Simon Rigg is an extraordinary sculptor who I met online through artist Ellen Fisch who suggested that we chat. I’m glad she did. Simon’s work www.simonrigg.com is fresh, innovative and it pushes sculpture forward. Here’s our cool chat…
MICHAEL: Hey Simon, First of all, your work is stunning. Let's start with the sculptures. The work is so contemporary and outside the box. But shouldn't you be recreating Venus de Milo or David? What's going on here?
SIMON: Funny you should ask that question. Just this week, I had to take a visitor for the first time to the MET and spent some time in one of the galleries full of Italian marble sculpture spanning the last three to five hundred years. When possible, marble has always been my first 'material choice' and when you get to experience up close and personal those extraordinary sculptures, reclining nudes, muscular bodies and pulsating veins carved in unbelievable perfection, you start to ask questions about your own work while in admiration and I guess even envy of work that is technically so perfect. As history shows, it falls into a category of its time and as much as I admire sculpture of that caliber, my own work is crafted on who I am based more on emotion rather than something that is traditional in approach and very figurative.
MICHAEL: Clearly you have your own mind and inspiration which is great. You're one of those sculptors who are really changing how people perceive sculpture. It seems that you're most interested in the flexibility of materials and what you can do with them, No?
SIMON: I think it is important to push the boundaries of a material because it forces an artist to think outside of the box, a way of challenging the perception of the material visually in a way to be something other than what it is. In the process of exploring those boundaries, it will knowingly or unknowingly influence and strengthen an artist's style. Materials like marble or wood for example are hard and rigid and have their breaking point, but that perception can be challenged by the way it is cut and shaped. Years ago, in my early works, people would sometimes come up to me and ask, "How did you bend the marble like that?"
At first, I thought they were joking and my response was, "Well if you soak it in water for so many hours..." I came to realize that most people really don't give much thought about the state of a material other than taking it at face value as a final object. That’s even if it is a regular daily functional object. So the point here is that what can be a simple process of cutting and manipulating marble or wood takes the concept of what is perceived of the material into something entirely different.
There was a series of works I did a few years ago where I tied sections of cut marble together with thread; they were sort of bound together as a structural form. The point I was trying to make was that marble is perceived as a dominant, hard and non-flexible, unbending material and historically a hard material identified in classical marble sculptures. The one thing that became the dominant form with this particular sculpture series was the thread because that was the only thing holding the marble sections together. Once you cut the thread, they would fall apart. I found it important to try and shift that thought away from what was expected.
MICHAEL: Which is more difficult ... coaxing materials to take certain shapes and forms or getting people to look at things in new ways?
SIMON: A bigger question than what you are actually asking … I don't think it's either, materials can easily take many forms and people by human nature generally like surprises and contemporary art as it is today is totally all about surprise and being new. Could I suggest what can be more difficult is taking in a lot of art that is out there for the sake of being new, but then, what is "new"?
MICHAEL: Your sculptures are also very structural and architectural. They're hip, cool, "man structures." They look like they could be made by educated, contemporary cavemen. No?
SIMON: When I was very young I wanted to be an archaeologist, someone who digs away the dirt and dust discovering what had been lost and forgotten. Being a sculptor is as much a part of being an archaeologist in a sense of uncovering what lies ahead and still unknown. Certainly much of my work has been strongly influenced by architecture leaning heavily toward indigenous dwellings or enclosures made from materials like bamboo, wood, grass, bound with vines or rope. These indigenous materials are their marble and from this extraordinary relationship they have with the land and the need of survival and shelter is the ability to form and create extraordinary functional shelters (sculptures) that are lived in. Maybe being a sculptor in today's world is much about having that relationship to discover what can be built.
MICHAEL: Is there a relationship between your drawings and sculptural works? Are drawings ever blueprints for sculptures or is drawing a totally different exercise for you?
SIMON: Drawing is such an important process to develop new ideas and many times just simple sketches with a few lines will give me everything I need to start a sculpture. By the time I start a new work, I've already built and dismantled the work in my head many times anticipating possible worse case scenarios. Bigger and more labor intensive drawings tend to be more structured than the sketches which are fast and fluid, but they still serve the purpose of exposing and strengthening ideas. The relationship of drawing and sculpture are bound together, but I never really have the drawing in front of me to do a sculpture.
MICHAEL: When and how did you become an artist? What were the circumstances? I mean, art isn't very practical. Shouldn't you have become a lawyer, stockbroker or firefighter? SIMON: No on all the latter and when you say art isn't very practical, I will assume you mean financially challenging and not the norm. Wanting to be an archaeologist never really went away, but wanting to be artist kicked in at a very early age as well and then it was all about painting.
In fact, I started as a painter and worked at in for many years and found I could not get close enough to the canvas to the point I put aside brushes and started painting with my hands. I guess the next obvious step was sculpture, but I had also previously done a lot of ceramics and if there is any one material that can be physically indulgent, it has to be wet clay.
I don't know what determines the need and desire to be an artist. It seems to be something that’s all encompassing and many don’t want to do anything else. I know many people who have been artists and have given it up, but I decided that at the age I am now there is no turning back; to give it up would be to deny who I am. Anyway, I think it would make me a very grumpy man. That's not to say there are many times you don't question yourself, checking your abilities and even during those periods of treading water in those dark places within ourselves, the desire to be an artist or sculptor never recedes. Of course, the bigger picture is you often reach the top of a mountain thinking you reached a peak only to discover the peak you were seeking is still mountains away. Gee, good question. Why would you want to be an artist?
MICHAEL: So many people are suspicious of contemporary art. They think it's bullcrap. Are they all wrong? SIMON: There are many answers to your question, but straight up, I must admit that I have a few problems with many gallery shows.
When I see a gallery show and don't know the artist and I have a negative response to the work, I will usually not dismiss it immediately, but go and research for more information on the web about the artist and past works.
An artwork that doesn't necessarily sit well with me can also be a passion for someone else. What makes a good work of art that will catch the attention of say a gallery, critic, dealer, collector, I don't know anymore, it seems to be all accelerated by a need to be very different and stand out as unique, not to mention who you know and your level of contacts. The first initial response when looking at an artwork is usually the best approach; it needs to connect immediately. I try and keep my criticism in check because when I go to any gallery show, the first thing I want to know is how it was made or painted. I need to be tested on its integrity of application. I am aware this can be a bad thing to do because it can blur the visual experience to the point of judging a work based on how much skill went into it when in fact just the simplest approach and technique can also be extraordinarily successful. An example would be walking into a gallery and seeing a piece of screwed up paper sitting on a pedestal and thinking what a terrible work of art and where are we going next. But on closer inspection, you realize that the screwed up piece of paper is in fact, a work made of marble, so what was intended by the artist to be assumed as paper was something extraordinary. In my own work, I feel it is different, on a scale of one to ten you will have to tell me that. I am always pushing the level of technique and skill that helps define a work, but keeping in mind that all the pushing for quality can at the same time smother the idea and fluidity of a work.
MICHAEL: In short, people need to open their minds along with their eyes. I could go on and on with you Simon, but I'll make this the last question. What's the point of all of this? I mean, this discussion and art in general aren't curing cancer or ending homelessness. Why should people even care? What's the point of art?
SIMON: The point is man has been making art since forever, a need to create something out of nothing, to express life as it is at the moment, it's part of who we all are. Art is about making us think and look at things differently, art makes us feel good, makes us happy and even the art we don't like educates us through response. Opinions are important. It may not cure cancer, but for many, living with an art work provides tremendous stimulation, thought provoking food and that's a good thing.
MICHAEL: Indeed. Thanks Simon. This has been great.
SIMON: Thanks so much for the interview. It became clear after the first few questions how much I don't talk about art and am always buried silently in the work.
Check out Simon at www.simonrigg.com.