Note to students at Massachusetts College of Art – 1986
THOUGHTS ON THE VASE AS ART
A good strong big classic vase draws me to it, and I am satisfied by its form. It makes me feel as good as any painting or any sculpture, although each kind of art can have the same magnetic effect on me. Artists latch on to a format, and they work in "series", using a form over and over again mostly because it feels good. Art is a hedonistic pursuit, and even for the viewer it is more for pleasure than for other purposes. Some artists use the vessel, some use "boats", some use "houses", some a rectangular canvas. The vase is a format for exploration, for self expression, and I use it often.
The classic vases, Egyptian or Greek especially, have a voice for me. They are purposeful, often conveying thoughts or capturing a moment in time. They are a window on their respective civilizations. They are about humanity, not about process. This meaningful concept extends the format of the vase beyond form, to a different kind of communication.
Following this format I try to convey a feeling with some of my vases, specifically the vases with drawings. Humor is my favorite. When somebody laughs out loud at one of my pieces I get a kick from that moment which dispels any doubts that may have creeped into my head regarding the necessary seriousness of art. Incongruity, disguised in beauty, with an element of surprise, is an approach which I use to accentuate a concept.
My Tripod Vases and other departures from what I am calling classic form are exercises in combinations of form. Some are just about shape, the re-arrangement of the elements that make up the vase. From a design point of view I am interested in form and see it has endless possibilities, but thoughts are illustrated by most of these vase sculptures. There is an element of surreal ism in these pieces, because I played the "what if? " game, making a series of vases based on absurd ideas of exaggeration. The preceding art generated the art.
One day I went to my friend Otto Piene's house for dinner, and he had one of my vases on the table with a candle in it, making effectively a lamp. Another time he had flowers in it. It is obvious that that vase is utilitarian to him, yet pieces from the same series are in other collections where a certain precious attitude prevents the owners from anything but looking at the piece and keeping it in an important place. I don't care in either case what way they appreciate the pieces. To me the making of the work involves a certain energy and attitude which I enjoy. It is what I like to do as an artist; vase or wall relief, drawing or sculpture. When somebody else eventually owns the work, they relate to it on their own plane of experience and attitude about art. It makes me feel good to know that the piece has a second "life" with the person or place that gets it after I'm done with it. Who cares what they call it? Its only when critics and dealers begin to create the hierarchy of "important" art that some commercial concerns come into the picture. I'll play the game when it means sales or no sales, but the motives for my making the work remain the same, and the vase is as much a part of my art as any other type of format for expression.