Artist Statement: Long-Form

…When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations. – Sol Lewitt, Sentences on Conceptual Art, May 1969.


Understanding my work begins with the simple premise that we, and the things we make, are the product of our place and time in history. In the mid-1990s, when I completed my formal training, the art world was awash with incompatible ideas about the meaning and practice of the visual arts. Two generations of Abstract, Minimal, & Conceptual artists, along with the emergence of computer use beyond the boundaries of graphic design, had largely eroded the influence of tradition. In the resulting void, literary theory (i.e., Barthes, de Saussure, Foucault, and Derrida) had taken hold as the visual arts’ academic framework. While literary theory may be well suited to examining structured, cerebral, and stylized art forms (i.e., film or architecture,) the inherent absurdity of grafting communication concepts onto more physical, subjective, and visceral practices (i.e., sculpture or painting) was not yet apparent.

In this chaos I gleefully consumed techniques, ideas, and contradiction. This glee drew me away from my original intentions of studying architecture and film, and instead gave me the hope of melding the cerebral and visceral in the rogue domain of sculpture. “Rogue,” for by the 1990s sculpture had become the anarchic exploration of everything and anything.  Much like the Dadaist era post-World War I, authority was suspect and all ideas were potentially fruitful.

From this brief history, it should come as no surprise that my work ranges from the systematic to the random, can be simple yet complex, while being either sensible or absurd.

For me, a specific media/practice is less important than the physical manifestation of an idea. The material is matched to the idea and/or intention. As a result, I began to refer to myself as a Conceptual Sculptor. Under this moniker, I found the freedom to explore the traditional notions of sculpture (Form, Space, & Time) in a much broader sense. The resulting work has ranged from physically exploring the space between monument and object, to creating performances of “uncomfortable space,” and work meant to disappear without documentation.

With a broad background in building techniques and materials, I have come to realize that clay has a unique quality not available in other media; primarily, clay sticks to itself. The immediacy with which clay can be formed and altered allows for a deep range of experimentation. If an explanation for my current obsession with ceramics is required, this is it. Clay has been used to create objects within the entire range of human experiences (functional, spiritual, and aesthetic). It has already been everything, yet clay's current future remains limitless. If one likens the 3-dimensional artist to a musical composer, the piano is an appropriate metaphor for clay. Of all the instruments available to the composer, the piano has the greatest versatility for developing the composer’s ideas.

After an initial obsession with the Japanese aesthetics of wabi/sabi, I realized it was obscuring underlying errors in my technique. Thus, my current work in clay is a return to the examination of simple forms and surfaces, under the concept of Form-Function-Flower. Form-Function-Flower is a playful, yet rigorous exploration of clay’s primary building techniques (wheel-throwing, hand-building, and casting-slip) along with developing my understanding of how glaze and form complement one another. In practice, the concept entails a production loop in which I design, produce, critique and redesign 8-12 different types of flower vases. I chose the flower vase as the primary form of exploration for two distinct reasons:

1. Unlike the monument or other sculptural form nearing the architectural scale, the flower vase is made to be used both functionally and aesthetically, moved and rearranged throughout its existence.  It is both intimate and public. The vase’s function requires direct interaction with people: as a product and as an aesthetic element in the house, whose shape and size suggests how it is to be used.  The ultimate decision regarding its use is made by the end user (i.e., the type of flowers, the number of flowers etc.). Additionally, the flower vase form and its interaction with people suggests it as a good starter product for a small business that blends art and design.

2. The flower vase allows endless variation on the form in order to meet function. Several of the current pieces in the collection began as simple line drawings or decisions about the number of sides. Triangular-Vase #1 is a 2-dimensional silhouette folded into a 3-dimensional form. Six-Sided-Vase #1 is the first in the series “Seven Vases Whose Sides have Equal Dimensions but One Fewer Side” (e.g., 6-sides, 5-sides, 4sides, 3-sides, 2-sides, 1-plane).  This endless variation allows me to develop visually disparate forms from a singular, simple concept.

-Daniel Pugh, May 2011