutelgte talks about the creation process, the fragility of life, human behavior, and so much more

Josef in front of Grand Central Net



Ways of the World

Double Face

For Aleppo
Josef Zutelgte is a working artist and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York . I love his work so, so much that I wanted to host him on the blog.You can see his work now at:
Sculpture Space NYC
47-21   35th Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Show runs through March 4th.
The artist will be there Saturdays from about 12 -6.
Otherwise by appointment.

Thank you so much, Josef, for being here.

I always think that creative people are haunted in some way that pushes them to produce art. Is that true for you? Can you talk about that please?
If I am haunted, it is by the responsibility I feel that I take on when I create work. I want my work to touch the viewer and evoke reactions, such as a contemplation or an emotion.
I allowed myself to go down the road of being an artist, working on and producing ideas that are uncertain to begin with. Being “haunted” I think is more of a calling or a drive, a feeling of excitement, about exploring my interests from any angle. I make work because it’s what I like to do. Once I start working, I know that the materials and the process will guide me and I can simply trust my work. That is not to say that I don’t have clear ideas and goals, but there is play and discovery involved in the creative process. In the beginning of any work, I enjoy the excitement of exploration, but as I go deeper into a subject, I develop a sense of what the work is about. Once things start to take shape, I develop a feeling of responsibility to the work, the way a writer feels a responsibility to a character. Of course, it is also a reflection of my own consciousness—whether it is a commentary or a question using my vocabulary as a sculptor.  I always want the work to affect or move the viewer, and that might be how I am haunted.

I absolutely love your sculptures, which have this bristlingly alive quality to them, almost as if they are breathing in front of us. Is there a moment when you are creating that you know that you have achieved this?
When I begin work on a sculpture, I have a general idea of where I want to go with it. I make sketches, which help me figure out basic compositional or structural aspects, but usually my drawings are intentionally not too detailed, because I like elements of surprise and the option to change while I am working.  I actively encourage these unanticipated moments. I develop a relationship with my work during this process, and the work and I have a kind of reciprocity; I can manipulate the work and the materials but it also dictates sometimes what it wants to become. It is like a developing friendship. Usually the work goes through many phases and builds up layers of history—and in the whole process, the work becomes itself. At some point, I just know that it is right.

How do you approach your art initially? Do you have it planned out or does it spring alive in your hands?
As I said, I always work with a general idea in my mind, but I try not to have a rigid path to the goal. I like the surprises that can happen on the way and enjoy discovering the things I could not have planned. Sometimes I want things the way I planned.  Other times, when accidents or surprises happen, this new turn expands the idea and gives me a new and better direction.  So I don’t avoid the unexpected. But this is not random. When I draw for example, I may try to draw a straight line, but I will place the paper onto a rough surface. This gives me several options; I follow the plan and fight for a straight line, despite the rough ground, or I accept and adapt to the newly discovered line initiated by the rough ground. This is probably the most exciting part of my working process.
My most recent exhibition is a good example of this. It is the culmination of a residency at the Sculpture Space NYC, where I worked with clay for the first time. I had some concrete ideas about sculptures that I wanted to create, but clay and the kiln process has a mind of its own. It is not always predictable and created some difficult challenges—but they were challenges that forced me to reinvigorate my process, and the results were rewarding for me.

I know with writers, that our writing changes as we change. I imagine it is the same with art?

Yes, I agree. My relationship to my work is very much determined by my environment and the world I live in. This world elicits responses that I express through my work. Sometimes the world asks for very specific responses.

I am not so much interested in representing life, I am more interested in creating things that stand on their own and function like living things. When I make works, I try to infuse them with their own sensibility and language. Once they are finished, I can step back, and the works generate their own energy, and I discover new things in them.

What do you want viewers to feel and experience when they look at your art?

My work is very labor intensive. I spend a lot of time with each sculpture while building it. During this period, many different thoughts and emotions influence the process. The construction of a sculpture or a drawing involves layering and creating history; it can show trial and error, successes and misses, and I like to involve the viewer in this process. Ultimately, I want to create something that has mystery, creates wonder, and invites the viewer to reflect on it.

I couldn't take my eyes off your Double Face drawing. There was something about it that at first glance looked normal, and then unsettling, and then almost as if there were a secret something that was pulling me in. (Also, on its own, it is very, very beautiful.) Can you talk about your intent?
Double Face is a work from a series of drawings, prints and sculptures that began with the simple investigation of facial expressions but quickly developed into a contemplation of human behavior in general. People often say that the face is an open book, a view into the human’s soul. My work explored what it can reveal and at the same time how it can become a mask. What does the face actually show when we are using it to hide something? How do we relate to that? In one sense, this series was intended to look at and analyze expressions, but at the same time it reflects back on ourselves.

What's obsessing you now and why?
Change is something I am thinking about a lot lately. Two major experiences in my life catapulted me into a situation in which things I took for granted, stable institutions, laws, traditions and beliefs lost stability and made me aware how fragile and vulnerable the structures of life are. The death of my mother and a new government. When my mother died, it seemed as if my anchor to my past was gone. That sense of stability was gone. At the same time, the political situation here had changed dramatically. The interdependency of our natural systems and our manufactured systems seems beset with a domino effect of instability as a result of these changes. How do we, how do I deal with this? It is like a crazy balancing act and that is why I called my show “Balancing Act.”

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