Michele Lesko: Your sculptures are in the American Embassy, many museums & private collections as well as the one I saw in progress for Elmira College. The work that appears in IthacaLit is incredibly fluid, showing the female body in movement. I especially connected with “A Bearer.” How does your process change when beginning a piece such as the life size statue of Elmira College's president as opposed to these pieces?
Gary Weisman: I have to begin by saying that language is not my strength. I find writing linear and sequential, where sculpture is spatial, so essentially, all time occurs simultaneously. Although the process of evolving a personal piece versus a commission, can be seen as progressing in time, the higher process is timeless and moves out of a personal unspoken logos built of sensation with an expectation of awe. Although the logos can evolve during the making, it remains as an essential place of reference. In this sense, I can work from a place of not knowing or perhaps just keeping reason at a lower significance to be used as a tool when necessary. While working, when I periodically ask myself how I am I doing, I am realigning with the logos. This is quite different when working on commission that is required to be or act a part in the consignee’s expectation. The process is much more intellectual. The pieces I just make do not have a known audience and risk/failure plays a richer part, so initially and ideally personal pieces are not linked to a financial reward. While I have not signed my personal work in about 6 years, with the hopes of diminishing an egocentric value, there is no way that a commissioned piece would ever be accepted without a signature.
ML: Your studio is impressive. Tell us about your development as a professional sculptor. How did you begin and how did your process change as your work became accepted in such impressive places?
GW: Although I had been doing sculpture up to age 13, it was not until I was enrolled in a sculpture class with much older students that I realized the potential connection and intensity. Trying to learn classical art in my era was next to impossible and like other students at 18, was academically pushed away from it by the art school faculty. I was fortunate to find small ateliers after college and studied for another 9 years, supporting myself through my personal bronze foundry. Working 7 days a week, I like to think I’m getting something done, although intermittently casting my own bronze does take about 5 months a year. I have made easier/ more sale-able pieces for galleries, since the Visa bill keeps it monthly pulse. I think now though, I am focusing more on an unknown narrative rather the earlier pieces where I looked for a sensitive expression through compositional coherency. Being an idealist, which is also why I still teach, I have tried to diminish my connection to material success as a value, beyond what I feel I need to continue. Of course, insecurity always plays a role in what I financially need to continue. My ambition tends to be held in check since I believe there is a glass ceiling for the classical nude or beauty in public collections, grants, or museums. I have been trying to psychologically use this cultural resistance, by limiting my attentions on high barriers so I can maintain a focus on the actual experience of making what I need to see.
ML: What is your inspiration for the sculptures appearing in our gallery?
GW: I think having a collective showcase for the newer pieces, with no reward beyond sharing, is very upbeat.
ML: With the body floating mid-air, the negative space, an aspect of art our featured poet, Shane Book, and I discussed, is highlighted. How did you envision this space?
GW: Although this is a reasonable question, I actually not sure what is going on. I do know that the pieces are not in empty space, but are being held by unseen compassions, so they can appear to be weightless. I think there seems to be a quiet discord in what I am doing. Although the space around the bronze is physically not there, I’m seeing it as completely full and dimensional.
ML: I love “Unheard Apologies” for its incredible sense of intimacy. The figure seems aware of a viewer by the simple gesture of covering her eyes with her forearm. It's the reversal of the frank look in Manet's “Olympia.” There is an awareness of being seen that creates in the viewer the desire to both empathize and protect her and also to look away from this woman's apparent discomfort. Can you enlighten us by speaking about the connections you made when creating this piece?
GW: Among other concerns, I am sincerely trying work from an experiential state of compassion. I believe clay/bronze can only tell the truth. Working in profound sincerity, honest touch translates to the clay. The material holds a difference between actuality and posturing or shoulds. My attention is on the newest pieces in clay, which are variations on receiving or returning a burden while holding themselves in a state of quiet acceptable suffering.
ML: It must cross your mind that these pieces will be around long after we are gone. When you contemplate the impact many of your commissioned pieces will have on a larger audience, does it ever create it in you any hesitation when working on pieces inspired by a more intimate sensibility?
GW: Yes, I believe the shelf life for bronze sculpture is about 3500 years, barring it being melted down into canons or electronic components. I think eventually the public spaced commission pieces will visually disappear, the way my predecessor’s sculptures have when we walk though central park, etc. My stronger connection has been with the private collector, whether the pieces are over life size or 2 foot high. I get generous emails, photos or letters from collectors verbalizing what they continue to get from the pieces in their homes or on their personal grounds.
ML: Do you have a supporting crew to help with the process of casting these pieces in bronze?
GW: The last pour, 2300 lbs, 11 past and present students drove out from Philadelphia to help pour over the 3 day weekend. Tents were scattered on the upper 85 acres, and Rob was elevated to “chef Rob”. The evenings are barbeque, beer and art talk, although I can’t go to the 2 am last round. Denise made an iPhone pour video this time, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it on to YouTube.
ML: Your partner, the painter Treacy Ziegler, has an equally impressive studio. What is it like working so closely with another artist?
GW: Treacy and I are interlaced. I do not think we are working closely anymore, we just are. Conversations are not about explaining or defining, but just building or critiquing at impasses. Although, I have to say, I don’t like it when she steals my tools.
ML: Would you tell us about your travels and influences and how these experiences have molded your perception of both new and older work?
GW: Treacy and I make an annual 3-week pilgrimage to Italy to draw in major museums. We draw about 8 to 10 hours a day, trying be the 1st ones in and the last ones out. This is killer fun. We land in Milan, then press on to Venice, Bologna, Florence, Sienna, Naples and fly out of Rome. The rules: no talking except when we meet in the café every 3 hours. Although the last trip we drew Paris, with 5 full days in the Louvre. I tend to favor drawing the sacred paintings from late renaissance thru Rococo. The effects of these artworks are unknowable, but intentionally influential. I tend to look and try to build on history, rather than looking to side to see what is current in the art world. One corollary that has developed is the continuous flow of polyphonic music on my iPod as I draw. I hear the music spatially, while I continue to search for embraceable poetic realism.
ML: In closing, I want to thank you for sharing this impressive body of work with IthacaLit.