Ian James Carr is an emerging sculpture with an upcoming Armory Week group show at Gallery Rene Mele, opening March 6th.
This is the expanded edit of the interview for Beautiful Savage Magazine, back in September in 2014.
Ian’s work is currently exhibiting at my home-based art salon AOT Project Salon, in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Please join us this Sunday, February 1st for a Sunday Open House from 2-6p and a Q&A dialogue beginning at 4pm.
Ian Carr is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and painter influenced by the constructivist tradition. He studied at the distinguished Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam. Since his graduation in 2011, he has exhibited in Amsterdam, Berlin, and New York. His aesthetic pays homage to collected ideas about forms of architecture, design, and materials. He does so with adroit attention to detail.
What do you consider to be the foundations of your 3D work?
You can take it back to the efficacious existence, a term from the Realistic Manifesto, written in 1920 by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, two of the founding fathers of constructivism. See that building? The manifesto says we see it standing and all its weight and ingenuity, so that’s a success. We can see the work of thousands of men who built it. When I make a sculpture, that is the evidence of my work, which is heavily layered in reference to structures like that building— everything that has that efficacious quality. Things that we can see. That’s a bit of what’s behind the work.
The works themselves come from respect or admiration for the proletariat, the one swinging the hammer. The architect gets all the respect, fame, and money. But if you don’t have the men on the ground actually building it, sweating and risking their lives? The building wouldn’t stand up. That is the success of many of, you could say, the collective.
I grew up writing graffiti and skateboarding, doing all of this shit that takes you to different places and teaches you how to see the environment in a different way. It was a kind of meeting point between the graffiti on the wall and the wall that it’s on. The wall, that it’s on, was built by many men. There’s an architect involved, there is money and government. It’s legal, it’s big. Then there’s the efficacious existence of the individual, i.e. the tag on the wall. The illegal, the small, the individual; the person and where the urge to write on that wall comes from. It’s because you want to conquer these big things, they’re in our face. For some, the only way they can deal with it is if they climb all the way to the top and write their name on it. It’s a certain way of saying “I conquered this.” As you grow up, fuck graffiti, and art takes over.
What is the relationship between your drawing and sculptural work?
Sculpture was always more visceral, it’s there, you can walk around it 360 degrees. It’s heavy, you can hurt yourself on it. For the longest time drawing played a role. I would be working on a sculpture, I would get stuck—like writer’s block. The way I work, I never make a plan, never have an idea of what the end result will be. People make plans, and they draw it out with blueprints, and then they just build it. That’s boring because there’s no room for the work to really do its own thing.
I’m not in charge, just holding onto the reigns of this wild horse. I can kind of pull it left, and I can kind of pull it right. But, I don’t want to have any real control. That kind of submission to Art is important—taking out your ego, what you think is cool, what you think looks good as a person… who cares? What the materials are doing in front of you are more important, more fascinating. That’s real, more truthful for the audience. It stands the test of time.
Drawing became this tool to fast forward through problems I would have with a sculpture. Working in 3D and the different metals and materials, there’s a different pace involved, a different pressure. You can’t crumple it up and throw it away. Richard Serra can crumple it up and throw it away, but I can’t. So there’s a different pace involved. Eventually, you get to a point in a work in progress where you’re a little bit stuck or have mixed thoughts. So you break into a different medium. With a drawing you can go through ideas quickly, find your way through these problems.
At your last show “Broken Language” curated by Daine Coppola, you showed 2D work. How has the role of drawing evolved in your work?
You gotta give it to Daine. He saw those paintings during my residency at B.A.S. in Gowanus. I left one card tacked to the wall, he took that and put his card there. It was a pleasure working with him, I hope to work with him again. He’s on point and has a clear idea when choosing work, and what he wants to say for an exhibition.
As of late the drawings have become more autonomous, they are works in themselves. I’m proud of that. I can make a drawing with no reference or connection to my sculptural work. I feel like that’s a success.
It’s partly to do with the uprooting from my comfortable situation in Amsterdam to finding myself without the same resources, material, and tools. These always dictate what the work comes out to. But more resources don’t necessarily make the work better. That challenge is exciting. There’s more possibility there.
Some of the abstract expressionist greatest works were made with limited resources.
Technique is not meaning. All the fancy materials and resources, in the world, don’t make the artwork, in fact, it’s almost guaranteed it won’t make the artwork any better. It’s all concept based, beginning with an understanding of what art is and what it means to be an artist.
I think a lot of people, don’t know what that is. They feel like it’s this cool like trendy thing to do, that means you’re an individual or eccentric and all of this shit… but who cares? You know? It’s a science. Art is not about you the artist, art is about art. And you, as the artist, have to sacrifice a lot in order to do the right thing, for the sake of art. And I feel like, especially here in the states… when I say these things, people get offended, they don’t understand, the get upset, and it puts me out in the cold. Which sucks! Because this is what I know to be true, I know to be important. And I’m just out here alone… It’s shitty.
In your 3D work, you pay homage to collected ideas about forms of architecture, design, and materials.
I don’t want my ideas to be nailed down, to be one thing. The indeterminism, that ambiguity, is very important. I don’t want to draw a horse, because people will look and say “That’s a horse.” I try to leave things open ended, a minimalist technique coming through. I don’t want to give people everything, I want to give them a few elements that can be combined or disregarded or highlighted in different ways. It’s up to the audience, I give them the fruit and they make the meal however they want, and that’s what’s important.
There’s a constructivist quote: Rigidity plus indeterminism, equals infinity. This is not a conceptual idea, it’s saying that a rigid structure or form with no reference to something will become new things, as new generations see it. Does that make sense?
Yes, your work clearly allows for a dialogue.
That’s exactly what I want. I want to start a dialogue.
I want people to think and look at my work. And then look at the world, and make connections. And maybe start to, start asking questions they didn’t ask in the first place. The worst thing is “oh, I love it.” That doesn’t help me, it doesn’t help you. I’d rather someone be passionately hateful towards my work, then dispassionately liking it.
I can appreciate an artist that can speak about their work in different ways, rather than having this fixed statement in a world that is constantly changing. If there is anything that remains fixed and unchanged, it is certainly not art. I know the introduction helps give a contextual grounding, which is great. You give your work the opportunity to have multiple meanings, it’s not afraid to not have a defined containment.
No it doesn’t. It could maybe start in a box, but the box is a made up thing.
There’s no box for real, we can start here with these sorts of qualities or standards or inspirations. If the work wants to spill out of that box, you don’t try to keep it in. That’s what I mean when I’m not in control of the show. If it wants to go this way the best thing I can do as an artist, is to let that happen. And to trust that, and to follow that. It comes down to instinct vs. intellect, as far as me in the studio making decisions. Sometimes I have an idea, this is the way I picture it in my brain but that’s not the way it is. You don’t get upset, you look at it as a scientist looks at his experiments. A scientist wants to find a cure for baldness, or farts… something serious: cold fusion (cold fusion would save the world). If the scientist’s experiments comes up with certain results… it doesn’t say “I don’t like those results, I’m going to try to make it so they come out with the results that I want.” That’s bullshit! The results are the results. You have to embrace that and continue. It’s the same as art. Art and science are parallel. They parallel and they operate in different realms of the human condition.
Yes. I don’t know if you would agree with this or not. But in the same vein as American art schools, from people that we have spoken with, are very technical, can be very rigid, light on conceptual practices— And a lot of the thinking that’s coming out of America right now, if not other major parts of the (dominating) world that are influencing money, science, and technology is this kind of opposing values. Where there are those of us who, are more aligned with art and science and that free-thinking. And there are also those who are at present challenged by the freethinking freedom in the midst of what art and science are having a conversation with, so it is whether it is global warming, or why we’re in an endless war in the Fertile Crescent. The flat out deniers, or who won’t even address it, don’t know how, are afraid, and need to stay rigid in their beliefs and practices.
Those are fear based people, they are scared of something. that’s what it comes down to. You are either scared.
Yes, and we’ll talk about the art world itself, with the rigidity that’s going on that is very closely related to money and making salable works, is also this fear based thing. You are afraid that you’re not going to succeed. You fear that you’re not going to make money, You’re afraid that you are not going to become a big name artist. Rather than just going out there and making art for that sake… and with the materials that are ready-to-hand for you.
For the sake of art. I think thats a huge problem as well. Every other person I talk to asks :”how much do you make?” They measure success in dollar signs, I measure success in righteous thinking. You know what I mean? Success for me is not money. Because everything is going to die, this is all going to fall. What is going to be left, when I’m dead, when we’re all dead and 100 yrs from now this building might be there. That’s why ancient cultures built giant structures, because they kind of understood this. I want to make giant structures. I want to leave that mark, but that mark is not for me as a person.
I would say that is the desire to express an idea?
The desire to exist—a desire to efficacious existence. The history, the evidence of something happening is there in a physical form. Somebody built this bench; someone designed it, forged the iron, cut the wood, painted it. put it together, designed the park. Laid these bricks. This is all very exciting when you think about it that way. This is important for us as humans, as a planet, to know what we’re sitting on.
Getting an expansive perspective and seeing the process because there’s a lot more there and things don’t seemed so fixed an obvious, it is almost like a self reflection too.
Oh totally. To be an artist you have to take that third person perspective, totally away from your self… what I said about personal tastes and ego, you have to get away from that. You say “Oh I like that shape.” Well, why do you like that shape? Back up even further, where did the shape come from? Is this shape important for all of us?
Does art want to be right about something? Do you think that when something is determined to be right, it takes that time to then see if it sticks? (A building that remains standing, and keeps being used…)
Art is not right or wrong, good or bad. It really just exists, it’s there. There’s no judgment. Art is its own thing and there are no rules. Jonathan Meese… his whole thing is the dictatorship of art. Let art be the dictator of the world because art will never ask you to bow down, will never ask you to do anything… it’s just there and art is pure play. Everything is a toy for art, including humans. So just let that happen.
What are you expectations as a working artist?
You’re here because of my work and not me as a person. I put everything in there, that’s what I do. And if it doesn’t work out then I’m gonna have a hard life, and if it does work out, then it will be less hard. That’s the way its gonna be forever.
Is there something you can say about “Broken Langauges” the show?
It was fucking great. You gotta give it all to Daine Coppola. He saw those three large paintings about a year ago, when I was doing a residency at BAS in Gowanus, it was part of an open studio.
It was a weekend event, I came on Friday, hung my work. And then I had to work the whole weekend, so I wasn’t even there the whole time. I came back, and his card was waiting for me. You know I left one card tacked to the wall, he took that and put his card there. I like that. And over the past year, we’ve been planning the show.
It’s really so good to work with somebody who, who has that same passion and standards that I have, when it comes to art. Especially when it comes to curating because this is something that I am well versed in. It was a major part of my education. If you’re going to be an artist you have to know about curating too, because that’s just another level of the construction. You construct the work, and then you use those, the different works become material for the larger construction which would be the show. And Daine, knows what he is doing, he is smart… it was such a pleasure to work with him.
I miss that! I had a group of guys in Amsterdam we would do these kind of blitzkrieg shows, and they were always spectacular. But Daine has a little more finesse with people and getting the word out. I look forward to maybe doing another show with Daine, because he’s so on point. He has a very clear idea of what he is wanting to say when he does an exhibition, and when he chooses the work.
Do you long to get all of your work here in New York, or do you want to keep it in the gallery In Amsterdam?
It would be great if I could get all of it here because, there is just more opportunity in New York. You know, Amsterdam is just such a small city, and they love being Dutch and they love Dutch shit. I’m not a Dutch artist, so they don’t really give me the same attention.
*Update: two patrons have pledged the cost of having Ian’s large sculptural works shipped from Amsterdam to New York City for an upcoming spring exhibition in New York City.