Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Art Space Talk: David Stromeyer

Throughout David Stromeyer's long career, he has created both outdoor and indoor sculptures, and has also successfully completed many public commissions. David's preferred medium is steel, which he most often fashions into large scale abstract or semi-abstract works. David's work can be found in the collections at DeCordova Museum, National Building Museum, and the National Museum of America Art. His work is also included in several private and corporate collections throughout the United States.

Three, Three, Three, 24' x 14' x 20', painted steel, 2002

Brian Sherwin: David, I read that you fell in love with sculpture as an art major at Dartmouth College. Can you recall your academic years? Who were your mentors during that time?

David Stromeyer: Actually, I started college as a math major, but soon found myself at the other end of campus in the studio art area. I had always been a maker of things—always wanted a bigger erector set. Dartmouth had an active visiting artist program. Donald Judd was there I assisted Jason Seley one semester, and made a film about Richard Anuszkiewicz.
Remembrance, 15' x 16' x 13', painted steel, 1988. Herbert Johnson Museum, Cornell University

BS: I've read that you originally were interested in film. At what point did you decide to focus on your sculptures?

DS: While at Dartmouth as an undergraduate, I worked equally in film and sculpture. Once I dealt with the draft (in was Vietnam time) I went to graduate school in film at UCLA. After working in independent film, writing and trying to sell feature ideas, I decided that I wanted more control of the outcome, and did not want to spend a large percentage of my life selling myself. At that point (I was in Boston) I got on my bike and rode across Canada to think it all over. It was after returning that I bought the farm in Vermont and devoted myself to sculpture.

BS: Early in your career you found a particular resonance with the sculptures of David Smith, Di Suvero, and Noguchi, and you have stated that you have always admired Matisse, Avery, Rothko, and Diebenkorn for their color control and compositional wit. Can you discuss these influences further? Are these influences still rooted in your process? Perhaps you could share some influences that have not been mentioned?

DS: I certainly still respect the work of the above mentioned artists, though I cannot say they or anybody for that matter influences me to a large extent. I try to keep my eyes and mind open to all art expressions be they in music, dance, or the visual arts. That said, when thinking about color for new sculpture, I often thumb through books by the above mentioned painters. Avery in particular, still amazes me with the choice of color he juxtaposes with another. Other artists whose work I particularly admire are Tony Cragg, Richard Long, Martin Puryear, Richard Serra (more recent work). I have been reading, visiting and thinking a lot recently about contemporary architecture of late.
Fractured Rock C, 4 x 29 x 24 inches, cast resin, 2006

BS: David, throughout your career you have created indoor and outdoor sculptures, and have also successfully completed many public commissions. When it comes to how your sculptures are displayed... do you prefer one space over the other? In other words, do you enjoy indoor displays more than outdoor? Also, would you say that the environment the sculpture is displayed in becomes a part of the work itself?

DS: I believe I am very sensitive and attuned to the natural world. Living in the northern Vermont for nearly 40 years has allowed me to experience my work in a rural setting in a wide variety of seasons and weather conditions. I have thought a great deal how people move through and interact with surfaces and sound and light variations within the spaces they encounter. To be able to explore these spatial considerations I need to create spaces though which people can move. This dictates that the work be of a size that more comfortably lives outside. While I have worked with existing rooms, plaza spaces and other architectural spaces, I suppose I prefer the neutrality of a "clean" outdoor space.

The small works have always been a set of works exploring an idea or a particular spatial problem (sort of a collection of personal essays if you will). I this case I usually work on several pieces nearly simultaneously moving from one to the other and back again.
Tool de Force, 13' x 17' x 18', painted steel, 1983. National Building Museum, Washington, DC

BS: David, I understand that your preferred medium is steel, which you most often fashion into large scale abstract or semi-abstract works. You have stated in the past that "Steel can be fantastically expressive." Can you go into further detail about that?

DS: I have worked with and feel relatively comfortable with wood, concrete, and resins, but always return to steel. I get and idea, explore that idea in a 3D model, and then consider what is the most appropriate material. Of course, I suppose that most of the ideas I get are driven by what I know can be express in steel. When I first started working with steel I was very reverent to the given shape, be it a plane, beam, tube, or what have you. But later I wanted to push the material, explore its plastic, and structural possibilities.
I have use cranes in very unorthodox (and unapproved) ways to bend, shape, and crush steel. Years ago I developed a technique of literally shooting multi-ton boulders out of the air to use their impact energy to form my material. I introduced color/s to either play with one another, create an overall mood, unify or break up the structure.

BS: While steel is your preferred medium you are known to employ other materials-- including concrete and feathers. What is the challenge of working with different materials on a single piece? In your opinion, what are some the more difficult materials to work with? Do you see that challenge as a part of your process?

DS: In the course of my work as a photographer for major east coast museums, I photographed many sculptural renderings of the human head. This led me to creating a series of my own. In the course of this exploration I used materials as diverse as bits of mirrors, bee’s wax, thread, leather, bones, burlap, tar, a floor mop, a cooking wok, a tree burl, etc. My approach is always one of having a "dialogue" with the material. The conversation might go:

Me: "If I were to bend you and attach you over here next to so and so, would you be happy?"

The material: "Yeah, but don’t bend me quite so much, O.K?"…

Me: "Got it, O.K."…
Banded Rock, 9' x 9' x 12', painted steel, 2005

BS: When we think of sculptures we often think of them as an object viewed at a distance. However, with many of your sculptures viewers are able to-- in a sense --be in the sculpture. They are able walk under it, every angle is open for their exploration.What do you enjoy about that type of interaction?

DS: While I mentioned earlier that I like Martin Puryear’s work. His concerns seem totally different in that he is containing and hence creating a often unseen interior space. I want my work to stand elegantly and engagingly in the distance, but I am really interested in the exact point on approach to the work that it envelopes you. Now you must perceive it kinetically—your eyes are much use. Listen to how the sound reaching your ears has changed. Are you in a cool shadowed space?
Most of us live and work in rectilinear boxes—how limiting and unexciting. How would our experience be different if the ceiling sloped down just slightly, or if it swooped and and twisted at the same time, for example. I rely very heavily on my gut for evaluation during my in-studio fabrication decisions. I constantly ask myself if this or that relationship "feels right", and trust my response totally.
Child's Dream, 12' x 13' x 35', concrete, 2002. Stromeyer Home, Austin, TX

BS: Another interesting aspect about your larger pieces is that adults often take on a child-like playful nature when viewing them and interacting with them. Is that reaction something that you strive for? Is it your goal for adults to-- if only for a moment --to forget the concerns of the day as they become one with your vision?

DS: I don’t exactly strive for it, but at the same time it’s a fine and valid response. I have found that people’s exact response is impossible to predict. Two nights ago while getting ready for bed here in Austin, I heard strange noises coming from our sculpture space next door. Upon investigation I found two women singing to each other through a long pipe (part of a sculpture) at nearly midnight. While at times I can be very serious, intense and driven, I am also very playful. This finds its way into the work and most people do seem to take a way this quality. I do want to engage the viewer in some way.

BS: David, can you discuss the creation of some of your more recent work? I understand that you design and fabricate all of your work. You do not rely on assistants. Would you say that makes your work more personal compared to someone who utilizes outside help?

DS: We are in the process of updating my website www.davidstromeyer.com to show many of the latest pieces. I have used outside fabricators for some limited work if I feel they are able to get the results I want in a faster less laborious way than I can. But once I have the elements, I always handle their coming together. This is the most critical part; where the work can be made or broken. I insist at this point on the freedom to make adjustments and alterations.

Finding good help has been very challenging. I have tried locally, and I have imported art school graduates. They often either have divergent agendas or simply wear out. That said, I do have one friend/ fellow artist/ assistant, Brian O’Neill, who has helped me off an on over many years.
Southwest Sunset, 6" x 21" x 25", 1984. National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC

BS: You have also utilized painting methods within the context of your work, correct? Perhaps you could tell us about that. Do you continue to explore those methods with your work?

DS: Yes, I hit a bit on painting earlier. I am always after the most suitable colors and application techniques to ensure a long life for the works. I see the sculptures as having an aspect of 3 D painting. At the same time, because the works are big, often going in public spaces, and will some day have to be re-painted by a non-artist. I do not get too "painterly" when treating the surface. David Smith did at times, and we all know the troubles that caused. At the other end of the spectrum, Richard Serra, I think, limits the experience by restricting his works to unpainted corten.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Also, can you tell us a few places where our readers can view your work in person? Are you open to studio visits?

DS: My last completed public project was sited in late October in Overland Park KS (just south of Kansas City). I am currently evaluating several models which I developed over the winter in Austin for possible fabrication this summer in Vermont. Throughout my career I have continued to create large scale work regardless of whether on a commission or not.

I have works at Cornell University, Swarthmore College, Manchester CT Community College, SUNY Plattsburg. The DeCordova, Delaware, National Building Museums have works. There are pieces in Miami, L.A., Cheyenne, Charlotte, Bethesda, among other cities and sites.

Yes, my wife and I welcome interested visitors particularly to our Vermont farm. There are about forty pieces spread over five large meadows. We can be contacted at: david@davidstromeyer.com for information or to arrange a visit.
Turn for the Better, 19' x 28' x 37', painted steel, 1987. Worcester County Jail, MA
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or sculpting in general?

DS: It is my hope that we as a nation will stop making war, cherish culture and start to understand that when we speak of "our environment" that concept should include everything from clean water, to respect for other creatures, to beautiful design.

Before the 9-11 attack I had started a multi-media sculpture critical of the Bush administration. I suspended work for awhile to allow the country to heal. I finished the work entitled "Mission Accomplished" a few years ago and would be glad to share images with interested readers on their request. [Once before in my career I focused my frustration on a political figure, Alexander Haig. That time with a museum installation which spoke to both his military and diplomatic sides.]
You can learn more about David Stromeyer by visiting his website-- www.davidstromeyer.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've seen his work in person. Very playful, but it makes you think as well. It is not everyday that you can walk into a piece and be apart of the piece in some respects.