Mud was my first love

Pueblo, CO, was built on ancient seabeds of clay and sandstone along the Arkansas River. Easy access to clay supports potters, masons and brickyards. High School provided an intro into ceramics for me, under the tutelage of Lyle Clift, who introduced me to salt-fired, stoneware. He had his salt-kiln that captivated me as soon I saw gleaming, orange-to-russet, mottled, stylishly functional objects emerge from its arched doorway.

Mud was my first love. Mud was my major in college, but I think that the impressive combustion going on inside Clift’s salt-vapor model, along with subsequent kilns I’d eventually learn to use, was a great attraction as well. Cone 10 temperature (2200 degrees) resembles nothing more than a whirling, breathing, lethal, living thing. Standing close to it makes one feel courageous, almost.

Painting may have been the safer place for me to stand, my first year at USC. I had the good fortune of taking Orlin Helgoe’s drawing class. He suggested I could make it as a painter, “if you take your work seriously.” Evidently, Orlin must have taken certain things too over-seriously, himself. May he rest in peace.

I really admired Orlin’s work and would have learned a great deal from his painting class, no doubt. Instead I plunged into clay. Carl Jensen headed the department at USC. The U of Southern Colorado, that is…Carl, Jim North and I built a wood-fired kiln and fired it multiple times. All I wanted to do was fill it to the arch with pots and load its fireboxes with fuel. Carl gave us opportunities like that, but he also made us learn about the history of the art and craft which we wished to get good at. It was challenging. We had to pass exams in glaze chemistry and such. Carl was known for pioneering photographic emulsion techniques adapted for glazing stoneware. He also sculpted audacious, cartoony caricatures in clay, titles like “Pink Lady With a Buffant Hairdo.” Why not? The sky is the limit with such a plastic medium. It was 100 percent natural too. I have always been into that.

My first pottery wheel was a manual kick model manufactured by Robert Brent. Centering a ball of clay on a spinning wheel was something I was able to learn almost instantly. Throwing production pottery, off a hump of mud with the help of a 100 lb, stone, whirling under bodily forces of my own, became second nature. The act of throwing pots is fluid and slick. The spinning wheel is as much an entity as the fire in the kiln. I spent 11 of my 12 year fascination, meditating over slippery, slathered, precisely centered, spinning balls of clay as if it were the living end. My efforts were concentrated on hand-thrown, functional stoneware, like people used in the old days. We’re talking about cups, bowls, crocks, plates, casseroles, jars, bottles, teapots, pipes and even an urn for someone’s ashes. Seldom did I attempt anything else.

Then, in 1990, my last month, at the very last ceramics studio in which I worked, I became drawn back to drama and storytelling. I got off that perpetually moving hundred-pound wheel, that perfectly-round-object-making-machine and started creating with my feet on the ground for a change. My work ceased being born turning around-and-around. It popped out of its exclusive symmetry, for once, and lay still for me. I spontaneously launched into sculpting masks and mysterious objects, with a slab roller as my device of choice.

That was a breakthrough that would likely have reset the direction I was headed, had I kept going, but that turned out to be my last lease on a clay studio, so far anyway. Right after this, my focus turned to video. In the meantime, I remain a huge fan of river trips, mud baths, clay facials, scrubs and such, the actual act of making stuff out of mud has been absent from my repertory these thirty years. But given time, it is bound to come back around. Possibly on a gigantic scale. To be announced…

Landscape Painting

My first art teacher was my dad, who painted watercolors from the early 1960s to the ’90s. Growing up, when one of us kids said we were bored, Dad would say, “paint me a picture.” I would sit down with him and paint, then complain that my painting was inferior to his. He would say, “No way, you’re better than me.” It’s no joke. He was referring to the creative impulse we all possessed as a child before the inner critic is born. Mine was already on my shoulder, but he brushed it aside for me enough that painting has remained a lifetime love. Maybe the only reason I never tried it as a profession was the fact that it had been with me since childhood. I was hungry for the things I had yet to try.

In primary school and college, various teachers helped improve my painting and drawing skills, including John Mendoza and Orlin Helgoe. I went on to major in ceramics, and then worked full-time in woodworking and jewelry, before reconnecting with painting. I have already posted about the Homages that I painted when we first moved to Santa Fe. The history of art is like a sacred text to me.

There was so much gallery space devoted to painting, in Santa Fe, so many museum walls, so many booths at art fairs dedicated to the medium, one might say it had the effect of calling me off the sidelines and in to the game, so to speak. Still, it did not draw me to it as a potential profession. I viewed my orientation with it, then and now, as a foundation for other 2D, 3D and HD work.

I have already written about my life drawing experience, as well as my experiments with making homages to old masters. In terms of materials and process, they were the prelude to this series of impressionist outdoor scenes on canvas. These early works were the result of coming into contact with a living master who’d been painting the southwest full-time for 30 years.

Rod Hubble is incredibly learned, creative and possessed of the skills that decades of making a living with his art, naturally bestow. He’s a gracious, humorous, big-hearted man, which makes him a splendid art teacher as well as a treasured friend. Rod’s work hangs in almost every room of our house. Rod is an expert at painting outdoors and to look at one of his pictures, transports one to an intimate moment with nature. Working mostly outdoors, Rod tutored both Phoenix and I for two years. It was a rare and rich immersion in the art technique and style that he has honed for a lifetime. This entire gallery is oil-on-linen, which I had never ventured into until then. With one or two exceptions, this was all begun and finished during sessions in which Rod was tutoring.

The Jewelry Business

With but one class in jewelry making under my belt, I began fabricating jewelry for Heather Laurie and her partner Phoenix Sun in 1990. After working for them for three years, I became a full-time designer and partner in the business, “Heather and Phoenix,” a wholesale and retail art-to-wear jewelry studio.   

In 1996, I created a new line of sterling silver, gold and semi-precious metal jewelry, named “Rio Plata” and began marketing at the same venues. In 1997 Phoenix and I bought out Heather Laurie and we carried on with that line of jewelry and fashion accessories under the new name of “Stryder and Phoenix.” Together we did as many as 30 juried art and trade shows per year and serviced dozens of wholesale accounts, nationwide, including Nordstroms and Henry Bendel. From 1990 until 2005, if we weren’t at a show, we were either getting ready for a show, on our way to a show, or getting back from one. Over that period of time, our work was viewed by millions of people and worn by thousands. We frequently won awards in juried shows, for our displays as well as our art. Our work could be spotted in the film “Waiting to Exhale,” and exclusive editions of our jewelry were sold in the Coldwater Creek catalog. 

It was fun designing and even making the jewelry, but the small business aspect of it was a going. We had subcontractors and suppliers, inventory and huge customer databases. The economy was booming under Clinton. It’s the last time we had a budget surplus. It was also a time of easy credit so everybody had tons of plastic to max out. Creatively speaking, it was encouraging to see our work sell well, but I soon grew weary of talking about my occupation when I was a jeweler. I kept trying to get into a writing program or better yet, sell a manuscript. I couldn’t wait to say I was a writer, not a jeweler.

IN VIDEO

I was a part-time assistant director at Grassroots television in Aspen in 1990-91. We played over 80 hours of original programming per week, some of it live cast from our studio as well as remote broadcast events. It was just as digital was becoming a consumer medium. The station was the nation’s first public access television station. I first went in there because I heard you could check out a camera and learn the editing equipment and produce your own work for public broadcast. I made about 20 hours of my own material between 88 and 91. Some of it is archived and will eventually end up here. Some of it is embarrassing, but some of it was as satisfying as anything else I’ve attempted in art.

It was also at that time I worked at Sunfire Productions a full service film and video production company in Aspen/Basalt. Sequoia Sun was chief and I got a lot of experience thanks to him. He put me on jobs I might not have had the courage to attempt, if it weren’t for his sure guidance and willingness to take a risk. I’ll never forget skiing backwards down Ajax Mountain with a backpack full of batteries and a couple of cables to wrangle, that were connected to a camera on Sequoia’s shoulder. He too was skiing backwards, directly upslope of me, while videoing a famous mono skier, who was directly upslope of him, doing aerial tricks and a full-tilt mogul boogie, that we had been hired to shoot. Besides wild stunt videos, Sequoia produced commercials, covered conferences, made documentaries and we did occasional weddings, too.

The decision to quit the television station was brought on, like so many of my creative pivots, by a physical need. Public television was notoriously under staffed. I’d go to work before sun up and not leave until sun down. In those days, there was so much equipment and cables, it was throwing off tremendous amounts of electricity that drained my energy. I would go home buzzing from being around all this highly juiced equipment all day. At about that time I was given the opportunity to join Heather and Phoenix on their jewelry line. That turned into a fifteen year detour from video production, but as the jewelry scene peaked, the prospect of making motion pictures became a fascination of mine, once again. By then, the digital revolution had evolved to where we are now. Most importantly, electromagnetic exposure is massively reduced with today’s production tools, so that could no longer discourage me from continuing to pursue that avenue of expression. Then one summer day in 2007, I saw a call for application to the free weekly for The New Mexico Filmmaker’s Intensive.

After film school, my partner and I envisioned opening up a boutique film production studio. It so happened in 2009, there were at least four other similar ventures freshly launched in this market. None of them remain open for business. Despite this, OCC has made some enjoyable videos, over these past dozen years. We have half a dozen brand new short videos for this section recorded, lined up to be edited and posted, as soon as we are able.