What do I hope to achieve?

Firstly, I hope to show that almost any shape can be transformed into another meaning with relatively slight physical manipulation. I would like a viewer to enjoy an experience of seeing shapes with a new sense of plasticity, understanding that form is not firm. I would also feel happy if people enjoyed my work with a light heart and felt they had discovered something playful and mischievous; something that invites them to look a little longer; something that slightly shifts their thought patterns, if only for a few minutes. A home run for me would be when a viewer comes back to my sculpture and enjoys it just as much as they did the first time, they saw it. Yet this time, they feel a need to invite another person to share in the fun.

If not sculpting, what would I be doing?

It’s a guess, but if I had not gone to art school, I would have gone into construction and would likely be a heavy equipment operator of some sort. If I could draw fantastically, I would have become a painter as it would have given me the ability to paint the images from my dreams. Fortunately, there is an endless supply of visual metaphors and journeys each morning I awake, and I have been thinking of a graphic way to bring this imagery into future work. It will take some time, but the minute someone develops a digital dream recorder, I am buying it! And the final if: "If I were not in the arts, what would I be doing?" I would be a UFO investigator, for sure.

Why did I want to teach mold making?

Being a self-taught mold maker was a slow process, as there is a limited amount of literature on the subject. Even while reading every book I could find about mold making, it became clear that excellent mold makers are not necessarily good at explaining their craft. They usually write books when they retire, long after they see things from a beginner’s perspective. Because of that, I started taking pictures in art school of the processes I was working on in order to remember what a beginner would need to know. I hoped there would come a day when I would be a skilled mold maker who was qualified to write about it.

Why is craftsmanship some important?

I think the simpler an idea is, the better it needs to be crafted. When a noticeable amount of time is spent creating something, the creative commitment and intention of the piece is amplified. I also think people tend to take better care of things that are well made. When someone respects the craftsmanship, they are likely to give more time to studying it. When I started my first mold making business in Chicago, I was hard pressed to earn money making molds and was driven to take on any 3D art commissions, regardless of if I knew how to do them or not. In the beginning, the need for money pushed me to figure things out quickly, but I was also genuinely interested in solving technical issues. I thrived on the engineering challenges and the new job each success led to was exciting. The common denominator of each job was to copy an important object without damaging it. Protecting the client’s belonging was the first step in caring about the quality of my work. The second step was to make a very user-friendly mold for the client. This meant that I had to over-design the mold because another person was going to use it, not just me. I enjoyed the work and each day that I earned a few bucks meant I did not have to be an employee at another job. The trade-off was teaching myself how to do the projects with limited technical help from a few raw material suppliers.

I am feisty about some things

In art school, I was saturated with people and professors encouraging work centered on socio-economic and political messages. They seemed more interested in the conceptual idea than the physical representation of it. I remember being surprised by how many people really hoped their political artwork would change a person’s position on a viewpoint. I think some of their artwork started good conversation, but really it just seemed to bring out each individual’s existing opinion, rather than move the story forward. My goal was to master my technical craft as much as possible, but also to have fun with art. I remember a teacher explaining to me, “Art school is the time to experiment with new ideas because you will not have as much time for that after school.” I responded to her that I wouldn’t have as much time only if I was too exhausted from being stuck in a house painting job after college, but that if I actually learned a craft here in school related to my art, I could make a living doing something that kept me close to my work. I was sassy and didn't realize then how long it would take to learn a craft. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but neither was I.

How did I get interested in mold making?

While I was working in the Ceramics Department at the Art Institute, I saw lots of people sculpting in clay, only to have their works explode in the kiln or get ruined with a bad glaze. Once I heard you could make a plaster mold of something, I thought it logical to make a mold before firing in the kiln. That way, if disaster happened, I could make another casting without starting from scratch. The mold was an insurance policy for me. The only catch was that it was up to me to insure myself through learning how to make a good mold. Those familiar with plaster mold making and slip casting know the resulting clay cast from the mold is hollow. Working with hollow castings taught me that shape is just a texture filled with matter. Once I took the matter out of the texture, I could peel, warp or blend the shape to my whim. I became obsessed with teaching myself how to mold well. I thought it was both a marketable trade that would serve me after school, as well as one that would help with my art. From that point on, I was less concerned about developing ideas in art school and more interested in becoming a craftsman. I was confident with my creative ideas. I just needed to know how to construct them. Another important transformation happened while I was mold making: I let go of the notion I had to personally hand sculpt every element of my sculpture. This bothered a lot of people around me who cried “copycat”, but I was more interested in changing the meaning of a form by manipulating its existing shape—not sculpting it and then altering it. It didn’t make sense to me to sculpt something by hand when a mold was going to be necessary for duplicates. I thought, “Why not start with a mold and save the time struggling with making a perfect sculpture?” The important thing for my sculpture was not how I got the shape, but rather how to recreate the shape in the casting medium I needed.

How did my sculpture process develop?

For as long as I can remember, I have always liked working with my hands and using tools. My teenage years were spent dreaming of becoming an inventor. I’m not sure where this desire originates but maybe I inherited it from my grandfather who was the RCA engineer who invented high frequency welding of plastics. Since I didn’t know how to work with tools in my teens, I became interested in photography. The thought of blending and morphing shapes intrigued me (Remember, this was before Photoshop!). I then discovered the artist Duane Michaels. His storytelling via manipulated images was inspiring. I never had the same types of ideas he had, but his work provided a mental push forward for me and I began to write lists of paradoxical images. It’s unusual, but my sketch books are filled more with visual descriptions than drawings. When I transitioned from photography to ceramics, I became more aware of form and structure. It was about this time that my stepfather Andrew gave me a small book on Rene Magritte. I had never heard of Magritte and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was like someone was already speaking the language I was trying to develop. If I had not seen Magritte’s work at that time, I think my visual vocabulary would have been delayed for a very long time. Thank you, Mr. Magritte, for leaving bread crumbs for others.

Where is the emotion in the work?

I think the emotion is in the satisfaction it brings to me to create the art. My hope is that my work carries to a viewer, regardless of its shape or concept, an understanding that this work was made by someone whose Dharma it is to do this work and who receives great joy in sharing it.

Where do my ideas come from?

Many of my ideas begin with my natural inclination towards objects from the late 1800s–early 1900s when things were still largely made by hand. Working with a shape from a previous era typically means the finished sculpture will automatically have a historical feeling to it, which is one of my ways to bring an instant history to a piece. This is also why I am drawn to antique surface finishes. With a historical framework in mind, the next part of my process is to seek out shapes that relate paradoxically to one another. Because of my many years of mold making and sculptural fabrication, changing the shape and material of an original object is well within my technical range. It has become an automatic process for me to look at an object and imagine it morphed into something else. In other words, when I look at an object, I see a form that is not solid. The ability to duplicate and manipulate a form via mold making has created a certain kind of sculptural Photoshop in my mind that happens very quickly. When I look through a book that has interesting objects, my mind catalogues them and will hold the visual representation from one page to the next. (Sometimes I just photocopy a shape and catalog it for later). Eventually, two or more of the objects will click together. Once I determine what objects to combine, I come up with a title for each piece.

Why do I make art?

For me, making art satisfies many of my emotional needs. I find pleasure creating something new that will hopefully contribute a small, but positive vibe to our world. I also have the satisfaction of working with a sculptural mold making process that I enjoy. Resolving the technical and engineering issues for each piece is very satisfying. Many people don’t consider it, but art making can be a very isolating activity with hours spent in the studio instead of out with friends or nurturing personal relationships. Sharing a finished work of art is a great way for me to connect with others in a playful and thought-provoking way. I also must mention that it feels great to achieve the artistic results I am after. Controlling the medium was extremely difficult in the early years and I think that is why I was so driven in business. Every job I took taught me about a new material or technique. Now, with a mastery of my materials and a long list of artworks to create, I look forward to every hour of time I can dedicate to making art.

© 2019 Michael Joy Art