Friday, February 20, 2009

Say hello to Drew Daly

It began with a chair…

I've been wanting to chat with Drew Daly about his work for a while now. I've always thought of him as a "working class" artist (in the best sense), whose ideas find their footing in common materials and objects. After an evening of Rainier tall-boys, I walked away thinking Drew might have more in common with the Donald Judds of the world than the Richard Serras.

(Photo by J Veltkamp)

You're probably best known for your fusion of chairs. They are beautiful objects, and while that beauty is an intended by-product, you've said before that it's not the point. What is the point then?

The "beautiful object" aspect of my work is sort of funny to me. For a long time I didn't know what the piece would look like when I was finished. Usually I would figure out a process that I could apply to an object as my starting point and would just have to put faith in the process, submit to the process, and hope that I would end up with something interesting. It was always a huge surprise at the last moment when I would finally get all of the pieces back together and see what I had been working on.

Subject: Chair (Photo via Drew Daly)

What's an example of something that surprised you in the end?

Probably the best example is when I sanded a chair down until I couldn't sand any longer if the chair was to remain able to stand. When I began, I thought I'd sand the chair to play with the idea of time and erosion, essentially erasing an object. There was no way for me to know what I would end up with. I just kept sanding and sanding and finally had to stop. I actually thought the thing was sort of ugly because of the tedious nature of the process. It took a long time for me to see beyond that and recognize how the piece appeared. Everyone kept telling me that they thought the piece was beautiful and how it was like a skeleton of a chair.

Mirror Merge (Photo via Drew Daly)

Mirror Merge, the ring of chairs, was a similar experience. I was working with this idea of things meeting in a symmetrical intersection, more or less a mirror symmetry. So I took one mirror and put a chair against it. This only could go so far so I took a second mirror and started reflecting the reflection, this led to figuring out the ring of chairs. As much as I enjoy where the piece ended up I still don't think it's beautiful, it's just the visual representation of an equation or system.

Trace (" a splintered table reassembled;
the lines created by the shards of wood were
traced with wire creating a map of the linear
configuration of the cracks in the table.")

A friend described my work as the space between. I think this is pretty accurate. My work is the space between the process I set up and the piece that comes out the other side. In a sense the piece is the by-product of the system and process employed to make it. Another friend said that my work was the evidence of invention. I'm sure that wasn't his line, but it again goes to the heart of how I make my work. The piece isn't something I decide to construct, it is something that results from sort of an experiment.

(Photo by Eric Eley)

I had thought your work was either about destruction or creation and it's interesting to find out it's not that binary. It makes me think of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, where he spirals in towards disintegration -- although it seems like your work spirals outwards, towards reintegration. What role does entropy play in your work?

Entropy deals with order and disorder and the transformation of different states of a given thing. I think that the idea of transformation is really popular right now. I hope that my take on transformation is different then most other artists. I'm not using something as a building block: piling Styrofoam cups into a landscape, like Tara Donavan, or using toothpicks to construct something, like Tom Friedman. I am taking an object and altering the order of its material. The object that I use is the building block.

Division: Adirondack (Photo via Drew Daly)
Up to this point, I have used furniture, turning it into the material that it is made from and re-ordering that material. We all know that a chair is made from something, but it is not something we usually consider because the material has been formed into a useful object. I reform the object using the original material characteristics, revealing something that has always been there. So when you ask about Robert Smithson I would have to say that I consider his take on entropy as materials in a constant state of flux, while I am thinking about material in terms of materials already organized into objects.

Division: Adirondack (detail)
In the beginning, the material was the focus. At some point, the material become secondary to the process. And now, for your next show, you've been thinking of doing without material objects at all. This third generation isn't merely an incremental advance, it's a leap into a new realm! What took you in this direction?
It's really difficult to talk about work before it has been made, shown and considered without sounding wildly random. I worked on a series of altered photographs, self-portraits, for a few years. At first these were sort of a two-dimensional experiment with what I was doing with the sculptures. Gradually the ideas I was discovering began to become more pressing then the sculptures. I had a professor in graduate school that would always say that a photograph is a fiction, it isn't real. While I never knew specifically what she was trying to say, it made me begin to consider moments of time and how an isolated moment can be something beyond itself when viewed, scrutinized, and overly considered.

Grid 1 (Photo via Drew Daly)
Some of my earlier sculptures dealt with the idea of time; others played with the space one object inhabits; and obviously I have dealt with ready-made objects. This is where I start sounding random. Now I am trying to apply the idea of a moment of time in relation to space, object and motion. All four elements are connected and even bound by the Theory of Relativity, so I keep thinking about if one element is altered what results? It is a similar exploration as trying to make the reflection in the mirror, only way harder.

Circle 2
(Photo via Drew Daly)
[This interview was originally published in La Especial Norte 3, edited & published by Matthew Offenbacher.]


Emily said...

What a great interview! I think Drew Daly is one of the most interesting artists in Seattle right now, and you really got him to open up about his process in fascinating ways. Thanks for this!

Troy Gua said...

Another beautiful job, Joseph! When are we gonna see a Joey Veltkamp Profiles book??