Friday, December 14, 2007

Art Space Talk: Lucy Puls

Lucy Puls is a mixed media sculptor who has exhibited her work primarily in California and New York. Her work is included in many public and private collections, including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Oakland Museum.. Her work involves ordinary consumer items that are often used and discarded. Lucy received her MFA from Rhode Island School of Design and has been a Professor of Art at University of California, Davis, since 1985.

Ad Huc Locum (Magnolias) by Lucy Puls

Brian Sherwin: Lucy, you graduated with an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Who were your instructors at RISD and how did they influence you?

Lucy Puls: At RISD what most influenced me was the school as a whole and the place - Providence. The contrast between the historic colonial part of town that the school was situated in and the run down area's that many of the students lived in. I worked as a model maker in a factory my first year in graduate school so the difference was apparent to me on a daily basis in yet another way.
My colleagues at RISD were discussing esoteric art issues and my colleagues at work were discussing the relative merits of installing an air conditioning unit in their homes as a way to break the boredom while working on the models. Each week there was a new consumer item to be discussed, what was the best car to buy, where to purchase a home, who to get carpet from, how to get the best deal on this or that. I was riveted by these conversations.

BS: I understand that you are an art instructor. Where do you teach? Do you find it difficult balancing teaching with finding time to create your own work? Or do they feed off of each other, so to speak?

LP: I teach at the University of California, Davis. And yes, it is always hard to find time, but that goes with being a grown up. I manage pretty well because I like to work more then I like to hang out or go to parties or shop or do just about any other thing else I can think of. Please don't invite me to the beach or hiking!

No they don't feed off one another; the teaching tries to eat the studio artist whole. One must protect the studio artist from the teaching. It is important to figure out how to be a teacher and an artist and not get swallowed by the dark scary overwhelming teaching/committee/institution thing.

Ad Huc Locum (Nightstand) by Lucy Puls

BS: Lucy, you gather raw materials from book recycling centers, resale shops, and anything that you find on the curb for free. When using these items would you say that you are interested in where they came from-- where they once belonged? Does that question beg for an answer within the context of your work?

LP: I don't understand this question fully. Yes, as an individual I can't help but wonder about some of the things I've acquired, especially when they are personalized with doodles and names and other types of personal identifiers. But most often I am asking why are there so much of this one thing at this particular time? Why is it being offloaded now? What is so special about this particular time that prompts the removal of stuff that has hung around peoples closets, garages, and basements that it just has to go away now? What inspired so many people to buy these things to begin with and why are they getting rid of it in mass at about the same time? What's the subliminal significance behind this activity?

BS: As mentioned, your work examines the discarded and unwanted objects of present day culture. You have had exhibits devoted to exploring the proliferation of abandoned domestic appliances and other items. These works remind one of the 'paper trail' that we consumers leave behind. Would you say that your work questions consumer-culture and how it harms the environment due to this 'trail'? Are you concerned about the environmental implications of what we leave behind?

LP: I am. I have two remarks to make: a number of years ago I worried that since I was making stuff I was adding more to the worlds landfill. Not that I expect my finished work to end up there, though there is no guarantee, but there is a lot of materials that get used in processes that end up as waste. Those thoughts seemed destined to generate paralysis so I decided to stick with blind faith, which has served me well for many years. It's the artist's friend.

Second: in the At Huc Locum series you can see how people in the community are trying to recycle or reuse items in an ad hoc (absolutely no pun intended -I am not a pun person) way.

Although I am more interested in how a culture and society that is based on capitalism can continue to find ways to attract individuals in participating. Such as the new development of attracting kids to spend real money to buy items on the web for their web-based characters, cloths and other stuff. This is quite clever since there is nothing that they are really buying except the idea of a thing.

Ad Huc Locum (Plums) by Lucy Puls

BS: Lucy, I've read that you call these materials a 'goldmine of information'... can you go into further detail about that statement?

LP: The answer to this question would take too long to answer. Plus it feels like someone is trying to drill a hole in my brain. Can I please just lie on the floor and wail instead?

BS: Lucy, cast resin is another medium that you utilize. You often encase materials from pop culture: Barbie dolls, various toys, and guns. Can you tell us about this process? Do you have any suggestions for readers who are interested in using this medium?

LP: I don't use resin now. I may again in the future, who knows? The way I have used it in the past was very labor intensive. If anyone wants to learn about complicated materials and processes like casting metal, resin, mold making, welding, and lots of other stuff they need to take a class or apprentice with someone who works with it.
Many art fabricators are fabulous resources and always looking for good people to work for them. Spend a couple years with one of them and you will come out with a great skill set. They also have the best safety equipment. Don't do this on your own since you could compromise your health.

Ad Huc Locum (Hood) by Lucy Puls

BS: Lucy, you have also utilized album covers within the context of your work. These albums from the 60's and 70's impacted you as a teenager. However, this body of work is not about nostalgia... it is about memory. Can you go into further detail about your philosophy behind this body of work?

LP: You are assuming that I was influenced by the albums but in fact most of them I either never heard or didn't own. Only a few I knew and loved. Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow was my favorite album when I was 12 although I never owned it. I only went to visit it at JC Penny's on the weekends and hid it in the wrong section so no one would buy it. Joni Mitchell's Blue made me decide I should continue to live until adulthood; Carol King's Tapestry's drove me nuts because so many people played it so often - it was America's theme album for a while. The rest of them I didn't know well. For instance I had no idea that the Who album cover was someone pissing against a wall.
All the albums I used because a vinyl store gave me what they would be throwing away. They were thrilled not to use up dumpster space. I hauled them to my studio and looked through the boxes for signs of patterns (16 Carol King Tapestry albums in one batch!) just as I did when I would visit the thrift shops before the eBay folks messed up the ecosystem.

Back to your question, yes memory is important and music is a really strong memory trigger. Although in this work no music is being played, the idea of music from an era is evoked. By casting the albums in piles of about an inch or so thick in resin and sanding them until the covers get blasted off in spots, then photographing that cast, digitizing it, enlarging to double the size of an album cover, printing it, flipping it, and butting up two right side and two flipped images I ended up with what I wanted: A pseudo Rorschach.

What's a Rorschach? A tool in the form of a copyrighted inkblot that a supposed disturbed individual looks at and in his/her response reveals something hidden about his/her psyche. This has always been a controversial method in the field but in a way it reminds me of visual parallel to the light shows from the rock concerts of the late 1960's. All that floating colored oil on water or whatever was used to create those shows.

Ad Huc Locum (Ficus) by Lucy Puls

BS: Lucy what galleries are you represented by? Do you have any exhibits planned for 2008?

LP: Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco. I do, but not ready for prime time.

BS: What are you working on at this time? What do you plan to explore next within the context of your work?

LP: Sculpture, drawings, and photographs. I know this is a fake answer but I don't like to talk about what I am going to do because what I'm going to do is always about an urge. Its not very smart or cool. It is just a force that is pulling me towards something. I have to see where I end up. I refer to it as nomri vagus (wandering in the woods).

BS: Finally, do you have any advice for emerging artists?

LP: In scopulus!

You can learn more about Lucy Puls by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lucy absolutely rocks! I first met her many many years ago and admire her tenacity, creativity, and resolve. I am like the artist eaten by the system she refers to. I teach and teach and teach and committee and committee but rarely do art. She inspires me to create again.