Thursday, June 25, 2009

ArtWord: Alton Falcone Interview

Alton Falcone is a sculptor currently exhibiting at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, KY. He discovered sculpture during his long sojourn in San Gimignano, Italy in the province of Tuscany. He was profoundly influenced by the ancient ruins and Renaissance spirit. He founded his own art gallery and hosted a continuous exhibition of his work for several years before returning to the United States to earn graduate degrees in both Fine Arts and Philosophy from Stony Brook University, New York.

Variation in Grey#2, 2009 (Recovered wood, 40"x25")

1. While your sculptural work seems to adopt the Minimalist language of the cube and repetition, a closer look and contemplation of your pieces reveal a rather obvious and perhaps intentional reference to architectural forms and constructions. Hardly Minimal. The weathered wood and rusted nails with the clean “industrial cut” permit a much more dynamic visual language. With what seems to present dueling geometric and organic lines in your work, explain how you see the result as harmonious.
In the wood sculptures, there is the play of the geometric and the organic, but also other aspects are at play. I work three: a negative space (the absence of wood), the flat plain and the clustered, ‘busier’ sections (such as conglomerations of small wood pieces and extruding nails). Each of the three negates the other two in some way; for example, the flat plane feels like a negative space next to the clusters. Hence the aesthetic play of my work is really between these three elements on one level as well as the dual play between (as you mentioned) a clean cut and the ‘softer,’ weathered touches.
The harmony arises in varied ways. The overall proportion is often based on the Golden Ratio, known for its presence in natural forms, strongly evident in my recent wall works. The straight line affords the eye a respite and ordering within or around the weathered elements which in turn afford a respite from the hardness of the line. The harmony arises from a balance between these, as well as a careful play of the three other elements listed above. Color also serves to unite disparate aspects; some of the weathering is my own intervention. It is a lot to juggle; if one views my works long enough, this balancing act reveals itself, not as a tightrope but a conscious, peaceful ordering.

2. You say you are attracted to abstract art because “there are no references to concepts, ideas, real objects beyond what is before the viewer or flights of narratives within the beholder’s mind.“ Do you believe your work makes no references to concepts or ideas? Is this your goal? If so, why?
A concept (such as occurs in art that makes reference to a conceptual theme at the expense of all other aspects of it, which to be fair does not always happen in conceptual art) acts with necessity on the viewer’s interiority and oppresses the free play of the imagination, substituting imaginative experience for ‘intellectual play.’ That for me is a poor substitute for rich visual experience (here I am inspired by Schiller). My rejection of references to real objects goes back to Plato’s rejection of mimesis. The tendency for artists to rely on narratives is for me also a substitute for visual richness - the work becomes like a mystery novel, finding its completion to the extent it is ‘read.’ And narrative works are often mimetic, simply on a more subtle level. Essentially, my rejection of the above is that the work would refer to something outside of itself and rely too heavily upon the purely mental activity of the viewer, whereas I wish my artwork to be self-referential, self-sustaining and engaging of vision and intuition.
I consider it valid that other artists work in the ways in which I reject; this is simply my own research and a demand I make upon myself.

3. During the time you spent working in Italy you found the ancient ruins your inspiration. The Roman Forum is often referred to as an architectural history book complete with inscriptions, dates, and names that chronicle Rome’s history. Do you seek a similar historicizing in your work that is itself made of pieces from older architectural structures? How to you see your own reworking of the wood as part of this history?
The weatherization and history of the wood is more symbolic of history than having an actual history, although it of course has an actual history. I rarely conserve what might be called linear, ‘obvious’ history (such as an inscription from someone on the wood, or a price tag, etc.) as I would find this distracting from the play of elements I described earlier. Anything I do to the wood would become part of its history by default; I try to conserve the more ‘naturally’ produced weatherization out of concern that too much of my own hand may appear artificial. But I do make heavy interventions with bleach, paint, scraping etc. and carefully choose methods that have unpredictable results. I also add many of my own holes and similar damages as I add, subtract, cut, reattach, etc.

4. In your artist statement for the exhibit at the Carnegie Center, you ask your viewer to imagine a personal history transformed to a higher meaning, “as a spirit greater than their outer manifestation, one evolving to an elevated and luminous state even through the most painful of experiences.” Here, you seem to refer to martyrdom or more precisely a Christ figure. This combined with the old wood and rusty nails really strengthens an allusion to the crucifix. Do you see religion as a theme in your work?
I used the image in order to reach out to viewers not in the habit of looking at abstract art. Since the work does not refer to anything they may have perceived before, I played with the idea of the intuition/feeling one may experience before, say, one’s grandparents or other venerated members of the elderly community. The materials are symbolic of lived, endured experience (experience is not always pleasant) but their arrangement and other methods of my transformation of the materials symbolize the transformation of suffering.
Such transformation is not limited to Christianity; take, for example, Buddhism and the lotus flower. It is purely accidental that my materials recall Christianity . I am Christian, but I don’t see that religious aspect in the work, unless you define religion in terms of the formless stream within it. I don’t, or I would be at church services.

5. You welcome or even celebrate wood’s ability to reveal its own weathered history and refer to the wood you use in many of your pieces as “recovered.” Yet contemporary audiences may associate your language of history recovery to environmentalism, recycling or “green” speak. Is this a misconception or an added bonus?
Added bonus. I know that many artists claim to be green through their use of recovered materials. But how are those materials worked? Do they use toxic glues, power machinery, industrial glazes? That undermines a little the green category so I don’t claim it. Not all artists fall into this of course but I for one use miter saws, paint thinners, etc.

6. Similarly, environmental artists like Robert Smithson were interested in history, more specifically ecological history. His exploration of the passage of time and human’s impact in nature is reflected in his Spiral Jetty. Do you welcome a comparison between your work and that of the Environmental artists?
Not really. My wood work is mostly what I call ‘studio work’ (not site-specific, public art, installation etc.) and is designed for the white box gallery. I ‘halt’ the weatherization of the wood, coating it with bee’s wax and hope that it is protected. My hope is that its final home is protective of the work. I would enjoy creating a body of wood sculpture cast directly into bronze (via the burnout technique) in order to deeply conserve the form but this would require funds that I do not have.
I am not limited to studio work though and I have made work with the intention of it weathering and breaking down; in that case I could be included with environmental artists.

To see more images of Alton Falcone's work visit www.altonfalcone. net.


Christine said...

This is one of the few artists who's talk is like his walk, so to speak. Often when you look at art, your interpretation of it isn't necessarily the same as the artists intent, and in this case, what I see is what he is saying. I find that refreshing.