Collected Writings of Allen M. Spivack
2019 (Text from my website HOME page)
After all is said and done, I’ve discovered I’m a storyteller. These days it’s been taking me a long time to complete my sculptures. There are lots of pieces to design and assemble, and each sculpture often has dozens of possible permutations. That has been my personal story this year.
I’ve worked on three sculptures in 2019- Reflections on the 13 Acts of Creation; Monument to Lost Gloves; and Hot Still Scape in 3-D: A Sculptural Reflection on the Stuart Davis Masterpiece. Each sculpture tells its own unique story-be it reinterpreting the biblical creation story by focusing on the acts of creation rather than days; OR spending years collecting lost gloves in my neighborhood and hanging them together as a testament to loss and separation; OR deconstructing a complex and magnificent Stuart Davis painting in order to reconstruct it in 3-D.
In the process of making these sculptures, I discovered my true calling as storyteller. I want you, the viewer, to carefully observe how these stories reveal themselves in sculptural form. My focus is not creating art that simply looks beautiful or strikes you as whimsical and playful. I hope my sculptures give you pause, stand back and take it all in, and then leaves you both puzzled and excited.
The making of the art is only part of the experience. My interactions with other artists and art show visitors actually completes the ‘experience’ for me. I want to share several stories from the past year that make me fully appreciate the power of public art. It certainly has kept me energized to keep at it.
- At the Crane Estates show in Ipswich, MA, a 9-year-old shyly approached me. Her mother coaxed her to ask me what my sculpture, ’Reflections on the 13 Acts of Creation’ was about. I told her that I was trying to capture the biblical creation story in 3-D. She stared at my sculpture for a long minute and then blurted out, “I know which parts of your sculpture represent the acts of creation.” For the next 15 minutes, she thoughtfully and logically explained which part of my sculpture represented each of the 13 acts. I was mesmerized. Mission accomplished!
- I installed my ‘Monument to Lost Gloves’ in the Riverway Park in Brookline, MA for the Studio Without Walls show in May 2019. I came back to take it down in mid-June and was approached by a young woman. “Is this your sculpture?” she asked. When I said it was, she told me the following story. “My boyfriend left town for the summer a few days ago and when I was walking through the park the other day, I saw your sculpture, read the text, and started to cry. Thank you.” This sculpture used dozens of lost gloves to capture the loss of connection with others through separation and death. This young woman made the connection between her own pain and a piece of steel full of lost gloves.
- As I was disassembling the ‘Monument for Lost Gloves’ I looked up and saw an older Asian man staring up at me on my ladder. When I came down, we started to ‘chat.’ He was from China, was in Boston to visit his son and was himself an artist. He used his phone translator so we could carry on a conversation. We shared photos of our families and, he showed me his paintings. Then he offered to help me load the sculpture into my car. When I was ready to leave, we took a picture together and gave each other a friendly hug.
When my ideas become sculpture, I can never be certain how the viewer will experience the work. Art is full of subtlety and metaphor. How does a lost glove become something that it isn’t-a symbol for loss and separation? How do distorted and disfigured pieces of silverware represent the profound tragedy that was the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre? And how do 13 discrete organic shapes in steel piled one on top of the other tell the biblical story of the creation?
I often start making a sculpture before I really understand what I am trying to explore. Since I don’t do figurative work, I’m often not sure why and how a piece takes a particular shape. Tackling a new work is both exhilarating and terrifying. Given the number of ‘choice points’ that every sculptor faces in creating a work, all of us must trust our instincts and sensibilities. It’s part of the sculptor’s job description!
Yet it’s really you, the viewer/audience who affirms (or not) what I am trying to do. I have something I want to (and need to) say through sculpture. The three stories I’ve shared above serve as a window for me to understand how my viewing audience experiences what I’ve created.
As a final thought, I’ve spent most of 2019 on a single work of art: Hot Still Scape in 3-D: A Sculptural Reflection on the Stuart Davis Masterpiece (see this piece in the ‘What’s New’ tab on my website). Spending so much time with this painting builds a special kind of intimacy. I’ve studied every nook and cranny of Hot Still Scape to figure out how the painted elements could be converted into a 3-D format. As much as one can, I felt connected to the ‘soul’ of this extraordinary painter.
2017 (Text from my website HOME page)
One of the unexpected by-products of devoting myself full-time to art is meeting other artists. I always ask them about when they discovered they wanted to become an artist and when they realized they had become a legitimate practitioner. Some I’ve met attended a formal art school and pursued an MFA. Others have taken many courses and workshops to hone their skills. And others, like me, had no formal training to speak of. Almost all of them, it seems, had other careers so they could make a living, raise a family, care for aging parents, or actively engage with their communities-what you might call the ‘stuff of life.’ For many, becoming an artist was a dream deferred.
Eventually they found a way to practice making art. Let’s make a distinction here between art making as a hobby and art as a way of experiencing the world. A hobby is a pastime, something we dabble in, an activity that satisfies a passing interest. Art has become a devotional practice for me. I now spend virtually every day engaging with my art: in the studio, writing, reading, thinking, talking, dreaming. The process of making a work of art happens over the course of years. Often, the actual construction of a piece of sculpture is the easiest part of the process.
The art making process means I’ve sufficiently struggled and wrestled with a concept or idea for enough time that I now am ready to create it in three dimensions. For sure, there are often technical problems to resolve in executing a work of art but figuring out how to ‘materialize’ what I’m thinking and feeling about the world around me is, by far, the greatest challenge. That said, while each piece of art I make advances my conceptual work as an artist, each piece is, by no means, a ‘masterpiece.’ When you study the lives of artists, the priority for them was simply making art and then more art. Immersing themselves day in and day out in this creative process is what really mattered to them, not an intention of creating ‘great’ art all the time.
I’ve had a productive year. I’ve shown my work in a number of shows, sold a piece and was honored to have my sculpture about my mussar practice (13 Qualities-2016) in an wonderful outdoor sculpture show at the Pingree School (Hamilton, MA) called the Flying Horse Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit (Sept 3-Nov 5). This means this piece isn’t available for this year’s Open Studios. However, in the process of preparing the piece for the Flying Horse show, I decided to dismantle it, repaint the entire piece and change five of the mussar rectangles. See the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos to compare the results.
Additionally, a big part of this year’s work for me involved scrapping five pieces of sculpture I made during the past four years. I realized that some of my sculpture had a ‘shelf life’ and had outlived its usefulness. Making these pieces enabled me to experiment with ideas and materials and techniques, but keeping them indefinitely for the sake of preserving my so-called legacy was foolhardy and counterproductive. I hope you enjoy this year’s show and appreciate your support of 2017 Jamaica Plain Open Studios.
2016 (Jamaica Plain Open Studios)
When I tell people what I’ve been doing with myself since I retired three years ago, they often reply, “Oh, it must be fun! Wrong! Creating art is not fun. It’s not a hobby or avocation-it’s the new way I’ve chosen to connect with my world. It’s yet another personal challenge for me. So, what may look like something ‘fun’ to you actually forces me into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. That said, I relish the time I spend in my studio. When I’m there, I need to bring a range of skills into balance in order to make the ‘making of sculpture’ happen.
So, what are those ‘range of skills?’ Patience, Imagination, Craftsmanship, Perser-verance, Risk-Taking, and Embracing Joy. Why Embracing Joy?
I understand Embracing Joy as the experience of knowing you are in the right place at the right time doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. It has nothing to do with being happy or content. It applies to all areas of life-work, relationships, spiritual practice and all the minutiae of daily living. It is through embracing joy that I nurture the fortitude and single-mindedness needed to devote myself to the hard work that happens day in and day out in my studio.
As you will see, I now use art to speak about a lot of issues:
- Expressing my shock, horror and profound disappointment about events and leaders in the world as in Case Closed-No Further Action Required; Sandy Hook 2012; and Nuclear War Triptych: Honoring the Hibakusha;
- Creating playful, decorative pieces for outdoors like my window grates, garden pieces and tabletop and the hanging cutlery mobile pieces
- Paying homage to musicians, songs, scientists and artists that have inspired me
- Remembering life-changing personal events in my life that have impacted me in significant ways like Rite of Passage, He Died and Conversation; and
- Engaging my sometimes ridiculous flights of the imagination in such new creations as Spivack Cemetery Marker or Four Urine Towers.
I appreciate you stopping by today and hope we’ll have a chance to talk. I always appreciate your thoughts and feedback about the work I’ve created. Art can’t exist without an audience, and I need YOU to be an active participant to make a dialogue possible. And one more thing…please don’t tell me “Oh, that (making art) must be fun!” Ok?
2015 (Jamaica Plain Open Studios)
Thank you for coming today to enjoy JPOS 2015. Take time to stroll around and look at the work I’ve created during this past year. Many of these new pieces have been on the “drawing board” for a long time. A big development for me this year was building out my workshop into a fully functioning art studio so I could do all of my artwork close to home (go inside and take a look!). I now have my own private workspace to do more mock-ups and templates and to work on several pieces at the same time. Sometimes finding an object (like the chair and coffee table pieces) suggests a theme I want to explore while other pieces (Nuclear Triptych and Jigsaw Puzzle) start with a theme or idea that eventually finds expression in sculptural form.
This is my 2nd year showing my work during JPOS, and I feel my way of becoming an artist in the world has deepened and matured. I’ve learned that 99% of art happens between my ears-the production part is not always that complicated. It recently occurred to me that much of my work has religious/spiritual themes. So, I feel a deep kinship with those painters and sculptors who, centuries ago, created religious art. My pieces may not resemble a Bernini sculpture, but they no doubt convey some of the same themes and messages.
Let’s talk about my age. Given my age when I became a sculptor, I decided that this year’s JPOS ought to be my mid-career retrospective. The art world loves to categorize artists by their “years in the business.” They use terms like “emerging, mid-career, career retrospective” to describe some particular level of artistic accomplishment. I’ve never figured out how one moves from emerging to mid-career to career. Is it how much the buying public will pay for a piece of art? Or the size and scale of the work? Or the type of adjectives art critics like to use to describe the art? For most of us, the course of our life grows and evolves based on the choices we make given the situations in which we find ourselves. It’s no different being an artist. I’ve lived a very full and purposeful life so far, and I draw on this rich reservoir of accumulated experience to make my art come alive. I’ve learned to really trust my judgment and instincts. And, most importantly, I keep in mind what the great American sculptor, David Smith, had to say about his working process:
“The work you see are segments of my work life. If you prefer one work over
another, it is your privilege, but it does not interest me. The work is a
statement of identity, it comes from a stream, it is related to my past works,
the three or four works in progress and the work yet to come.”
2014 (Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man)
Without a doubt, I am an old man to begin making sculpture in steel. But the minute I took the welding torch in my LEFT hand four years ago during my first class at Stonybrook Fine Arts in Jamaica PIain (www.stonybrookfineart.com), I was hooked. After that first class, it took me several more years to find a way to fully commit to doing this work with the level of dedication required to become a sculptor. But thanks to many people in my life, I have finally arrived at that point.
I've wanted to be a sculptor create sculpture for over 40 years. My first experience with building and designing involved using my Erector Set in the 1950s. I was always trying to build things growing up. The journey continued when I attended college in the 1960s. I registered for a yearlong art history course in my sophomore year and found the passion of my life- painting, sculpture and architecture. No matter where Sherry and I have traveled, our first stop has always been the local art museum or sculpture park or taking walks to view the architecture.
Choosing now to make sculptural art provides an opening into a world that challenges me on many levels. Almost all of my professional work experience has been done as part of a team and has involved offering some type of service to others whether as a fundraiser, building contractor or social worker. Creating art is a totally different activity. It is truly solitary work. I spend long hours in my very private world creating visual connections between my intellect, my heart and my soul. Just like Jacob in the bible, who wrestled with an angel and emerged- a totally different, physically changed and evolved person, my wrestling partner is steel. Working in steel is physically demanding with all the cutting, grinding bending lifting and shaping l-need to respect its-unique qualities while at the same time find creative ways to mold and shape this metal into a form that expresses an idea. Sculptural art offers me the challenge (and the- pleasure as well to create and be creative while at the same time testing my resolve, patience, fortitude and perseverance. To love doing this work doesn't mean that I don't often fuss about the limitations of my skill or the narrowness of my artistic vision.
To be sure, my hands are the true narrator of my personal history because they tell the whole story of my life. Take a look at them: the cracks, calluses and deformities and you'll know of what I speak. It is with and through these hands of mine that I have chosen to fashion my artistic life.
The benefit of being an artist as an old man is that my life experience is rich and full of many harrowing journeys and I have a glorious assortment of scars to prove it. I have faced many challenges and worked hard to master things despite my limitations. Self-reflection has always been my partner and that has helped me to overcome and persevere despite all the things life throws at us.
Seeing the humor and joy of life is critical too. All of that now manifests itself in my art. My recent work focuses on several themes: honoring how my life has reached this point; bearing witness to the greatest force in the universe: the creative impulse that guides our every action; and exploring aspects of the human imagination as spontaneity, chance and dumb luck impact us as we make our way through life.
Mastering the technical skills required to create art takes time. I continue to learn how to work with steel-cut it, grind it, shape it-so that it captures my vision. Most important to me now is simply continuing to make art. Each piece, I hope, is a small step forward in realizing my artistic vision and imprint my craftsmanship. I am very appreciative to Stonybrook Fine Arts Studio in Jamaica Plain for offering me a supportive place to work.
I want to thank Ben Todd and Walter Clark for their ongoing mentorship and for Morris Norvin and Anne Sasser for supporting a nurturing attitude about art and artists. Of course, Sherry has been a source of guidance, calm, reason and encouragement very step of the way. Above all, I so appreciate your willingness to experience my world through my sculpture.