Like many who are reading this, I have recently returned from the 6th International Encaustic Conference, directed by Joanne Mattera with Truro Center for the Arts director, Cherie Mittenthal. This Conference has been raising the bar for artists who work in the medium of encaustic since its’ inception, but this year impressed me as particularly touching in the way it encouraged attendees to follow their true instincts as artists. My own presentation, Funding Your Work: A Practical Guide to Dreaming Big, emphasized the dreaming big part over the funding part, and David A. Clark’s hotel fair installation, Dreaming the Arrow, illustrates this in the most literal and poetic way. Following is an interview I conducted with David about this piece.
LM: How would you describe, Dream the Arrow?
DAC: The work is a sensory environment. I want viewers to feel enveloped as if they inadvertently walked into my head and in doing so experience what I feel when I am dreaming which is a sense of expansive trajectory; And of course, the beauty of that moment.
LM: What inspired this piece, and at what point did you decide: this is what I’m doing for the hotel fair?
DAC: I got the idea for this piece last July. It was my first impulse and the idea really frightened me, so I knew I had to do it. The idea began with the space. I wanted it to feel intimate, but at the same time expansive and I knew that I wanted it to be an environment that would be both reflective and fleeting because those were themes percolating in my work. The piece also had to fit the greater thematic thru-line of my work; that is the trajectory of impulse; not so much the beginning and the end, but the impulse that drives one point to another and the moments of reflection suspended along that trajectory. Those suspended moments form the backbone of my more two-dimensional work. But I wanted this particular work to feel like the whole line and the “pull” of the trajectory. For the last couple of years I have been exploring impermanence and the fugitive nature of things as they relate to the larger thematic elements of my work. So it was important to me that the work be grand and yet ephemeral. It took all year to make but lasted only 90 minutes and then it was destroyed. All of the elements of this piece, my presence in it, the humble materials, the sound of the clock ticking, the viewers witnessing and being a part of it, and the fleeting nature of the event are all integral to the meaning of the work.
LM: How did it feel to literally put yourself in your art?
DAC: I enjoyed being a part of the piece. I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t nervous about doing it, but there was never any question in my mind of doing the piece without my participation. I had to be a part of it. It wouldn’t have been the same without a human element. A wrapped room is just decoration, but a wrapped room with a life in it gave the materials life and life is impulse. My participation gave the room an energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. It gave the room a sense of possibility and it made the work intimate. The work took place in a hotel room after all. I had to acknowledge the space. An empty room is just a room, but a room with a person in it is a story, and every story has possibility.
LM: What was your motivation while you were in the piece? What did you visualize?
DAC: I just tried to breathe and focus. I wanted to be as much a part of the work as I could, and that required me to be as relaxed as possible. I wanted to disappear into it and in order to accomplish that I needed to be as organic to that room as the walls and the floor. So, breathing was key.
LM: Were there any aspects of this performance that surprised you in any way?
DAC: I hadn’t anticipated how vulnerable I would feel being in that bed. One’s bed is a place of safety, so it was a bit strange lying there knowing that the room was literally alive around me. At times I would feel really relaxed and completely open to the environment and then I would realize that I wasn’t alone in the room and I would fight the impulse to shut down. I needed to be open to the viewer for the work to be successful and that required me to be relaxed and accessible which is not necessarily a natural instinct in that state. It was unsettling but strangely empowering to let everyone watch me at my most vulnerable and be open to the unknown. I really had to trust the work and myself in it and know that the world that I had created would take care of itself.
LM: It seems like a huge amount of preparation and planning went into this project, especially considering the travel. How did you lay out your plan of action?
DAC: It did take lots of planning. I spent months working out the details of how I was going to make the work. All of the elements of the piece including the paper, mounting hardware and tools had to fit into a custom made box that fit the airlines requirement of a maximum of 64 inches. I completely reconfigured my studio to print sheets of paper that were 1 x 4 yards. I printed 120 yards of paper, more than I needed, but I had to have options so that I could think on my feet when I arrived at the hotel. I also printed sheets, pillowcases and curtains. In my head I was planning the piece based on the room I’d had last year, but when I arrived at the hotel I was given another room which was subtly different and I had to make adjustments as I went along. So, I’m glad I had a couple of contingency plans built into my preparation. Preparation was key.
LM: Have you made a conscious decision to merge your background as an actor with your present visual art practice?
DAC: I wouldn’t call it a conscious decision. Right now, being a part of the work feels like the logical result of following my creative impulses. For me it is always about the idea, and then what follows is how to give that idea the most resonant form I can. So if it means that I need to be a physical part of my work in order to give these new ideas life then I will. I’m not sure these environments will take over my practice, but the thematic elements that drive these environments are part of an effort on my part to think bigger in my work, and not to limit myself to ideas that fit in a frame. And the International Encaustic Conference is a great forum in which to explore grand ideas like this that may be outside of my usual practice.
LM: Do you think, in general, that visual artists might benefit from the kind of training one gets as an actor?
DAC: I think artists benefit from all sorts of cross disciplinary training. No matter what the medium, artists are taking ideas and giving those ideas a dimensional form. So, for me, yes, my training as an actor has helped me flesh out many elements of the work I am doing now. It’s certainly helped me be braver in my work. More importantly though when one is an actor one learns to be present, to think on one’s feet and honestly sit in one’s impulses and emotions. That is an invaluable skill in any discipline.
LM: Where do you think this project might lead you? Do you think it could change your work?
DAC: I can see myself doing more work that fuses my performance background with my visual art practice, absolutely, and I am really enjoying doing large-scale environments. These environments allow me to tackle thematic elements that are more effective when the viewer is part of the piece. Doing this type of work has changed me, so I know it will change the trajectory of my studio practice. It’s very exciting to be on the brink of something new and navigating uncharted territory. That’s a great place for me to be. My best work springs from ideas that set me on a path that is a bit unsettling. Unsettling is exciting. I am at my best in the studio when I am questioning and taking a risk. It’s my job to risk jumping into the unknown, and every risk taken is part of the larger trajectory of what moves me and my work forward. So why not take a leap and see where the impulse flies? I might just keep on going.