Friday, December 14, 2012

An interview with Ayokunle Odeleye

Installation view of  exhibition: Thirty-Two Years of Public Art

Ayokunle Odeleye discusses 'Thirty-Two Years of Public Art,' his retrospective exhibition currently on view at MOCA GA in an interview with Kate Fowler.

What can you tell us about your retrospective at MOCA GA?

This retrospective exhibition, which includes three dimensional models, technical diagrams, drawings and photographs of sculpture commissioned by arts agencies for site-specific public spaces across the United States, represents thirty two years of my work in the field of Public Art. 
The works in the exhibit offer a comprehensive look at a large body of commissioned sculpture and related imagery that have never been displayed together in a single environment.                                                                                                    

As you mentioned, on view at MOCA GA are models, drawings, and documentation of your public works. How would you suggest viewers to approach your work so that they can understand the scaled version of a project and also its position and influence in the public space?

The work in the gallery is arranged in chronological order providing the viewer with the opportunity to interact with my earliest work to the most recent. In reviewing the exhibition I would suggest viewers examine the drawings first, look at the models next, and finally, images of the monumental sculpture on site which evolved from the drawings and model studies.

You have been working in public art for 32 years. What changes have you seen through your career in Public Art? What challenges or advances do you see public art undertaking in the future?

One change that I have seen in Public Art has been in the area of presentation technology. Formerly, artists selected as project finalist would come to the committee selection meeting with original project drawings and models in hand as part of their final competitive presentation. In most instances digital presentations have now replaced this process with models, drawings and related imagery existing as digitized images projected onto a screen. Public Art as a whole has expanded to include all areas of the visual and performing arts with an increasing focus on temporary projects and new technologies over permanent traditional works of art.

Detail view of model from exhibition: Thirty-Two Years of Public Art

What similarities or difference have you observed in your process and the public’s response in Georgia, compared to other regions for which you have created Public Art?

The majority of my publicly commissioned sculptures have been outside of the state of Georgia. The response to my work by both local and national audiences, however, has been the same in terms of appreciation for how the artist has addressed the site, admiration for the physical form and curiosity regarding the layers of meaning associated with the works content.

Can you talk a little about your creative process? Where do you find inspiration or what helps you generate ideas? What difficulties do you face when creating art that the viewer cannot perceive from looking at your work? What challenges do you face with the execution of your art that is different from other types of art?

Public Art commissioned by a state or federal agency requires the artist to address the site in the content of the work. Ideas associated with the works theme often result from research conducted by the artist related to the history and or special characteristic of the site and its local population. Additionally the project selection committee and other stakeholders will often inform the artist about tangible and intangible goals they would like the artwork to achieve related to the site.    

There are numerous challenges associated with the fabrication of large scale metal sculpture that are not apparent to the viewer of the installed work. Some of these are associated with constantly having to balance, move, turn and re-position metal forms weighing thousands of pounds to access areas being developed. Another challenge is in the natural tendency of metal of all types to expand and warp under the application of heat in the welding process. This is an obvious problem when the design requires a specific area of the sculpture to be straight as an arrow or when one surface plane of a form is designed to be in a particular proximity with another area. Warping of the form and the undesirable movement of structures exposed to  intense heat can offer a significant challenge to the artist fabricator. The viewing public will have no clue of these studio challenges if the artist has successfully addressed the issue before the work leaves the studio for installation at the site.

Installation view of  exhibition: Thirty-Two Years of Public Art
How has technology influenced your work and teaching in your career?

I have adjusted to advances in technology in both my studio practice and as a sculpture instructor at Kennesaw State University (KSU) by acquiring training with advanced equipment and computer software. The very rapid changes in computer software, however, often require the assistance of my daughters who are highly proficient with computer related technology. KSU faculty and computer graphic majors have also been invaluable in my ability to cope with advances in computer software technology related to my studio practice particularly in the area of conducting presentations.

You have been able to maintain a career as an artist even through tough economic times. What do you attribute to this success? What advice can you give to other artists who are seeking, but struggling to consistently earn from their art?

Artist who are seeking to earn money from their art need to be highly proficient at what they do. They should have established a studio space in which they maintain a consistent schedule of work, clearly determine the ideas being addressed in their art, identified their audience, establish marketing tools and a support group, keep informed of activities in their field, develop multiple income streams, seek feed back from professionals in their field, manage their finances responsibly, stay healthy and be persistent.

Do you have any recent or upcoming projects that you'd like for us to keep an eye out for?

I recently completed a bronze and stainless steel sculpture for the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. The sculpture is a working sundial and is part of an installation that honors citizens from the Atlanta, Cascade road community.

The work is located at the intersection of Cascade road and Benjamin E. Mays Drive. It is a significant work in my portfolio as my first attempt at a large scale sundial that required an extensive employment of science and math in the completion of this functional interactive sculpture. Viewers to the MOCA GA exhibition will see photographs of the installed work along with related models, structural drawings and diagrams illustrating the mathematical calculations used to determine the movement of  the sun in relationship to the sculpture at this particular site. It is an extraordinary work that has received very positive responses from the Atlanta community.

Detail view of models and photos from the sculpture at Cascade Road.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ruth Laxson: Hip Young Owl

Ruth Laxson, Hip Young Owl
ca. late 1960s, etching, 7.5 x 5.5 inches
I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth Laxson while accompanying MOCA GA’s Collection and Exhibition Manager, Shana Barefoot, on a trip to the artist’s studios to pick up some pieces for the retrospective. Her two studios, built by her husband Robert, sit close together in the couple’s garden. I was immediately taken aback by the stacks of works on paper that filled the small studios. Every inch of the tables and shelves were covered with drawing, prints, letterings, books, and sources of inspiration. As Ruth was going through the work that we were to bring back to the museum, she presented us with a small etching entitled Hip Young Owl. Posed with it’s leg extended out to the side and its eyes darkly lined, the owl is clearly strutting its stuff. This wonderful piece sets the stage for a collection that is full of wit, humor and the bizarre.

Born in 1924 in Roanoke, Alabama, the renowned Atlanta-based artist went on to study print making, painting and drawing at the Atlanta College of Art in 1958. She is considered a pioneer in the field of book making and has exhibited internationally. Laxson’s work is widely known for her incorporation text and using language and communication as a major subject for her work.

Over the past several months, the staff at MOCA GA has been eagerly anticipating and preparing for Laxson’s exhibition Hip Young Owl. The exhibition will house nearly all of Laxson’s hand-made artist books, as well as a vast number of her print making, drawings, paintings, letter art, and sculptures.
Highlights from the collection include Laxson’s artist books and examples from her God Doll series. For her artist books, Laxson uses automatic writing, pictograms, musical scores, and sketches of figures to create whimsical images that spill over the pages. Laxson’s doodle like images and playful use of printed and written text add a sense of innocence to the occasional darker subject of her books. Laxson’s books explore many themes such as God, religion, human relationships, war and communication. Laxson continues the theme of God and religion in her God Doll series. These works on paper express the artist’s personal thoughts on religion and how people create their own images of God.

A retrospective covering over four decades of Laxson’s career, this immense collection is not one to be missed.

Post written by Sarah Wright | 12.12.12

Ruth Laxson: Hip Young Owl. A Retrospective.
This exhibition will be January 25 – March 31, 2012