Can you tell me a little bit about you?
Except for college and a brief stint in northern Arizona, I have lived most of my life in New Mexico. Directly after college, where I studied both art and earth sciences (geology), I moved to Taos. In 1989 my sister unexpectedly passed away and I thought it would be good to be near my parents for a period of time. That summer I met my wife in Santa Fe, where I grew up, and we have been here ever since.
My studio is located in a semi-industrial neighborhood about 3 or 4 miles from our house. I have been self-employed as an artist as my sole job for going on to 27 years. Before that I juggled other jobs with my studio practice. I traded antique Navajo textiles, taught skiing, and worked in galleries.
When I am not in my studio, I am either alpine skiing or mountain biking–two things I do to clear my mind and still my hand. We also travel fairly extensively around the world.
My wife and I have three children, twins age 22 and an older son who is now 32. The twins are going into their last year in college and the oldest lives in Colorado where he works in the ski industry. So that is my life in a nutshell!
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I was raised in a family of artists–both my parents are full-time practicing studio artists. My mother (81 years old) has been involved in the arts her whole life and my father (84 years old) came to it a bit later–45 years ago! They collected (and still collect) ethnographic art. Probably because of this exposure to art, I have always been involved with it. I have drawn and painted my whole life. There has never been a time when I didn’t make things (not that I would call everything I make “art!”).
When I was in college I attempted to do something different, hence my dual degree. However, by the time I was a junior the die had been cast; I was to be an in the “family business.”
My career can be broken into two parts. The first 1/2 of it I painted and the second half I have endeavored in wholly different work. (Why a change occurred is a much longer story.)
What do you like most about working where you do?
Living in rural Northern New Mexico is amazing. The properties of the light are extraordinary. The earth is laid bare at 7,000 feet above sea level. We have mountains that reach over 13,000 feet. Here the world is totally open and I think it has caused me to see things in their most basic states. I love this about where I live. Plus, there are only 1.5 million people in the 5 largest state, so there is never any traffic!
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
The works I create supply commentary on minimalist belief systems and the ultimate importance of High Art practice. An artist’s work usually adheres to the construct of a cohesive direction with the work illustrating a single theme or underscoring a didactic agenda. But such a logical order has no specific place in my studio practice.
Introducing alternative and salvage materials to my own formally driven abstract sculpture, I hope to bring purist shapes and surfaces back down to earth. I quest for new materials, “non-art materials” to create my work. The work is based on a post-medium studio practice. I am constructing bricolage works in order to re-purpose the materials and re-identify their meanings: to re-contextualize and re-label the idea of Ready-mades. It is my on-going experimentation with contexts, hybrids, and scale.
The works keep possession of pleasing formality and visceral elegance while making fun of modernist purity. This is a tribute to anti-triumphalism, the spontaneous, non-hierarchical, un- monumental thematic artistic landscape which offers no specific resolution and no isolation of meaning.
What is your process like?
All of my work is a development from various extensive studies of the history of art. Beyond these studies, I develop working systems which are very specific in order to discover how my variations can be made from a single starting point. It is sort of a game I play where I make work with a very reductive aesthetic and within very narrow parameters to see how many ways I can get outside of the obvious solutions without breaking the original working systems. I work serially and normally on one piece at a time. But I often revisit work after resting with it for a bit, making small additions are tweaks to achieve my aesthetic ends.
Almost all of the work has a marine-grade plywood substructure. I build large laminate blocks of this material to begin with. I mill these long blocks (normally 60 to 72 inches in length and between 4 and 6 inches wide) down to smaller sizes and shapes. These forms are part of the system I create to play my games with. I arrange them in many different configurations, making sure there is no redundancy in the final forms. Along the way I am continually developing and redeveloping salvage steel culled from automobile sources (not that the source is important, it isn’t). The pre-painted surface also allowed me a way to appropriate paint conceptually as my “own paint.” I reject the brush, but not painting itself. Metaphorically these pre-painted surfaces also allow me to reference art history, one of my abiding loves. Of the many things which High Minimalism taught me, its use of serialized repetitious form and modular structures which imply infinite reiteration have proven quite important to my work.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Hard edge geometric form and patterning of these forms continue to be the basis of my aesthetic investigations. It is a fairly narrow realm and yet can yield tremendous variations.
I recently began an inquiry into two Asian art practices: Mono-ha and Gutai. While they are somewhat related aesthetically, they are very different conceptually. Both have some very interesting overlaps with American Minimalism, Post Minimalism, the Northern European-based art movement of DeStijl and Northern Italian movement of Arte Povera. I am not quite sure what will ultimately come of this new information, but I know something good will result in the end.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
I hold my practice and results to be paramount. I ask a lot from my work–it pays the mortgage, sends the kids through school, pays the bills–but it also asks a lot in return–to honor its integrity and advocate on its behalf. I want the work to achieve the highest level it has in its capacity. It is not about me. It is about the work. In between all of this lays the real-world pragmatics of life and ego. It is a tough balancing act and one I am getting better at over time. But it is difficult to steer myself out of the decisions necessary to help the work grow. But that is a major part of the job along with all of the miscellaneous ancillary tasks an artist must do to help the work get into the larger world.
None of this is terribly strange. So I guess the strangest thing I have to do is keeping my ego in check. And that isn’t easy!
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
My studio practice is my job. I have no other sources of income whatsoever. It is a blessing and a tremendous responsibility.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I do have many people I ask for advice, but first and foremost is my wife. She is very clear and helps me see complex situations well. I also have a wonderful network of artist-friends who also are good from which to gain insight. All of the galleries who handle the work are equally adept at helping me through situations. We are, after all, business partners. They are entrusted with their own tremendous responsibilities; advocacy for their artists as well as their fiduciary obligations to themselves and us, the artists. It is a difficult balancing act for them to be sure and we all work together to bring the work to the highest levels.
Any years ago, right after I moved to Taos from college, I was given a dare; call Agnes Martin! (she lived in town) I did and she invited me over for lunch a few days later. It was amazing. I am glad I didn’t fully comprehend how significant she was in the art world because I doubt I would have called otherwise. She told me two important things. The first is an artist must be thick-skinned, as we will hear “no” way more often than “yes.” The second was that an artist must be willing to fail repeatedly in order to succeed once. I am still weighing the value of the second piece of advice.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
You are not alone. Artists are not in competition. There is no “first” place. That all said, a rising tide lifts all boats. In other words, work to your highest potential and help others do the same. This will be of benefit to everyone.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
I have many communities. I have my mountain biking buddies, my ski buddies, and my art friends as well as friends from many other paths. I often try to cross-pollenate these groups to various degrees of success. It is important to me to have these friendships. I work hard to maintain them and help them flourish. I don’t much like hierarchies, so I will decline to say one group is more important than another. All of my friends are important. All of these communities are important.
What is your studio like?
My studio is located in a light industrial neighborhood. It is about 800 square feet with a large central sky light and some french doors which open to a parking lot. The interior walls are pristine and about 10 1/2 feet tall. I have lots of high-quality lighting to aid me.
There is a single man door and a small bathroom.
Across the road is a good coffee shop and around the corner are several good restaurants. Most of the other tenants in my studio complex are also artists. Some of them are well known. It is a nice working environment.
The studio itself is kept clean most all of the time. I don’t like to have a lot of clutter around as it makes seeing the work in-progress difficult. I also work with dangerous tools and materials, so keeping a clean work environment is for safety too.
Most of the visitors who come into the studio for the first time find it amazingly organized. But I guess it is just an aspect of who I am.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I have too many ideas to explore already! I don’t need to do things to get into a special mindset. If anything, I need to do things to get me out of “the special mindset!” I want to approach my work slowly and carefully. Riding bikes, skiing, taking walks, and exercise in general is super beneficial to me and the work.
I generally begin my day in the studio early. I try to be there by 8am and I do the work which requires the most critical thinking early in the day when I am fresh. In the afternoon I do things which require less concentrated thought–like milling wood or processing salvage materials.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
School was important. I learned disciple and structure there. I learned how to learn there. I hold an under-graduate degree only. At the time, masters degrees were generally pursued by people who were interesting in a teaching career. Most studio practitioners didn’t do this when I graduated.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Some of the most challenging aspects about a career in the arts have nothing to do with the creative process. The tasks required to make a living from art are quite rigorous. You have to be good a a range of things beyond the work–writing, correspondence, inventory control, banking strategies for cash flow, networking, various computer skills, etc. Strangely enough, art schools don’t teach many of these skills to their students. I had to master them the hard way–learning on the job. And yes, this is the part of the work which is a job.
How would you define “success” in art?
My definition of success is quite personal and probably not applicable to other people. I have my own ambitions and hopeful ambitions for the work, which are separate from me. By all the exterior metrics, I have been extraordinarily successful in art. That said, I think I have a good bit more to go before I would call myself successful. As to the work itself, it is in constant evolution and therefore it would be a disservice to say it was either successful or not. Particular pieces can be measured in this way, but as a whole I resist the idea of my oeuvre as being “successful” or not.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Besides all of the awards and various accomplishments my CV outlines as well as the international recognition of the work, the work was recently nominated to be part of the American Academy of Arts & Letters. It is an extraordinary honor to have been recognized by this prestigious organization.
What are you working on right now?
I am always at the beginning of a new project. It is an honor to always have new projects and a demanding exhibition schedule. With my new NYC gallery I will have a solo exhibition opening on April 4th of this year. I also have a solo show in San Francisco on April 20th with my long-time gallery there, Jack Fischer. So I am bi-coastal in April! Woohoo! In early March my Philadelphia gallery, Pentimenti, is taking my work to VOLTA NYC for a solo presentation. I had an exhibition with them in November and that work will be the foundation for this art fair installation.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am always curious to see what catches other people’s eye. You have an interesting aesthetic and I appreciate your willingness to share your vision. Thank you!
Find more at tedlarsen.com and on Instagram @tedlarsenworks!
Cedric christie says
Really enjoyed that interview