2021 (Compiled from notes written 2001–21)
Updated: Nov 19
Trees have long been my metaphor, symbolic of my inner and outer growth—the taproot delving deep into my conscious and subconscious, the origins of my art, life, and family; peripheral roots branching out into other communities, cultures, a cosmos of interweaving interactions; a trunk and branches reaching up and out beyond their tips, leaves, fruit, falling here and there. The garden, our planet, is inhabited by beings of beautiful movement. Every work is a step toward an ever more perfect union of space, time, and motion that reminds us of the dreams and visions that once fueled our actions and desires. I must, I can, I will provide the physical evidence of my and my family’s having lived upon this Earth, this planet. In the great scheme of things, it is less than a drop in the bucket, but it pleases me to be able to leave this evidence here for a time.
It is often felt that the lyric or romantic sensibility cannot express itself in iron. The intent of a good deal of my work is to demonstrate that it is a possibility no more foreign to iron than to marble. To take a cue from Michelangelo: “The best of artists hath no thought to show / Which the rough stone in its superfluous shell / Doth not include: to break the marble spell / Is all the hand that serves the brain can do.” The sculpture is in the material. I see the sculpture in the material. I have wanted to be, in my sculptural development, true to form, so to speak—true to the powerful and positive ideas that motivated my early work. Thus, I eventually saw [Julio] Gonzalez’s dictum that the new sculpture was to be found in the “marriage of material and space” as an invitation to explore the inner space of volumes as well as the welding of extensions into outer space. My sculpture begins and ends with what can be done with metal. Between the beginning and end are other considerations. The drama of the process of each weld involves a change of state from solid to liquid and back to solid. Repetitions of this process bring about construction, a new constellation of the real and the imagined, ruminations in metal. The material basis of my sculpture is metallic opportunities. Bringing pressure to the right points, I draw the aesthetic out of the industrial process. To me, metal is alive. The forms tell their own story—how they resisted the torch and hammer. From the mill through the studio to the gallery, park, or plaza, the sculptor’s challenge is to bend the metal to his wishes, hammer it into his vision.
To be creative is to not know what one is doing. The process of creation resolves the imbalance or irritation that initiated the desire to create something. Sculpture is a way of exploring, amplifying, and giving form to my enthusiasms, which are wide-ranging and often intersect each other, technically, emotionally, and spiritually. God said to man: I just gave you life; you make the rules you are going to live by. I value my independence. Value systems can give impetus, support, meaning, and resonance to style. Sometimes it is not about making art.
Sometimes it is about making statements about culture and history or history and culture with or through art. The goal is to wander, wander through the unknown in search of the unknown, all the while leaving your mark. Art can do it all: a life of doing things, a life of making things. Sculpture is habit-forming, lifestyle-forming; my hands are getting more like claws, or dull, worn talons.
Can the wisdom of the ages serve as the wisdom of the new age, the new millennium? Conventional wisdom is often not subject to or confirmed by independent research. The triumphal road for some can be a Trail of Tears for others. Sometimes one has to revise the revision. If you are not willing to do the research, don’t bring it up. If you don’t want to get to the bottom of it, don’t start it. Your world view is misconstrued. The world has changed, but your view of it has not. Speaking as one who works with metals, one could say your ideas have annealed and therefore become hardened to the point of brittle fracture, if they are not redressed properly and in timely fashion. Quenching the lines of fracture could deepen and widen your ideational underpinnings to the point of structural collapse. Does becoming a critical thinker make you ever critical? You must stand somewhere on the stone steps of the drama.
It is less and less possible to engage in what I would consider meaningful dialogue on aesthetic, political, and other societal matters of importance to our communities, the nation, the world, and the universe since the beginning of time. Rather than art that is fully dimensional, contemplative, and complex, it is art that is personal, colorful, recognizable, subject to a simple executive summary, that is likely to gain wide and quick acceptance. Often an artist’s best works, most ambitious, daring, reaching, and complex, are the least collectible. They often make up the bulk of the artist’s collection of his own work.
Imagining a world without racial hierarchy, I work as if race did not exist. Look the world over, learn, enjoy, luxuriate, dream large, expansive dreams of a glorious future for ourselves and all mankind. Then, we turn our attention to what is humanly possible. Spend time with the work, criticizing it, chastising it for not being better. Spend time with the work, thinking about what you need to change to make it better. There is always the opportunity for an accident. An accident is sometimes an opportunity. My studio practice has allowed me to create and maintain an environment that favors intuitive rather than designed creations. One can always design something but can never direct the strike of lightning. Spend time with the work. Being quick is not as important as being correct. Sculpture’s presence, the way it occupies, displaces, engages space, is what matters most. I am the thinking person’s sculptor, joining metal manipulation to meaningful expression.
There is an art world of artists making art and an art world of curators, collectors, directors, lookers, seekers, et cetera. There is a difference between a lifestyle that includes art and a lifestyle that is all about art. Whatever an artist does with others, most important is what he does alone, when everyone is gone from the studio and he looks over the day’s progress, or lack of it. Sculpture is all about hard work and delayed gratification, and mysterious, harmonious, pleasantly jarring, revelatory spatial structures—having good times and bad times at the same time. Sculpture is not a self-declaration but a voice of and for my people—over all, a rich fabric; under all, the dynamism of the African American people.
I am a Chicago artist because I am from this city; I’m a Black artist because I happen to be Black. These descriptions are sometimes useful to other people. But I’m also many other things—a man, a human being, an artist. Artists have a unique opportunity to make a difference . . . to look and work toward the future. Most people, by the nature of their work, have to think about what’s happening now, to serve as kind of custodians of our culture; but artists have the opportunity and responsibility to be forward-looking. We have the job of creating new ideas and visions for the future, and I’m pleased to be a part of that. I am interested more than anything else in being a free person. To me, that means that I can make what I want to make, regardless of what anyone else thinks I should make. My art is about art—embracing a vision of the future that is unlike past futures.