Axiom Project, a traveling group show featuring International artists and the artwork of Florida Artist, David McLeish, opened its American leg of the tour in Brooklyn this past Saturday. The show runs for ten days and then will be moving to Philadelphia and then Tampa. The Pinion Gallery in Brooklyn is hosting the event. (Check gallery website for dates and times.) David McLeish with his business partner Matt Miley are the hosts of this leg of the art show which spent most of the summer touring European cities. The show is made up of about 7 artists who each committed new work and hosted the show in their home city.
David McLeish is a mixed media sculptor who has traveled the world in pursuit of his art. I have known David for over 20 years and have enjoyed watching his evolution as an artist and human being. No one else I know has traveled so far and experienced as much as David. Never one to stay in a comfort zone, David is always pushing himself in radically different directions. David has worked with incredible art programs learning his craft and expanding his world view. The length of his travels and many different influences are evident in his work. His work is very tactile and familiar. I have said before when encountering David's work, for work that is so personal and self centered, David never forgets the viewer, never forgets our needs and to bring us along with him. David says his work is a conversation with his materials but it is also something more, David is inviting us to join him as the world slowly reveals itself. He is someone who doesn't want to miss anything and wants to imprint that desire on us.
From David's Artist Statment;
"I have lived in Japan, and traveled extensively throughout Asia, South America and North America. The places and people I met along the way raised more questions than answers and my work is a personal diary of these experiences. In my quest, I investigate the temporal nature of memory and contrast it with the universal mythology of personal experience. The possibilities, like journeys, are endless."
"I work intuitively, using a range of materials from steel, paper, wood, clay cement, glass, bronze, aluminum, wax and found objects. Nothing is off limits in my search to find the right feeling and texture. The materials are carved, layered, pounded, melted, glued and stacked into organic shapes to convey the concept of natural process and the passage of time. Ritualistic repetition brings each piece to life, allowing it to tell its unique story."
Over the weekend I was able to set up an interview with my old friend. I enjoyed the conversation and the information we exchanged so much I decided to include the whole thing here on the blog.
All the artist website links are located at the end of this interview.
GL: Last time I saw you was at Art Basel in Miami, two years ago, what do you think of the Miami art scene?
DM: I think the art scene is strong; it’s not my esthetic. It’s a lot of shiny and bright colors; you can tell from my work I use a more muted palette. I think the shows could use more language in art or more languages so they could hit more viewers. From the artist’s point of view it could use more diversity but the energy in and around Miami is amazing. The fact that it’s in Miami is great; I don't think it could be in a better spot for that type of work.
GL: The normal way of things is to be born in Brooklyn then move around the world and then finally to settle in Florida. You seemed to have done the opposite. So tell me, what’s a Florida boy doing in Brooklyn?
DM: I found that my aesthetic lends itself to New York maybe Chicago, but particular Brooklyn. Brooklyn has a grittier feel and I think my work is welcomed here. I really enjoy the vibe, specifically where the gallery is set up, Pinion Gallery in Bedford Stuyvesant; it’s an up and coming neighborhood, I wasn't interested in the more commercial known neighborhoods like Chelsea or Tribeca. The reviews and feedback I have gotten in Brooklyn, it seems to be a natural fit.
GL: I love the Brooklyn museum, its one of my favorites.
DM: It’s amazing isn't it? They do really wonderful community stuff. They are constantly doing community outreach. If there is a large museum that has kept arrogance at bay, it’s the Brooklyn Museum.
GL: You have lived and shown your work all over the world, what is the most arts friendly place you have been? What city was most supporting of the arts community?
DM: Wow that could get me in a little bit in trouble. Sculpture wise I would have to say Chicago. Interest level as far as all the arts and seeing what is new from everywhere around the world, I would have to say Tokyo in the 90's and now probably Shanghai. They just have a hunger for what is out there in the world; they really want to know what is going on. As far as pushing the envelope I think Brooklyn right now is the best. The directions that things get pushed in Brooklyn are what follow next. I really do believe that.
GL: Tell me about this show, what can I expect? How long will the show run; will it travel?
DM: The co-director Matt Miley and myself started this thing called the Axiom Project. It’s a group of international artists that work together to show their work. Each member hosts a show in their home country and city featuring the group’s works. Earlier this year we had shows in Europe and now this is my show in Brooklyn. We are having European artists and American artists. So the four American cities are Chicago, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Tampa. In Europe it’s Austria, Estonia, Bulgaria and two from Vienna. This show will be taking place in both Brooklyn and Vienna at the same time: Brooklyn at 12 noon and Vienna at 7pm Saturday, September 18th. We will have live camera set up in each gallery so that the two shows can interact. We are doing a Skype interview with viewers from their show and our show asking each other questions about the work. We do have pieces in both shows from each artist and anyone can join and watch the shows on Skype.
GL: How long is the work showing?
DM: It’s here in Brooklyn for ten days and then the whole show moves to Philadelphia where it will be shown at La Salle University. Jeremy Waltman is a Professor at La Salle and the show is set it up to travel there next and will have the show interact with students and get their feedback. After Philly it will travel to Tampa. After Tampa the show will have gone to 7 different galleries in total.
GL: Is it all sculpture?
DM: No, I am the only one with sculpture, there is a video piece, a painter, a graphic novel is being promoted by Jeremy Waltman, 3 drawing by Matt Miley, some photography work from Marilin Kindsiko and some large screen prints on rice paper and also a performance piece in Vienna from Astrid Kitzler and Kinga Litkey. Oh and some ceramics from Brit Wegmann. I guess all mediums are covered. So those are the artists this year. Next year we’re working on moving into China, England and France. We are now setting that up.
GL: How many pieces do you have in the show?
DM: About 10 to 15. I have a large wall piece. I have works in steel, some mixed media and works on paper.
GL: Very cool. Is it new work?
DM: Yes mine is a mixture of brand new, never before seen work, and late last year’s work, Miley’s work is newer, just completed last year,
Jeremy ‘s work is brand new; he just published the graphic novel. Then some of the work from Europe is within the year or two. All the work is 2009 or above.
GL: Do you go to Museums, what was the last show you saw?
DM: Well I mentioned the Brooklyn museum but I have been spending time in Chicago and went to the West Loop Galleries. I was really interested in them. It’s nice, classy but not overly pretentious, with quality work.
GL: That's Chicago in general I feel, it’s sort of like New York with a Midwest feel. It’s like the best of both worlds.
DM: Yep, I would walk into the galleries and they would say hi, and after I told them I'm not a collector but an artist they were still nice to me and asked me questions. That's everything we want. I'm really impressed. It was great. I’m going to check it out a little bit better. One in particular was the Thomas Robertello Gallery, but all the galleries in the West Loop I was impressed by.
Then as far as shows that I loved, it was an artist named Adam Straus, amazing painter. He is from Florida originally, works in New York now, super painter. I have a lot of respect for him. He had 3 or 4 pieces in Basel last year and is shown at the Nohra Haime Gallery on 52nd Street. He found his success in New York. But he went to Miami Dade; he went to Florida State.
GL: See, that's the whole reason I opened the first gallery, there are so many world renowned artists from Florida that cannot find a gallery or agent to show their work in Florida. It’s unbelievable to me.
DM: It’s shocking because there is plenty of money and buyers.
GL: Well things like Art Basel are helping. I've had clients that are originally from New York or Chicago, they have been here for 20 years or more but they still travel back to the big cities and buy from their gallerist up there. It’s part of the experience for them to buy a piece from the high end galleries in New York City. They will even buy a Florida artist but they buy up there. Now, that will change, the younger generations born here will stay and shop in Florida.
DM: I don't want to have to be in New York to make it. It would be nice if you could get support from your home state. I wish it was different.
GL: We are a new State in many ways, people forget that. In American Art, first came the Northeast then the Midwest. California was like we are now not too long ago. Then California developed its own scene and now there really is this sense of California art. Florida is next. Funny that Florida holds some of the oldest art in the Americas done by Native Americans and explorers but is still struggling to develop its voice.
GL: Can you talk briefly about your process?
DM: I don't use pictures or photograph places I've been to use as reference later. But I read a book that has inspired the last two years of my work, Alto Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.” Anyway long story short; it’s a book with stories of places Marco Polo had visited. He talks about the cities in a way that is vague but descriptive and therefore you get a sense of the city without being obvious. So it inspired me to start writing short stories about places I've been, more like little poems than prose. Where I try to describe the feeling a place gave, in vague terms. You know the hardest thing to do in sculpture is to express the essence of something, especially if you don’t do figurative work. I’m trying to capture the essence of a place from the feeling I get from the memory. So it’s a memory of a person, place or thing moved into three dimensions. And hopefully, my goal is to get the viewer to feel a sense of travel or exploration and then reflect back onto their own experiences or imagine where I've been. I don't describe the work that often because I believe the visual arts are just that, visual. If I'm doing it right you should get the meaning visually. So I write about it, sketch it out and then make it.
GL: Does your subject pick the medium or does the medium pick your subject?
DM: Your question says it really well. My subject defiantly picks the medium. This current work is called the "Faded Memory Series" and it all started out in steel but I had so may viewers say that steel was not impermanent. Now I take the long view and I know steel like everything else is impermanent but for most it was just too lasting so I moved to wax and the wax work is a lot more powerful because it’s obvious that wax is impermanent to a viewer. Wax is wonderful to work with but at shows the hot lights were affecting the pieces so now I seal the wax with a resin so they are sturdy and strong but look like they could just melt off the wall.
GL: I was looking at some of them today, now you don’t use molds or do you?
DM: I use molds for the shell then I build the cities up within the, lets call them vessels, and then I build the cities by hand.
GL: Wax has been used forever in sculpture, its the oldest material, I was in Pietrasanta Italy in a 300 year old bronze foundry and they are still using the lost wax method.
DM: I did that for years, I was very into the lost wax. As a matter of fact the wax I use is the same wax you would use for lost wax to do bronze, so any of my pieces could be bronze. I just choose not to.
GL: I like that.
DM: I love that color, the pigment of that brown wax, there is just something special about it. There really is.
GL: Where do you get your supplies?
DM: Well you know I would never want my work to scream 'Found Materials" I don’t like how people use found materials and all the work looks like it is the materials they found. But 98% is some kind of found material. I don’t like to destroy to create. I like to create from the discarded. There is so much waste out there already I don’t want to make more. Then I take what I find and change it into what I want. You maybe be able to tell what the material originally was, and I'll even leave clues, but I want you to work for it. Then I get things from friends and I'll pick things up along the way from places I visit and then they will go into the piece I'm doing about that place.
GL: What time of the day do you work and how many hours a week do you spend in the studio?
DM: At my best my hours are from 11 or 12 noon till about 1 am. I do work long hours, I work about 14 hours a day.
GL: What music do you listen to when working?
DM: I love this question. I have a range, like most artists I bet. No real hard rock, but I have three or four that I listen to, its so going to date me its embarrassing but Hooty and the Blowfish, Johnny Cash and then some kind of, when I'm really getting into the work, especially when I'm welding, 50 Cent, Eminem or Little Wayne. Something rappy and hard. When I'm doing my thinking I like the softer stuff like Jimmy Buffet or Johnny Cash but when I'm doing the real work I want hard rap like 50 Cent, I want a thump.
GL: Three things you couldn’t be without while you’re working?
DM: Music has to be on. My mom is going to kill me but my chewing tobacco. I hate to say that, that's not going to get me any women; and a big pile of material. I have probably two tons of material right now. Steel, wood, wax and everything I collect. Cause I am an additive artist; I build up a piece. I don’t take away like a marble sculptor would. That process of adding things, building up a piece comes naturally to me. I’ve tried both ways and I work better building.
GL: So are you finding that you are always collecting, that you’re always looking while you walk around?
DM: Oh yea, in Japan they called me Gomi-Son, meaning Mr. Garbage because I was always looking in the trash for material and they would always save everything for me. They would be like, "Oh Dave look what I found for you, this stump!" And I would be so excited. Everyone called me Gomi-Son; it was a neighborhood joke.
GL: It's like your occupational hazard. For me when I walk into anyone's house or restaurant, anywhere really, I end up straightening all the paintings on the walls. I can't help myself. I was doing it at a hospital a month ago, the nurses were laughing as I straightened every painting down this long hallway.
GL: What was your earliest artistic training?
DM: It started in third grade when I was punished for three months. I got in so much trouble. So the only thing my parents could do is not let me outside to play so I was always inside drawing. I was drawing off of my Conan Comic books. And then, I'm super dyslectic, so the only way teachers could get me to write anything was if I could do it in comic book form. So the art teacher and the English teacher got together and allowed me to turn in all my writing assignments in comic book form. It really helped me. But then they thought I was really disturbed because I drew all these heads getting chopped off and blood and guts but I was just following my Conan comics. That’s really when it started for me, when I was 6 years old.
And then as an undergrad at FSU when I started welding, the day I picked up a welding torch I knew it’s what I should be doing. It was instant; sculpting 3D. I never looked back.
GL: Who is your favorite living artist?
DM: Anselm Kiefer. I know everybody loves Kiefer but everything he does, everything he touches I can't believe it. I love it all. If I could be half the artist he is, his color palette; it’s the same palette as mine actually but he uses it so much better. If I could be him in twenty years I could die a happy death. He takes mud and makes it look beautiful. Anyone who can do that is amazing. He has done so much work. If you can be blown away by the same piece over and over again, that’s really something. Kiefer's work does that for me.
Also, Martha Walker, a Brooklyn artist and friend. She is the best sculptor I have ever seen. She's unbelievable.
GL: She has two large pieces at the Boca Raton Hotel, you know Mizner’s place. Great pieces.
DM: Really? Cool.
GL: Yea, they just finished a huge remodel of The Boca Hotel. They really changed the whole feel of the place from Mizner Classic to very modern. I don't know if it worked or even if it was necessary but they spent a ton of money. Her pieces look great anyway.
GL: What are you working on next?
DM: I am currently working on a very large sculpture. It’s going to take a couple months. It’s going to be steel and wood. Similar to the work I am showing this weekend but now that I have the space I'm going much larger.
GL: Do you work on one piece from inception to completion or do you juggle lots of pieces at once?
DM: Because of the process I work on about 6 to 12 pieces at once. That way I give each piece time, time to breathe and time to speak to me. The truth is it slows me down to think clearly. I was not good with that when I was much younger but now I know to slow down and really listen to the work. I really believe that is 90% of being an artist, is listening to the work instead of forcing your will on it. Like I said I have gotten better at that as I have matured. I know now that it is a conversation.
Q: Have you kept up with Judo?
DM: Yea, I did, especially when I was in Japan. I got up to my third degree black belt and was training with world champions for about ten years but I would have to say now it’s mostly in the glory days department. I have a friend in Jersey that would like me to start back. But am I in shape right now? Absolutely not.
GL: If you could have one painting in the world, you could rip it right off the wall of a museum and take it home with you, which painting would you choose?
DM: Oh, This is a hard one. Well, of course it’s a Kiefer for me. It would have to be one called "Wife" or any book out of his installation of all the library books he did. To be honest if I could carry them all out, I would. I would load all the lead books up on my back and run out of the gallery as fast as my little legs would carry me.
GL: What’s the name of your favorite local gallery?
DM: In Brooklyn I will have to say the Pierogi Gallery. I think they really stay true to art. They don’t get caught up on the glitz. They go for talent; they go for real work. They keep a standard; they never let junk in there, never. They do an amazing job.
GL: Advice for young artists?
DM: Strive to be different. Strive to not do what everyone else is doing in the class. I was just talking to someone about this; you go into these art programs and everyone is doing the same thing.
GL: But you do think the art programs and schools are important?
DM: Absolutely. I wouldn't have said this in my younger years but I think art history is so important to an artist. And it's the art teacher’s responsibility to make the students understand that their competition is not in the classroom but out in the world. You can be best in your class, but big deal, that's 30 people, the world that you are competing in has at least 30 million artists and you want to be the best of all of them.
GL: Now the most important question, you went to FSU, graduated with a BFA and a MFA. You’re a true diehard. The Seminoles lost big last weekend to Oklahoma. Do you miss Bobby Bowden yet?
DM: I miss the 1990's Bobby Bowden, I miss “Big Balls Bowden”, but that Bowden has been gone for some time. And truthfully, I don't think we have lost because of coaching. But that game was miserable.
Dave is a true enigma; an artist, proud father, world traveler, peacemaker, charity director, teacher and tobacco chewing bad ass. A man who is just as comfortable talking ACC football in a Tallahassee bar as he is discussing an abstract performance art piece in a hip gallery in SoHo. Dave learned Japanese while training as a professional kick boxer in Thailand and Japan and then he worked on peace talks with tribes in Africa where he learned conversational Swahili. He listens to Johnny Cash and 50 Cent. His work is self-seeking and very personal yet he is ever mindful of the viewers needs.
David views life as a journey and I look forward to seeing where else his journey takes him. GL
David Mcleish website
Pinion Gallery website
Matt Miley website
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