12 November 2023
In the mid 80s, I visited the Oil and Steel Gallery in New York which was owned by my father’s childhood friend, Dick Bellamy. He asked me, “where were you trained, who were your teachers?” From that afternoon conversation, it made me think about who influenced me.
Willem Volkersz- Willem was my professor in Foundations at the Kansas City Art Institute. I took his Portable Collapsable Systems and Collage classes. I began to understand different ways to problem solve, connector systems, found objects, and how to assemble work in Two and Three Dimensional space. I always see his influence in my work because much of the time I am creating sculpture that is assembled or constructed. I remember visiting his studio in Bozeman, Montana and he has a will covered with postcards people send him. A few of mine are on that wall. When I was teaching, my high school freshmen did a unit on the Holocaust while reading Elie Wiesel’s Night. My 3D art students would create a collaborative environmental artwork about the Holocaust. I would show my students slides of Willem’s “In Memorim” which is an installation he created in dedication to his Jewish school mates in Amsterdam who died during the Holocaust. To this day, we still stay in touch sending holiday letters and announcement for our respective exhibits.
Stanley Lewis- Stanley was my drawing teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute. I studied with him for a semester in a drawing elective. However, I would always sit-in during his evening drawing class and he did not mind. He was also an accomplished jazz saxophonist and we would jam sometimes. Although he was very tough in his critiques of my work and he said he did not see much potential, thinking my work was like commercial illustration and not really hard core art. Yet, he was kind and always gave me some pointers. I learned that drawing is a discipline an artist must always practice, especially from observation. I draw at least three days a week in my sketchbook. When we would jam, he said I should play guitar like Freddie Green. I did not really know Freddie Green’s playing style but thirty years later, I joined a big band and became a full-on student scholar of his music.
Dale Eldred- Dale was the department chair of sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute. He was bigger than life, or at least that is how I perceived him. He was BIG and was a full-back for the University of Michigan football team. He had a close circle of students who worked with him on various projects. I was not one of them. However, I think we had mutual respect. During my last semester at KCAI, he went out on the back pad and said to me, “If you clean this place up, you can use it exclusively.” It took me a couple of days, but I did it. It had a nice overhead chain hoist on a boom. When it rained, I would go inside and draw. Dale helped me realize that scale can be larger than the sculpture itself. Sculpture is always interacting with the environment. At that time, he was creating large “sculptures” (they were beyond the usual concept of sculpture) that used reflected and refracted light. Thirty years later, when I was creating “sculptures” for the Intermodulation Project, I was using natural light and shadow in the work. I could see the influence of Dale’s work.
William Tucker- I went to the New York Studio School in 1980 as a mobility student from the Kansas City Art Institute. Tucker was one of my professors. He was also teaching at Columbia University. From the things he said to me, I don’t think he liked me much. I was still somewhat a midwestern bumpkin who did not know a lot about sculpture or the world for that matter. However, he really emphasized the rudiments of sculpture and that was evident in his classes and critiques. He curated an exhibition at the Studio School called “Form, Space, Structure.” Through his instruction, he pointed me in the right direction. He had written books on sculpture and I found that there are academic approaches, historical precedent, and critical inquiry to sculpture besides the actions of modeling clay or welding steel. I can always see his influence in my work. In the mid 80s, while living in New Jersey, I was working on drawings and sculptures of Olympic athletes from photographs in Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Coincidentally, unknown to me, he was doing the same in his studio in New York.
Martin Silverman- I don’t know what happened to Martin. Except for a few photographs of his sculpture from the 1980s, I cannot find anything about him in the internet. Did he quit making sculpture? Did he pass away? Maybe I should find out. Martin was my professor at the New York Studio School. I took a figurative sculpture class from him. I found out that much of my work in sculpture extends from an understanding of figurative form. He had a different approach. Much of his work was about movement- walking, diving, dancing, etc. When I was at the Johnson Atelier, he created a monument size bronze sculpture of Prometheus stabbing the the eagle. The work was titled, “Revenge.” When I lived in New York, Martin and I would get coffee occasionally in SoHo where he had a loft. For years, I created a series of swimmers and divers that were influenced by Martin. Movement is an essential element for sculpture- whether the sculpture depicts movement or the movement is create by the viewer walking around it.
Isaac Witkin- I met Isaac when he was a visiting artist for final critiques at the New York Studio School. Later, he was the artist in residence at the Johnson Atelier where I worked from 1981 to 1988. One time, when we were waiting for the bronze to melt for some casting, Isaac was pulling out scraps from the bin a placing them on the floor. He took that down time to look at how much visual potential was in those scraps. He was always looking. A couple of years later, while I was in graduate school at Rutgers, I took a day trip to New York. While walking down West Broadway in SoHo, I walked into Isaac. He said, “Jimmy, you want to look at some art?” He always called me Jimmy. We went to several galleries and it was like a one on one lesson with the master. He was an assistant to Henry Moore. He was the sculptors’ sculptor. He was never stuck in one style or method which definitely influenced me. He showed me how to observe and construct.
John Goodyear- I think what I learned from John was how to be patient and quiet- I am still working on that. He was my MFA thesis advisor at Rutgers. He also had a class called “Art in Site” which I really liked. I did several installations for that class. My thesis was a great idea but writing it was difficult. It was a mess and I still think it needs work. He helped clean it up for me. I was too egotistical early in the process to ask for help. John did a lot of work that used constructivism, kinetics, and optics. Zen Buddhism greatly influenced his work as it influence my sculpture installations for his Art in Site class. His work influenced me in terms of seeing minimalism and constructivism in a different way. Color in sculpture or three dimensional work is important. John was quiet, unlike me at that time. When I think about his influence, I am reminded of how to take the “noise” out of my art work.
Toshiko Takaezu- Toshiko was not me teacher per se. I was her lead foundry man in the 1980s. I would take her wax forms which were molded from her ceramic work and cast them into bronze. She created vessels, “tree forms,” bells, and columns in bronze. From working with her, I learned so much. She said, “I don’t want my work to look too mechanical.” She embraced the serendipitous. To me her work was about controlled looseness- if there is such a thing. Is anything really in control? Drips, goo, scratches, rough against smooth, enso circles, patinas- were they mistakes or intended? I see the aforementioned in my work. One day, after I received my MFA, we were applying a patina to one of her small bronze sculptures. After we waxed it, she said take to take it out to her car. When we got to the parking lot she said to put in it in my back of my truck. WOW. She said it was a graduation gift after receiving my MFA. She was full of surprises. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a writer who was helping curate a posthumous exhibition of Toshiko’s work. We had an hour and a half Zoom call in addition to several emails with attached photographs. Over a two week period, I found receipts, notes, photographs, and other documents. There was much history, which I like.
These teachers helped me to not only become an artist but also a teacher. . . sharing knowledge.