Inside the Artist's Studio: Kristof Wickman in Bushwick 

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Kristof Wickman's exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the first in its new Raw/Cooked series focused on emerging Brooklyn artists, runs from September 16-November 27.

How do you start a new piece?
It usually doesn't start with the idea so much, it starts with the object and the physical properties of the object. Usually, if I can figure out a way that one material yields to another material in a fun way or an elegant way, that's what drives me: how one or more things interact with each other, and what push and pull can occur.

Certain objects recur in several of your pieces; what makes you return to an object or a form?
I think it's a humorous quality to an object paired with an elegance that I like. And if something's crappy and falling apart I think maybe I could transform it and make it more solid by casting it, to keep that humorous quality about it. If something looks sad or crummy, or funny, or sexy—it would be awesome if I could find something that's a combination of all those things—that's what I'm attracted to: the overt physical qualities of the objects.

Is there any over-arching theme to this exhibition?
Yeah, it wasn't intentional, but there's a theme of seating: chairs, tables, feet, butts, and noses. And then there are some pumpkins, I don't know where those fit in. Maybe it's safe to say it's themeless, but there's a good number of elements of seating, tabletops wooden folding tables, chair bases, backrests of a love seat, and stools. I realized last week that there's a lot seating going on.

How do you use humor in your work without letting a piece ever become just a joke or a visual pun?
I think there are very few objects in art that are laugh-out-loud body humor funny, like when you see somebody fall on ice—maybe that's not funny, but it's funny to most people I think. Funny art is the type of funny that you just smile at and say, oh that's funny. It's just a different type of humor. I've done some really overt one-line punch-line types of things, and those I think only work in the context of other more austere or mysterious work. The tricky part is when those pieces are on their own. I like to think of a single piece as a joke or a little piece of humor, as a footnote to a larger sculpture or to a larger body of work. And with sculpture you can see something from one side and then see if from the other and it's a completely different thing, so there could a joke waiting for you on the back of an object that looks minimal or mysterious.

You once wrote, "my aim is to make a non-literal reality from literal parts"; how do you choose those literal parts?
I think that goes back to being attracted to the funniness of something. It's sort of like the formal elegance versus the fact that it's kind of funny or that it's anthropomorphic, or that there's something a little bit sad about it. That's a hard question because it gets back to: how do you say yes to one thing and no to another? and what has too much cultural baggage and what's cliché? But I like things that are universal, or moving towards the universal, but at the same time have a specific cultural meaning like pumpkins or a pilates ball.
Slideshow
Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio
Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio

Inside Sculptor Kristof Wickman's Bushwick Studio

Where he was putting the finishing touches on pieces for his solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.

By Benjamin Sutton

Click to View 8 slides


In a way you're trying to make these recognizable figurative objects more abstract, right?
I guess if it starts from one object then transforming that object and adding other objects to it, if it starts to make sense in a way, if the objects start to interact with each other in a way. It's just a matter of flipping something over, or adding another element, or taking something away, to the point where I can't make literal sense of it anymore. So if it reaches a point where it does start to make sense I get bored with it.

Are there any artist's who've been especially influential for you?
Charles Ray is somebody who the more time I spend in the studio and the more work I make, the more I realize he had a huge influence on me when I was first starting to discover sculpture. Mark Manders is an artist I like a lot for his ability to make sad sculpture. I think it's really tricky to make a sculpture that makes you go "aw..." or makes you think, oh that's so sad. It's a dead cat strapped to a drum, but he has a really interesting way of doing that with his palette and with these generalized animal forms and weird contraptions.

There's definitely a very emotive quality to your work as well; in addition to the humor there are some pieces that are distinctly sad. Is that always deliberate or is it almost incidental?
It's more incidental. I wish I could capture that and do it on purpose. I felt that way about the bulletin board ("Bulletin," 2010) but it's too bright to really be an emotive piece. It's an old bulletin board that was hanging across from my old studio at Hunter and a guy left the building and took off all the notes and then I took the bulletin board into my studio and had it there for a while. Then a friend of mine photographed it in eight parts. And that's just printed out on the same scale as the actual board. I felt that was sort of sad, that it was an old idiosyncratically constructed bulletin board that was falling apart, totally covered in dust, and all the notes had been taken off—some of them had been inspirational sayings. So there's a lot of background information that makes it sad for me.

But with the pumpkin face ("Untitled," 2010), there was originally supposed to be a dog head on the other end, and there were supposed to be rods connecting the eyeballs of the two piece, and it didn't work out. But the thing I love about sculpture is that I made the piece, and then I just set it down, and the way that gravity takes objects can dictate a lot for me. It's hard to spatially imagine the way that something is gonna look until you have it. And then you can hang it from the ceiling, you can put it on the wall, you can put it upside-down, and it's like anything is fair game. It's a good way of letting it do what it wants to do, in a way. Often times I think, oh this would be really great standing upright, or laying flat, or being upside-down, and then you make it and you see it from thousands of different angles and perspectives and realize that it's better a way that you hadn't intended.

Are there any materials you're interested in exploring?
I would like to get into wood-carving. Stone is also very interesting to me. But I haven't really given either of those materials a fair shake, mostly because of the learning curve, and I can get really impatient. Although I am having those two pumpkins (points to two resin pumpkins) cast in bronze in Iowa. I'm having a few things fabricated actually: the pumpkins and then a trampoline, like a scaled down full-sized trampoline. And I'm rusting some springs upstairs on the roof in a vat of saltwater and vinegar. So the bronze pumpkins will sit on the trampoline and sag the rusty springs. That's a new thing for me, having work fabricated.

There's another piece where you put a scaled-down picnic table on top of a regular-sized picnic table; what interests you about that process of shifting scale?
I think it's to take an iconic form and change the perspective of it. With the scale shift you can re-present common things in a way that appears to be new.

You work predominantly with resin, often transforming an object from its original material into resin; is there a particular attribute that attracts you to that material?
I use this aqua-resin that's supposedly non-toxic, so I can do it in my studio, and it's really malleable. And I have a way of working with it where it's totally liquid at first then it starts to harden up. At first it's pourable and towards the end it's carvable; very similar to plaster. I don't only use resin; a couple of ceramic pieces are being glazed right now by a friend of mine for the show, so it won't be a resin overload, I hope.

You often combine cast resin copies of objects with other objects in their original material state; what dictates which items you maintain and which ones you make copies of? Is that strictly an intuitive process?
Yeah, I think so. If I want to transform something then the way the casting works for me is that I can basically add stuff to something or take something away from it and reinforce it, make it into a slightly different thing. But sometimes an object is exactly the way I want it, so I decide not to cast it. I just try to figure out if it needs to be transformed anymore to be effective, and if it doesn't then I leave it.

Resin has that weird way of making every object seem quintessential, like this is THE stool and this is THE pumpkin.
I think that comes from the color, the bone white color, which I'm trying to get away from. Color's been a tricky thing for me lately. This is one I've just painted. I have a set of tables that are in the show, and this is one of the table-top objects. This is all resin. In this case I'm trying to get away from that obvious "this is resin" sort of look.

The Brooklyn Museum often lets artists incorporate pieces from their collection, or install some pieces in their period rooms; are you planning anything like that?
I know they've done that in the past, which was sort of why I didn't want to touch it because it's been done a lot better by other artists. They had this mezzanine space open for the first slot and it's a beautiful gallery and I felt it was just too good to pass up and they wanted to fill it, so we both agreed on it. They were really open to me doing stuff in the arcade, in the lobby and things like that, but it ended up being way too much to handle with an 1,800 square foot gallery plus more. Ideally I would have wanted more time, but you never know if you would end up procrastinating just as much and giving yourself ten weeks in the end if you had twenty.

(Photos: Emmanuel Cruz)

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