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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wade Carey Interviews Calder Brannock, Conner Contemporary Academy 2010 winner

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Wade Carey interviewed Academy 2010 PULSE prize-winner Calder Brannock about his work and what lies ahead for this newly graduated Master of Fine Arts. The transcript of this interview has been edited for clarity and concision. 

Calder Brannock, Camper Contemporary.
Copyright Calder Brannock, Courtesy Conner Contemporary Art

W(ade):  There are about three or four different threads of ideas that I thought would be interesting to both of us to talk about you and what you are doing. One of them is why it started out sculpture and how plastic is the term. Sculpture is plastic itself, obviously. How did it transpire that the kind of work that you decided to do, or the primary “label” for the work that you do, was sculpture?

C(alder): Well, that came essentially when I was picking a grad school. The sculpture department had the best toys and the most space. I think especially artists now find the best way to express whatever they are trying to say. Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I end up doing photography. My undergraduate work and my senior thesis were in photography. So sculpture, I found, was a nice catch-all. If you look at someone like Wolfgang Tillmans he displays them on tables, and in strange places on the wall, they become objects. They become sculpture. Paintings can become sculpture but sculpture rarely can be paintings. It just gave me the most room to play around. 

W: In the last two years—you graduated in 2007 from George Washington University—I noticed that while you were there you did some murals, as well. Was that pick-up work? Did that just happen or did you go into it with the idea that it was something you wanted to get under your belt?

C: Well, they definitely helped pay the bills. That was nice. But I wanted to try it. I enjoy making things. I enjoy curating as much as I do painting traditional landscapes or doing intervention work. I am all over the board, which is terrible when I am trying to explain my art practice to someone. But really, I enjoyed painting the murals, and if I didn’t do it somebody else was going to. I would have always walked by that spot and said to myself, “That could have been my mural up there…” 

W: Let’s take another commission, for example. When you did wood sculpture of Cyrus Katzen, was that the first time you had done a wood sculpture using a grinder?

C: I had done wood sculpture before but I had never done figurative work. GW has always been very supportive. I don’t know if I was one of only a few artists that they knew. The office of cancer research had contacted me to do this. They wanted me to do a pen and ink drawing. I said, “Well, I could do that but wouldn’t it be neat if it was three-dimensional?” I came up with this while I was in the office. It would be neat if it was three dimensional and maybe out of wood. Not knowing that I had never done that before they said sure, that sounds great! 

W: It came out pretty nice.

C: I thought it was great, too. I ended up laminating the wood together so the lines in the wood sort of formed a suit. But two weeks before it was done it looked terrible.
W: I saw the “before” pictures on your Website when you were still working on roughing it out, and it did kind of look like a Boy Scout project. 

C: Sure, it was one of those things I was learning as I go. I had just recently finished a commission, again for GW, right in the middle of the campus where they were doing the Post Projects—where the artists do the call boxes. I did one for them and they loved it and they asked me to do a drawing. They said they were going to convert it to fiberglass. I said wouldn’t it be neat if I did it three-dimensional—maybe in aluminum! So I started on that having never done such a three-dimensional portrait. I had done the statue of Cy Katzen, but that was in wood. This was Ingrid Bergman. There are a lot of problems trying to capture a beautiful woman. 

Calder Brannock, Camper Contemporary.
Copyright Calder Brannock, Courtesy Conner Contemporary Art

W: Absolutely. And not just any beautiful woman, Ingrid Bergman is a goddess. 

C: I started out with her as a goddess, but she became more of a demon in trying to capture her. In every picture she looks a little bit different. It was looking garish as I was trying to get it done in aluminum, and I ended up doing it in concrete. So it was one of those things where it was a longer process. Sometimes working with me turns out longer process than it needs to be, but it really turned out to be really interesting and now I know all sorts of things about pouring concrete and making concrete molds. I get as much pleasure from that, the learning process. 

W: That makes me think that a lot of what you are doing is about searching. That is another one of the threads I wanted to pursue in talking with you. Before we move on, though, is there any other relatively conventional sculpture that I haven’t discovered yet? 

C: I think that if you go on my Website you’ll see nearly everything I’ve done. I’ve done some furniture work that I have really enjoyed. I’ve been exploring that recently. I am reading a book called “The Way of All Flesh: A Celebration of Decay”, which is about disintegration. I’ve been playing with concrete and old wood and putting those together with moss. It really is cool. I am casting the concrete to make table tops around old beams  that I am finding around Baltimore where they are reworking buildings. You see both the exposed top of the beam and then I found splits in the wood and I decided to embrace those. Where there is a split, I continue that out as a tray into the concrete and grow moss in there. So, you’ve got an organic thing that will change over time and if the moss starts to latch on to the concrete—maybe it splits the table apart—so be it. But right now it’s just such a gentle thing. 

W: In learning about you and the “searching” part of your work, what struck me was that you are not the only artist that I’ve talked to recently who is as interested in the work of others and in collaboration and in curation as in developing or putting out a product in the more traditional sense. Has that always been so? How do you trace your development as an artist in a connected space?

C: Part of what I love about being an artist is that I can wake up and explore whatever I want every day. One day I can be researching the way things decay. The next day it can be John Wilkes Booth or zeppelins. They are my latest fascination and how they are built. It really allows me to explore a wide range of topics really in depth. It is always learning, which is nice.

The interview continues here.

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