Sculpture Exhibition at Monarch Contemporary Art

DEEP MIND: TECHNOLOGY AND THE HUMAN CONDITION featuring CHRISTINA LETA and ROBERT MICHAEL JONES. Opening reception, Saturday January 16th, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm and is open to the public. 

Show runs from January 16th to February 23rd at 7629 Girard Ave, La Jolla, CA

DEEP MIND explores our increasingly complex relationship with technology and asks, what awaits us in the future from our present vantage point. Is it a new age of post-biological life? A world of intelligence without bodies, immortal identity without the limitations of disease, death, and unfulfilled desire? If we can understand why this fate is presented as both necessary and desirable, we might understand something about ourselves and about this new dawn. Join us as we explore this subject matter through the artwork of Robert Michael Jones and Christina Leta. 

Letter of Interest for Firefighter Spirit

Fire is one of the best examples of the harshness and unpredictability of nature. It has become a symbol of chaos and destruction. Yet people have thrived despite these forces because of the courage to stand in the way of nature and defy chaos. Firefighters do exactly this and are modern heroes because of it.

My work as a sculptor has focused on the themes of chaos and order and the human struggle to define ourselves in the window in between. My sensibility as an artist lies somewhere between Giacometti and Bernini; between the existential and the heroic. The figures I sculpt express the heavy external pressures of the world but they push back and emerge from the chaos. Firefighters truly embody this spirit. They literally fight the chaos.

In 2014 I completed a public art work commemorating WWII industrial workers at the Washington D.C. Navy Yards. Using reference photos of the workers, I designed, fabricated, and installed four site-specific public sculptures. I enjoyed working on a historical project, using the energy of my sculptures to bring the past to life, and collaborating with the developers and designers to make a destination for the community.

The sculpture I am proposing will be a heroic scene of man battling nature that will be both representative and abstracted. I will achieve a modern vernacular by working with metal, wire, and concrete which are all common building materials. The form of a firefighter will be surrounded by and emerging from the flames of chaos. It will be a scene that pays tribute to the honor and courage of firefighters but also discusses humanities drive to resist the very nature that we are part of.

We often depict our heroes as invulnerable bronze statues as an effort to immortalize them. However, these heroes’ vulnerability is a preface to their heroism. I would not shy away from this mortality and I would create a sculpture that is both vulnerable and heroic. A sculpture that immortalizes the firefighter’s spirit.

LISAS

ARTIST STATEMENT:

Across the Venice Beach boardwalk from me there is a person in a different world. She seems to be erratically experiencing the entire scope of human emotion. She strikes dramatic poses every few seconds. I begin to sketch her. She gets closer to me and now I can hear her. She is rambling incoherent stories that often involve characters named Lisa. Detached from everything and everyone on the busy boardwalk, she shares her stream of thoughts unaware that today she is witnessed. I furiously transcribe every word I can. A man passing by says to her “hello Lisa”, for a moment she is in our world and replies “hello” before fading back to her private reality. For over six hours she is my muse.

Lisa is a schizophrenic homeless person. These are portraits of the many Lisas I witnessed that day.

This experience had a profound effect on me. Upon returning to my studio I began to sort through my gesture sketches and scribbled quotes. Part of her seems trapped in a dark history of violence and religion. Other Lisas are free. Free of society, free of fear or judgment, and free of the self. She becomes a living expression of the breadth of human experience from the most peaceful and jovial to the most bitter and disturbed. She is a sister, a mother, a Shakespearean queen, a fallen angel, a dancer, a storyteller, a hungry person. Yet in a way she is not a person at all but a part of the Venice beach scenery. A ghost. You have walked by Lisa and not seen her. She does not see you either.  

Lisa exists though and despite being in a crowded place she performs her ritual of existence not to be seen but just to be. While I can’t tell you exactly why it is important that Lisa be seen. Or what she has to teach us. What I saw that day was the rawest and truest form of expression I have ever seen.

BLOG:

My artist statement could not contain all of my reflection on that day in Venice Beach. A week after my return to San Diego I could not shake Lisa. She had taken root in my brain. I had to work out just what it was that affected me so much. So I spent much of the next eight weeks sculpting her.

First I think it is important to address the setting of Venice Beach. It is paradise and has attracted people of all sort, becoming a haven for free expression. The place is a freak show full of street artists, musicians, and plenty of homeless.  Crowded with tourists the boardwalk buzzes with energy. Next to me there is a painter, some older gentlemen selling healing stones and a large reggae drumming group. Amidst all of this Lisa stood out as the strangest most interesting person there. She was in tune with the overall energy of that place leading me to believe she has been a long time resident. She seemed to embody Venice Beach. A Venice Beach that is quickly disappearing due a large police presence in an effort to ‘clean it up’.

It was interesting to me how people avoided Lisa. She scared people. Not because there was anything particularly threatening about her but because she was so unpredictable. Her emotions were so chaotic and confusing it was as if people thought they would be infected by her. That their sane orderly lives would dissolve in the face of such insanity. I understand people’s aversion to her. It is off-putting to think that it is possible for a person to lose their grip on reality. It occurred to me though as I studied Lisa that we all have our own realities and they are all different. Everyone sees the world through their own tinted lens.

It also became clear to me that we all have voices in our heads. Different versions of ourselves that are woven together like so many strings that in most people make up the self. Lisa reminds me that these strings can unravel and that we are all prisoners of the mind.

This has been a unique expression of art for me. Because of the documentary aspect of the show it has a darkness that I have not expressed before. I felt though that it was important to stay true to the material I collected. While the darkness is apparent I found that there was a deep spirituality to Lisa and that she had a real hope for redemption. As I sorted through the quotes that I recorded I found that they captured Lisa’s story in a poetic way. While the sculptures are my expression of Lisa the quotes are directly from her. The connection to the source material was important to me. A forced collaboration with Lisa herself.

Finally, I don’t know much about the psychology of schizophrenia and although the work is part documentary the purpose was never to bring attention to homelessness and mental health. This is the post-script though and given the subject matter I believe it is important to address the disregard of the homeless. My studio is in East Village in San Diego and is the center of the homeless population. I have interactions with the homeless almost every day. They often approach me about my work and show great interest and appreciation for the arts. If you pay attention to them you will see that they are real people. Although I have a great family and large support network it is easy to see how someone a little less fortunate could easily end up in the street while trying to pursue their dream. This is a sad reality that seems severely neglected.

As always, thank you for reading. If you like my work please share it with people it is a great way to support artists. The more people who see it the better. 

-Robert

Horse Sculpture- Market pressures in fine arts

 

Recently I was pressured by an art dealer to make a horse sculpture.  “it will sell” “people like horses” they said.

Being a young sculptor money is hard to come by so I put some thought into this proposition.  I was very resistant to the idea because I don’t really care much for horses, I didn't feel I had a connection with them.  It seemed like an impersonal subject matter and devoid of content. It seemed disingenuous, especially considering I have 3 or 4 entire shows planned out that I haven’t had time to finish.

The art dealer asked me ‘would you do a horse if someone commissioned you to?’ to which my answer was ‘Yes, of course’ ‘Then what’s the difference?’ This is a good question. I felt at the time there is a difference but I wasn’t sure what it was.

More contemplation had me thinking ‘why not?’ Horses are stunning muscly beasts with such powerful and graceful form that it is almost begging to be sculpted on a formal basis alone. A compelling form can definitely be enough to inspire a work but typically I like to have something else to explore.

Lots of sculptors in the past have done horses. It would be interesting to test my own take on such a common subject.

Something still felt icky about it.

‘What is the difference if I make something because it is a popular subject matter or if I make the same thing because someone commissioned it? Does it just come down to money?

Let’s re-frame the question this way. If I was making all sculptures I wanted to and I was making plenty of money doing it would I say no to a request for a commission that was a subject matter I wasn’t interested in? 

Yes. Okay so the money is definitely a factor but it isn’t the only one.

Back to the real world where I need to make sales in order to make sculptures. If someone asks me to make a horse sculpture they are saying ‘I like your style, treatment of materials etc but horses are personal to me so can you make one for me?’  This is not only flattering which I don’t mind but it is still personal. A collaboration of sorts. Opposed to making sculptures because of market pressures which seems more commercial and less personal. 

There is also the fact that money keeps this whole thing going. If you told me I had to make two or three horses a year and that would allow me to make whatever else I wanted, I would do it for sure. It is only selling out if you abandon your own work. Artists use other jobs to fuel their art careers all the time.

Ultimately this particular dilemma led me to the question: What is a sculpture?

Sculpture is an exploration in a three or four dimensional medium. It is the result of transferring energy, emotion, and concepts into an image. It is a reflection of the world through the twisted fractured complex mirrors that are individuals. 

Aha! The individual.

Arts foundation is the individual, the ‘non-conformist’ as Ben Shaun puts it in his book ‘The Shape of Content’ (which I highly recommend). So Art by committee or art made with the intention to please a certain audience goes against the nature of art. It is impersonal and so it has failed in a major way before it is begun. Art needs to be personal. 

Funny thing is while I was writing this blog entry I was thinking about the history of the horse. I was reminded of something I just read about the Incan’s first meeting with the Spanish. It was the first time they had seen horses.  I find this historical meeting fascinating and I think there is definitely a sculpture there or a whole series exploring historical first encounters. They are such volatile and transformative moments in history. What would that have been like?

Strange looking men atop giant majestic looking creatures. Maybe the Incans thought the horses were gods.

So I guess I want to make a horse sculpture after all. I just had to find something about the horse that really interested me personally. An idea I felt was worth exploring.

Baseball Cards vs Monsters Manual

The next installment of my ongoing biography.

Ken Griffey Jr.  

6’3” 205lbs, Seattle Mariners, CF

56 HR, 147 RBI, 15 SB, BA .304                                    

Son of Ken Griffey. Played in the MLB from 1989 to 2010

      VS

A Griffon

8’ Long 25’ wingspan 500lbs, Neutral

59 HP, Att 2D6 +4, Str 18, Dex 15

Large magical beast with the body of a lion and head of an eagle

 I was one of many kids who grew up collecting baseball cards. The excitement of opening up a new pack, looking for the players you knew and comparing all of the statistics. Trading them with friends.

 I was also one of many kids who secretly played Dungeons and Dragons. Mostly I was obsessed with the Monsters Manual.  A book filled with illustrations of all kinds of creatures and monsters dreamt up by many different artist and drawn in all different styles. Complete with tons of attributes and information about each creature.

These two things strike me as an interesting comparison. They are both images and statistics. Something to look at and something to compare and memorize.  Yet a Venn diagram of who was into these I suspect would have little overlap.

This brings us to the main difference. Reality vs Fantasy. Baseball is based in reality, photos of real people that you could go and see or watch on TV. Baseballs story is one that you have no control over. You watch it unfold over the years and it is the same story for everyone. The Monsters Manual is fantasy. Illustrations with different styles of fantastical and obscure creatures that were open ended. Building blocks for you to create your own story. Each adventure was unique to you and had only the limits of your imagination.

So despite their similarities the jock vs nerd war raged on. 

I think everyone gravitates towards either reality or fantasy. Personally, while I still enjoy playing sports, fantasy is much more compelling. While I was secretly looking through the Monsters Manual and sketching dragons, social pressures kept me in the baseball card section of the comic book store. I would have enjoyed the comic books much more. How do I know? Because I am making up for lost time now and comics are my favorite story-telling media.

So don’t make my mistake as a kid. If you are interested in something explore it.

As far as who would win Ken Griffey Jr or a Griffon, the answer: They wouldn’t fight. Ken Griffey Jr is lawful neutral. He would ally with the Griffon and together they would dominate the outfield.  Now that is a comic book I would read; 90’s baseball players team up with mythical creatures to fight for the World Series.

Reality or fantasy? Which do you gravitate towards? Leave a comment

Art and Erectile Dysfuntion

Rembrandt.threecrosses

I sit at my desk trying to finish a different blog post and I am struck with the objects on my desk. An orange and grey rectangle (a book) with a blue and grey circle on top of it (a pack of breath mints). A couple translucent containers with shiny metal tops. A leather rectangle with soft edges and a little bit of paint on it (my wallet). My cell phone. A lamp. Some Redbox DVD’s. A pencil and a tiny red tea cup. My desk turns into a colorful and interesting still life before my eyes. Such a wide range of objects and materials. Unassumingly sitting on my desk there is glass, metal, ceramics, paper, plastic, and leather. All designed with a purpose in mind. A menagerie of different shapes and colors. Now I would not imply that this random arrangement of objects on my desk is a more interesting than a composed still life painting, but they do have potential. The pure visual stimulation we have around us all the time due to the availability of products and materials in a modern global world is immense.

Now I am sure this has helped inspire many artist (Tara Donovan) and is probably the reason art is more diverse than ever. I wonder though if it also has an overwhelming effect on the brain. An over stimulation. I can’t help but think that in a simpler, duller, less designed world; less visual stimulation lead to more interest in art.

Sure there has always been nature; the most wondrous and diverse thing of all.  But now we have nature and mass production and objects from modern design as well as every culture and every time period. Combine that with a larger than ever population of people/artists/creators. Wrap it in the internet and sprinkle some Instagram on top and you’ve got an overstimulation burrito. I guess I am getting hungry. Fuck it. Let’s stick with the analogy. My question is; will this burrito make us grow up to be big and strong or is it making us fat?

Furthermore, does everyone have the same capacity for this type of stimulation? Is it possible that some thrive off the abundance of resources while others are over saturated?

For many people this highly stimulating world of products, advertising, and youtube is already too much. I think we have all experienced some brain-melting days spent on the computer. Perhaps this keeps people from seeking out art.  Art is systemic in our everyday. Maybe not new art or gallery art but this more common, more functional type of art that is marketing, design, and television. It floods our every waking moment.  It is like a visual radio station that you can’t turn off.

Does this inspire us to push further than ever before and to seek out the new and the more stimulating or does it satisfy us enough that we lose interest in any more visual media.

I have heard some studies about the possible over stimulation of porn and its effect on the brain. If our brains are susceptible to this type of over stimulation could it be happening with art? And if so what is the erectile dysfunction of the art world? Standing in front of a Rembrandt for ten seconds? Moving to a new city and not even visiting the museum of contemporary art?

I am sure many people have probably written about this. One of the perks of not being well read is the illusion of more original thoughts. If you know of any studies or papers please let me know. If not, then this is a call to action. Get on it scientist. Do your thing and figure out what’s happening with our brains.

Now back to the post I was supposed to be working on. Thanks for reading.

Later,

Titles and the wrong way to look at art

 'Crouching Man', Bronze, 2009

'Crouching Man', Bronze, 2009

Last weekend I was at an art show comprised of fifty pieces from fifty different artist. Fifty windows into someone else’s unique reality or expression if you like. Fifty different titles. This caused me to look at the different approach artists take when titling a work. I think this is a struggle for many artist, myself included. When creating an artwork often meaning is discovered in the process or even after it is complete. The meaning can change over time and is different to each viewer.  So in some ways putting a title on a work is idiotic, it makes no sense, the art is its own title and speaks for itself. To come up with a few words that are viewer’s first impression is like putting your artwork in a cage. Regardless, an ongoing series of ‘untitled X’ (a pretty sweet title actually) gets old and is useless for keeping inventory. So at least what I try and do is create a title that has something to do with my sculpture but doesn’t give away too much of my own thoughts about the piece. This is not always an easy task and is sometimes more successful than others.  As a viewer though you can avoid the risk.

When I am approaching a new piece of art I do not first look at the title card.  It is tempting and I see many people go directly to it, this is the wrong way to view art.  The card is full of information that really has nothing to do with the art.  Title, description, and worst of all price.  How often has this happened?

Walking over to a painting you look down at the card and see $100,000. “Holy shit that’s a lot of money! This painting better change my life,” “who would pay that much for that? That seems crazy” and then you walk away confused and disappointed. It should go more like this:

Walk over to the painting. Look at it. Not a glance. Look top to bottom, look at the center and out to every edge, find the most distant part of the painting and the closest. Walk up close, step back.  Now that you have an idea of the painting, now that you have let it into your brain and just before you are about to move to the next one, now look at the info.  “Wow $100,000 that is a lot, cool painting though, I wish I was rich.” 

Next Painting: ‘Jungle Fever’ and it was inspired by the struggles of people in the Congo. It is priced at five thousand dollars. By reading that you have created a box for the painting without ever having looked at it.  Before you read that you could have seen anything in the painting. It would have spoken to you with purity of thought.  Through your own frame of reference you would have formed a unique experience. A private conversation between you and the art. Maybe the painting would have instilled sadness and loss in you but you connect that sadness with something in your own life.  Or the painting may have placed you in the jungle and not made you sad but nostalgic for a simpler life. Furthermore you could not have had the slightest clue what is going on in the painting. That is okay, in fact let yourself sit in the unknowing for a moment it is a useful place to be.  If you do give your brain the opportunity to puzzle over the unfamiliar, which in a globalized ‘familiar’ world is all too uncommon, you will find in time that experience is valuable and you will tune in to the dialogue of the artworks. You may even become addicted or at least grow to cherish these moments with the unknown. 

If a painting isn’t speaking to you don’t sweat it. That painting probably isn’t for you or just come back to it if you are compelled. And sure once you give some time to the art you can look at the info and have a nice moment of ‘oh that’s what I thought about it’ or ‘whoa, that is not what I was seeing.’ And who knows maybe you’ll get an ‘ooo I can actually afford that.’ (Probably not though, the expense of art is a blog post for another day) That is what the info card is there for.  To tell you more about the piece and the artist after you view it. 

Now go out to an art show and test this.  I guarantee you there is an art show happening near you this week. Maybe even tonight.  Don’t be afraid. Go get some free wine and pick an artwork that jumps out at you; look at it while you finish your wine and if someone asks you what you think you don’t even have to tell them. The interaction with the art can be personal. If you do answer that’s great and there is no wrong answer.

Well. If you are viewing Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ and they make you joyful then you are for sure a mass murderer; that doesn’t mean it was the wrong answer it just means you should seek help.

My point is viewing art is an act of discovery and courage. It takes courage for the artist to put that piece of themselves on display and it takes courage, as a viewer, to let it in. To let it affect you. Still more courage to share and talk about how it affected you with others.  If you have the courage to do this you will benefit from stimulating conversation and self-discovery. Just like anything that takes courage this comes more naturally to some people. If you are not one of those people than this is a challenge for you and the up side is that if you meet the challenge you have the most to discover.

Afterthought: If you are an artist and you are thinking ‘hey man, I like titling my work it gives me the opportunity to explain the work a little bit, to steer the conversation.’ This is a crutch for the artist and for the viewer. If your work has stimulating content then it doesn’t need help and if you need to add content to your work with a title maybe you should revisit the art until it can stand alone.

If you disagree, good, start a conversation and let me know why I’m wrong in the comments.

Later,

Robert Michael Jones

Legos, Shape Wars, and my early obsession with characters.

Next stop on the biography bus is the Lego age.  For me that was probably five to twelve…and I wish I still had some around.  So fun.

The thing that interests me about Legos is how I played with them.  My older brother, now an architect, played with them how I imagine most kids do. He built things, buildings, ships, racecars.  I was always more interested in the Lego people. They were what was important and if I built a space ship it was because I had a space captain and he needed a ship. Even given the endless building possibilities of Legos I was more interested in the people. 

This interest in characters didn't stop there.  At this same time I was sculpting in clay.  The colorful bake able stuff you give to kids. What did I make? People. Characters. Warriors with swords, and names, and names for their swords. In 5th grade my friend and I would make these elaborate doodles that we called ‘shape wars’.  They were all variations of two or more groups of ‘shape people’ (shapes with arms and legs) that were placed in 2D video game-esc levels.  Always giant war scenes where everyone was about to get stabbed in the back or blown up by a missile. Violent, I know, but I was a ten years old boy.  None of this is that uncommon but still; those little clay people were the predecessors of the characters I sculpt now.

As I begin to move away from the figure a bit it seems like a good time to examine this idea of creating characters. The truth is all kids tell stories in some form whether it is through writing or music or whatever. I always liked visual storytelling the best.  Later on in college when I took figure modeling I realized that the figure is a reflection of ourselves and is inherently a character. Every decision made when working with the figure is building narrative. How they stand. Where they look. Are they holding something? Standing over a clay figure I tilt the head down, the figure is sad. I shift the gaze back to level and they are searching. Now I lift the gaze to the sky and the figure is deep in thought.  This level of control is enticing. Just like in Shape Wars I get to decide what the character do and who lives and who dies. Before you judge me as some psychopath with a god complex consider that this control over characters is what every kid does when playing with their action figures and it’s what authors do when they write. 

I'm not sure where this one got me except to realize that the American culture I grew up with was super violent, I probably have control issues and I get to play and be creative everyday.

Later,

Robert Michael Jones

While this biography series is ongoing, it is not the only thing I will be writing about. Stay tuned for ‘On Critiques’, book recommendations, and more.

Next in the series- ‘The creativity of growing up in the woods’ and ‘The Monsters Manual’

The first time I made a sculpture.

One of the questions I get asked the most at shows is, ‘how did you get started? What made you become a sculptor?’

I want to take this question as far back as possible in my life and to work my way forward.  Hopefully along the way the question will get answered.

Going back to the beginning is difficult because memory is difficult. Damn the limits of this human body.

Like most kids my first work was probably an errant marker or pen that I found and jammed in my mouth creating a smeared inky line drawing on my face.  What was my first sculpture though?  It is tempting to think back to my older brothers Legos or the Lincoln Logs before that. It was earlier though. The first sculpture that I was a part of was, I think, the house my parents and grandparents were building when I was two to maybe five.  I was a tiny pudgy kid with a broom trying to sweep up the dusty floor but in reality I was just using the broom for balance because I could barely walk. 

Some kids grow up hearing their dad play the guitar or go to work every day in a suit and tie.  I watched mine get up seven days a week and make progress on the biggest building project I could imagine and for lack of a babysitter I helped out as early as I could. It is important to note that this wasn't just a building my dad was making it was our home.  It was the place that I grew up. The place the kept me warm in the harsh Vermont winters.  Where I played, slept, laughed, cried, and healed.  Like a sculpture a home is an intimate thing. Some of my oldest memories are of seeing my parents build my home.

So, from that first floor sweeping manipulating my environment and constructing things was not only a possibility but was encouraged.  Next time- ‘Legos, clay, and my fascination with characters and story.’

Until later,

Robert Michael Jones

 

Why I am starting a blog

Probably the same reasons every artist has a blog but before I got started I felt I needed to define it for myself.  So here goes.

I have been making sculpture for 6 years now. In those six years I have engaged with many people through my artwork.  However interesting, they are usually fleeting conversations.  Whether with patrons or homeless people outside my studio they are interactions that I cherish. This blogs main purpose is to expand those interactions. To create an ongoing conversation about my work and about sculpture in general.

If a sculpture falls over and no one hears it does it make a sound?  It does.  But if no one sees my sculptures they can’t fall in love with them or start a cult following and worship them creating the best religion of all time.  That may be taking it a little far but the sculptures still need to be seen and to be talked about or else what am I spending all of my time doing.

As I write this my first challenge is to overcome the insane flare up of self-importance that writing about my work creates.  But my sculpture has inspired people. Some people do appreciate and even love the art that I make. This blog is about finding more of those people and opening myself up to them.

I am starting this blog to tell my story, share my opinion, my interests, and to share my inspiration. Hopefully at the same time I will become better at writing about my work and get feedback from the audience I build.

Be a member of that audience and you will feel so cool when I am mega famous.  So bookmark this page and come back for more.  http://www.robertmichaeljones.com/ 

Later,

Robert Michael Jones