SL: First off, congratulations again on Another Utopia at LaMontagne. I was looking forward to seeing new work from you. When I was at the gallery, I said to someone, "I knew this was going to be good, but I really didn't expect it to be this good!" It's always a treat to see your work but to see you change up so many things and present sculpture that had so much going on was refreshing. The work breathed into the existing modernist gestalt a sense of urgency. It felt like the perfect work to address current ecological concerns and it does this with a precision and a focus that belies a lot of the current "environmental art."
The work is not an emotional cry or an accusation. It feels more like a desperate but reasoned attempt to make sense of something. In this way, it reminds me of your practice where I feel you making the work of a persona. Whether it is Huck Stoddard or the exquisite Bathyscape sculptures and performances, I had always had a sense of an organizing intelligence in your work that was, if not directing the action, providing the aesthetic sensibility that oversaw production. But the shifts in your work (embracing characteristics from science, fly fishing, deep sea exploration, farming) have never felt calculated. In fact, they have felt like an emotional positioning expressed via your broad and deep investigation of materials. For an artist whose work so clearly talks about risk, danger, and vulnerability, especially of the male subject, there is often little discussion of how your work is about the roles of men and how they change over time and in relationships.
What influences your choices in methods and materials and how are these choices linked to theoretical concerns (i.e. feminism, ecology, psychology) and/or personal discoveries as an artist and as a man?
Andrew Mowbray: Dear Steve, Your articulate and well-crafted question has been a struggle for me. It is the one subject in my work that I have chosen not to focus on in recent years. Your kind words and intelligent observations of Another Utopia are sweet and I would expect no less from you. Thank You! Please excuse the delayed response. If I could easily write about this stuff I wouldn’t bother making it.
In the recent past I was always hyper aware of the materials and construction methods I used, from their history to their popular use and also acknowledging the people who worked with the materials and their physical and emotional relationship to them both historically and in the present. Inherently I began subverting these traditional notions and paradigms of material specification in relationship to history, class and gender. This led me to plastic as a material for creation. It has less baggage, it is “new” and “synthetic” It is everywhere around us all the time, yet we don’t want to acknowledge it, so we design it and color it to represent and imitate so many other materials. Plastic doesn’t have a rich history, it didn’t grow in an ancient forest and it wasn’t forged from rare minerals. It is trash and it is often ugly and tough to work with. Plastic is neither warm nor cold and both neutral and sterile. Plastic is brilliant and dumb. It has no class.
Beyond materials my motivation with creating has never been to make something clever or a statement that pushes buttons. For instance, when I did the performance, Just for Men, in 2005 at the Boston Center for the Arts I wanted it to have an understanding, a contemporary conversation, or new male counterbalance to Janine Antoni’s Loving Care 1992, a work I strongly admired. After this and my work Bathyscape from the same year, I started to feel like the guy who deals with “white straight contemporary masculinity”, a group and history that in the past I had felt guilty about being unwillingly linked to. At the time I was interested in the potential for a new paradigm shift, no more 1950’s social gender roles. Some thought it was an entertaining issue, like “stay at home dads” “that’s cute”, so I backed off and choose to place these elements and ideas in the background of my work.
Moving on: The methods I employ have always been rooted in a genuine interest in craft or experience (I like to sew and make quilts, garden and cook). Sometimes people associate these aspects with a particular gender, and I often did too. I still think about these issues, a lot because they are important. Feminism, race, class and gender issues still have a long way to go but overall everybody just needs to try and understand, have some empathy, and think. Yes, I am a man but more than that I am an individual. This being said depending where we are as individuals, we may serve as both representatives and representations of the characteristics that people feel describe us, especially when we are minorities in a crowd. (I could go into personal experience stories now but I won’t, that’s it.) With these thoughts, Another Utopia was partially about all of the forms getting along, no material or construction hierarchy and physically all growing and fitting together with their neighboring forms.
Another Utopia started with a cucumber that grew into our garden fence and with some frustration from the overuse of the words “sustainable” and “green”, this led to growing birdhouse gourds in modular forms. From that point on it has been four years into an incredibly organic process that is just at the beginning. I started this very rudimentary process with simple forms and mostly grown or found and reclaimed materials, and no expectations, just asking: Can it do this? What else can it do? What can it be? What else? What will it be next?
To sum it up, I mentioned earlier that I am a man and recently now I am also a father. Lots of people have babies and children and some choose to create work about this experience. I have not felt an urge to collaborate with my child in a formal “art” way. The one thing having a child has changed is my thinking about making. It is no longer about me just navel gazing my issues. I am now an official tour guide and ambassador for this person. I choose to create and show her a world with the potential for good.
Andrew Mowbray is a Boston-based artist who holds an BFA in Sculpture from Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA from Cranbrook. Another Utopia was on view at LaMontagne Gallery 9 November-21 December 2013 and is reviewed in ART IN AMERICA by Francine Koslow Miller. He has received grants from the LEF Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and from Wellesley College, where he is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the Art Department.