Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Being an artist, people tend to think of me as a person that happens to make art.  But there’s another kind of reality to it—everything I do is art. An artist creates a persona.  One of the best examples is Andy Warhol.  Everything he did was art and it all fit together—if you asked him a question he never had much of an answer, he was always flat, totally deadpan.  Likewise, his work was always flat and literal.  He didn't invent imagery as much as he absorbed it.  I’m kind of like that too.  I’m not like Andy Warhol, but I do have this persona that is not about me as a person. It’s about the artist in my studio.  That artist has a belief that he never needs to leave his studio for anything—that everything he needs is in this workspace.  I can make my own cell phone, my own brain, my own x-ray images, my own tribal icons,  my own chair.  I never need to leave to get something because I can make it in house.

  A few examples you might look at; I wrote a book on one of my heroes, H.C. Westerman, and you can see that with my tools, and skills, I’m able to write a scholarly book.

  I made “The Heart Lung Machine.”  It’s inspired by my interest in medical science, especially organ transplant.  One of the most difficult challenges of heart transplant was to invent a machine that can take the place, temporarily, of the heart and lungs.  It took years for scientists to perfect that machine.  It only took a few weeks for me to make a heart lung machine.
Right now I’m working on a cyclotron, a particle accelerator which speeds up atomic matter to a high velocity, creating high energy.  It makes atoms run into each other so they produce a collision that is similar to the big bang.  It takes billions of dollars to make one of these things, but I can make it right here in my studio, no problem.    Check in later this year, and I’ll have finished my own cyclotron that collides particles, enabling us to see the very creation of the universe.  
In the studio I can explore anything—global warming, the earth as viewed from space, human evolution, the destruction of the World Trade Center, and much more. It’s an idea of a persona and workplace where nothing is too small, too big, too complicated, or too theoretical to be put together and taken apart.   


Monday, May 16, 2011


We usually associate transparency with glass, but I don’t use glass in my sculpture.  I use a structure made of various types of wire constructed in a way that not only allows you to see the shape defined by the wire, but also the space contained within the wire.  You can also see right through the shape to the background.  It creates three different spaces—the shape in space, the space in the shape, and the two of those combined with the surrounding environment. 
The simple reason why I’m interested in transparency in sculpture has to do with a metaphor for how we are and how we think of ourselves in the world.  Everybody has two ways of thinking of themselves.  One way is that this body—arms, legs, feet, hands, hair—is me, Rick.  Another way is to think that this body—arms, legs, feet, hands, hair—is Rick’s house; I live in here.  We are aware of both senses of the body at different times.  
When we’re healthy and well, especially when we are in some kind of physical ecstasy, we think of ourselves as our body.  Every little part of our bodies is us.  But when we’re unwell, in a transcendent delirious state, or a dream state, we think of ourselves as living inside our body.  Think for a minute of the most brilliant man in the world: Steven Hawking.  Does he think of himself as his body?  Does he think of his body as Steven Hawking?  I doubt it.  He probably thinks of himself as a prisoner trapped in his body.  
We all have that feeling sometimes.  That’s where my idea of transparency comes about—it presents the body and reveals space within that can be occupied or emptied, in the sense that you can see right through it depending on its internal state.  In one of my latest sculptures, “Infection,” I constructed beautiful corpuscles out of red wire that are invading a wooden structure.  The wooden structure is geometric, the corpuscles are organic.  Solid=rational, transparent=chaos.

This is a sculpture of a big head, a self-portrait made of copper wire.  It stands on a wood structure that is just my shoulder height, with an opening for my head.  Not so much a self-portrait, but a head trap just for me.  

In the wire sculpture called “Hands,” you’re invited to put your hand inside the hand, but you’re still outside the chamber that contains the hand itself.

You also see this use of transparency in drawing a full figure with an opening for the top and another for the bottom. 

In an older sculpture called Medicine Chest, a characteristic of transparency indicates that the form is in the process of construction.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I’ve always been interested in human development—how we’ve changed so much in our evolutionary history.  What differentiates us from other animals.  What makes us unique?  I always read about the opposable thumb, walking upright, and the use of tools as the things that make us different.  The one thing that’s central to human evolution is the bigger brain. If you compare the skull of another primate to the human skull, the shape is very different because of the growth, called the cortex, at the top of the brain.  The cortex has grown immensely, like a melon. 

What good is it to have a really big brain?  It means you have a big head.  What good is a big brain and a big head if you can’t be born?  The birth canal, the pelvis, is what really makes the big brain possible.   Its ability to flex and give birth to such a big brain is the most important development in human evolution.  If it can’t fit through that tunnel, forget about it.  Everything about our evolution comes down to the architecture, size, and flexibility of the female pelvis—that is the key to human development.

Having this idea in mind, I started looking at the skeleton of the female pelvis.  I’ve always loved a female pelvis, but I fell in love with the skeleton of it, and it’s become my landscape for the past few months.  I’ve been making lots of images of it.  It looks funny like a crazy pair of sunglasses, or a hat worn at a royal wedding.  I see the fascination Georgia O’Keefe had with the skulls—the bone whiteness of it.  I’ve been juxtaposing those images with my other favorite landscape—the brain, with all the folds.  These two landscapes together tell the story of human evolution in a way that’s meaningful to me.  They are landscapes that are visually evolving, and can be explored in different ways with different materials—in drawing and in sculpture.  I’ve been thinking about an animated sculpture, depicting the birth of the brain—coming out of the pelvis and going back in.  

The female pelvis has to do many different things—pass the big brain through, stand up vertically, and allow vertical propulsion.  You have to be able to run and jump, so it can’t be too wide—otherwise, you can’t run.  If it’s too small—if a female is much smaller than the male—that’s not going to work either.  In some species it works, but not with us, not with our big brains.  That’s why, in human evolution, the size and weight of men and women has been getting closer and closer.  By now, in our evolutionary history, there’s not much difference between male and female, as compared to whales, for example—the male being three times bigger than the female.  Take a look at the female pelvis and its role in human evolution—I think it’s been overlooked.  Tell me what you think.