“Part of what I want you to ask is, how the hell did that get put together?”
The question did cross my mind. I’m standing in Ted Larsen’s studio, a small, light space in a studio complex off Upper Canyon Road, puzzling over how the 46-year-old sculptor welded and screwed together dozens of geometric boxes in a way that creates a colorful, chaotic burst of scrap metal that clings to the wall like a genetically altered giant spider.
“Generally what I do is build things that have a unit,” says Larsen. “The unit gets exponentially multiplied, and there becomes a conversation between the unit and the multiplication of that unit. In the process of losing itself, it comes back into being itself. There’s a chaos that forms out of a very organized system, which is very unpredictable.”
As I try to digest that, Larsen, who recently was awarded a prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, pauses to let my pen catch up before referring to the physicality of his work as “blue collar.” He may be a good wrench, but he’s pure philosopher.
“The geometric aspect forms the basis for the possibility of illusion,” he says. “Illusion is completely artifice. It’s not real. But what’s real is the making of the illusion. There’s a point at which the two touch, and that’s what I’m interested in.”
Larsen is also interested in fixing and racing Ducati motorcycles; the history of art, society, and politics; the dismal state of the planet, and bringing the high art practices exhibited in modernism and postmodernism back down to earth. What better way to combine these passions than to cut, paint, bend, and hammer trash into what he calls “constructed objects?”
“I’m not looking for a frying pans in the face sort of thing,” says Larsen of his sculptures. “And I’m not particularly preachy about moral things. We all try to be socially responsible, like put our recycling on the curb, but what does it mean to be generating waste in the first place? Our best thinking in the world has got us exactly where we are today, and we need better thinking.”
Larsen recalibrated his own thinking after 9/11. The disaster not only brought the art world to its knees, it also gave Larsen, who was born in Michigan and moved to Santa Fe at the age of 15 with his artist parents, an opportunity to abandon his successful career as a watercolor painter in order to, as he puts it, “figure out how to make things as physically real as possible and to eliminate illusion.”
For Larsen, that meant experimenting with salvage materials—junked cars, architectural elements, and industrial equipment—that he finds in scrap yard around the Southwest. Taking a saw on the road with him, Larsen cuts everything down on location so it will fit into his compact, fuel-efficient car. His studio is lined with a rainbow palette of precisely cut car bodies.
“All of this is the outside of cars,” Larsen explains, pointing to Power Shift, a piece made from inlaid salvage steel that looks like it’s floating of the wall, thanks to its reverse bevel frame.
“I use the skin of the car exactly as it was in the skin of the car, which is to say the pretty part, the outside, and that’s what it still is,” says Larsen. “I don’t actually want it to be something different from what it originally was. But you don’t recognize what it was at the same time.”
Heady? Yes. Didactic? Larsen cringed at the mere mention of the word.
“I don’t want to draw a specific conclusion on anything. What we need is more creativity in our thinking, not less,” he says. “If I’m trying to do anything here, it’s taking material which had a pre-life and subverting that life into something else. It’s taking a higher practice and bringing it back down to earth by making formal constructions out of trash.”
Ted Larsen: Brand New, Slightly Used, July 30—September 25, reception July 30 5:30-7:30 pm, EEight Modern, 231 Delgado, 505-995-0231, eightmodern.net.