Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Mark Calderon

The Seattle artist creates hands of stone and fighters of felt for his new Greg Kucera Gallery exhibit, 'Show of Hands.'

By Seth Sommerfeld November 29, 2016

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Mark Calderon, Manus (Crossed), 2016, mica, 18 x 19 in.

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Mark Calderon

Seattle artist Mark Calderon’s brilliance comes from his eye for the simplicity of form, which snaps into instant focus when viewing his striking wall sculptures. Whether the delicate, interweaving mineral hands of his Manus series or the crisp, bold, dyed felt boxers of Fighter, he manages to pack a punch with mere figure outlines. Catch these stunners and other new works (like a turtle stitched together from pieces of mica) in Calderon’s latest exhibit, Show of Hands, which remains on display at Greg Kucera Gallery through December 23.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Calderon about the expressiveness of hands, working with new materials, and and his lack of traumatic silhouette experiences.

What excites you most about the work on display in Show of Hands?

I feel like I’m pushing my work a little further away from myself in a way. This is the first time that I’ve really directly addressed the racial and political issues in my work. I’ve worked on pieces with a lot of cultural references, but nothing quite this specific. I’m also pushing my use of materials. The new materials for me in this show are the industrial felt and the mica.

What led you to use those materials?

I originally envisioned the felt pieces as being wood and metal structures. When I was tumbling that around in my head, I felt like it needed to be softer than that somehow. I’ve always been attracted to industrial felt, but never felt a reason to use it, and it felt right for these works.

For the mica hands, I had cut out a paper pair of my own hands and had it on my studio wall for months trying to figure out how to use it. Then I ran across an actual abstracted hand that was made out of mica by an early, prehistoric North American culture called the Hopewell in the middle of the United States. So then that kind of played into making these. I wanted to use hands because they seem so expressive. They’re kind of creators and destroyers. So I came up with my own version, which was generally combinations of hands.

Were there a lot of hand poses that you tried and then whittled it down to the ones in the show?

It started out with just one set. Then I came up with another one and thought maybe I should look into this and see if any other hand configurations resonate for me. I chose to do six. That’s not to say that I won’t ever make another one, but I’m satisfied with that number now. I think they each portray something a little differently.

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Mark Calderon, Manus (Reversal of Fortune), 2016, mica, 10 x 32.5 in.

Was there an impetus that pushed the work in this show outside of yourself or was it more of a natural artistic evolution?

I feel like I’ve always kind of tried to push myself, and I’ve taken a pretty decent-sized break in between the last few shows I’ve done, so when I go back to the studio, it’s a time for reevaluation and questioning what am I trying to do and how I’m going to do that. So, if you look at my body of work, it’s changed pretty dramatically over the years. Each time it’s pushed this way or that way.

In this case, it seemed like it was more of a conscious effort than just a straight, natural evolution. I was feeling like I needed to recalibrate, re-identify myself, or remake myself in some way. This year seems like a bigger push to me. There’s a lot of two-dimensional work which I think is kind of new, though not completely new. In 1994, I did a series of prints where I’d create a branding iron of sorts and burn images into the paper. They were images of saints, Christs, and Madonnas. So I see these felt pieces as kind of relating to that, in a way. But, my work is not usually boldly colored as those felt pieces are.

How has Seattle influenced your approach to art?

That’s interesting… I don’t really know what to say about that… I think about if I moved somewhere else, would my work look completely different? Nature has played a big part in my inspiration. That’s a lot of the reason why I moved here, to be closer to mountains and water and all of that. It’s a pretty general answer, but true nonetheless.

I’ve always been kind of attracted to matte surfaces, and I was never really interested in creating anything glossy for most of my life. And I always thought maybe that was because I came from a dry climate [in Bakersfield, California] and everything looked dried out and weathered and flat.

One of the thing that stands out in your art is the the way you work with the outlines of forms. Has that always been an area of interest for you?

I don’t know why that is, but it’s true. One thing that I tie it to—and I don’t know if I can really trust in this—but I was trained as a printmaker, so my work was very flat. So, in a way, I feel two-dimensional shapes are really kind of where I’m coming from even though I’m making three-dimensional work all of the time. Because, even when it’s work in the round, it seems like the silhouette is a very important image to me. Other than that, I can’t think of any childhood trauma where there was a silhouette scaring me. [Laughs] Didn’t have a bad experience in elementary school where we had to do some silhouettes or anything like that. [Laughs]

Mark Calderon: Show of Hands
Thru Dec 23, Greg Kucera Gallery, Free

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Mark Calderon, Fighter (Blue), 2016, dyed industrial felt, 50 x 23 x .5 in.

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