Originally a painter then taught himself wood carving with this book.
''People are surprised when they find out other animals in the kingdom express loyalty, for example. We’re just dolphins with expensive jumpers.''
''It’s overly romantic, but there is some kind of emotional struggle to make anything in the studio work. If I think something is really moving, I want everyone that’s close to me to have experienced the same thing—like if I went to a concert I really like, or when I saw the film Nashville. So, just this idea that there is the ability to move people . . . I feel like it used to happen with art a lot more before art had to compete with a lot of other things. When art was the movies and television. . . . I think music sticks, and I don’t think artworks stick in the same way. Having every Neil Young album is kind of like having access to a whole series of narratives that you’re not involved in, but you can somehow get involved in through the music. Studio soundtrack is a very long question. It’s something about a lasting impression and the sculptures are supposed to be a lasting impression of something else.''
LV: I want to talk about the nature of wood, the material. RS: One of the embarrassing things I have to tell people when they ask me what I do is that I’m a wood-carver. And then there is this question: How can I tell people I carve things out of wood without them thinking I should be arrested? It’s the stuff of wizards and unicorns. I’m talking about traditional wood carving versus what I do. I’m proud of how traditional it is and how handmade it is, and one of the things I think is important is that one goes to the studio and actually makes things. But, to be a wood-carver is sort of returning to something old. And since I haven’t been using plastics and sanding, I feel like it’s almost a more wholesome studio. I guess it’s also an acoustic material. It’s a living material—like it still moves when it’s taken off the tree. Although you try to plan for as little movement as possible, it still has the ability to expand or shrink. When I chose that wood I was looking for another material that was as mute as the cardboard or the white PVC—something that doesn’t have a purpose. Like the only purpose it has is its subject. It’s about description and abbreviation. But if the material itself is abbreviated then it’s kind of invisible. It’s one of the most unwooden woods you can find. LV: But it’s still wood. It’s a lot like flesh. RS: It’s a very bodily material. That wood is traditionally used for pattern making, and conceptually it interested me that its major use was to show people what a thing could look like—to suggest an idea rather than to structurally improve somebody’s house. It literally has this function that it’s not quite at a “real world” level of finish. It’s the material of a proposal. You know, regarding empathy, I don’t think these things would have the same effect if they weren’t done in wood. I think the kind of material you use definitely affects what you make in that subject. It just causes you to look at things in a different way. Things appear to me now that I want to carve. They appeal to me both because I’m conceptually interested in what they could do with something else, but also because I wonder how they would be, or how much stranger they would get if they were sculpted in wood. In more of the recent things, like, say, the table, there’s one large slab of wood representing twenty different kinds of materials to unify the description into one experience. There’s not the distraction of details in terms of surface renderings. And I hope that’s what makes the experience of them more intimate, because you’re in the “beige zone.”
RS: I’m someone who thinks about, “Okay, it’s mid-February. What was I doing a year ago or what have I done in the year since last February?” I’m in L.A. now, and I was here five months ago. What have I achieved in terms of productivity in the time since visits here? I keep studio logbooks of hours, even though I don’t pay myself an hourly rate. And now I’m just as particular about these books as I am about these pens that I got in Japan. And it’s because it’s there to remind me. . . . It’s interesting to answer the dumbest question in the world, like: “How long did it take you to make this sculpture?” And I can say “464,000 hours.” But it’s also that at the end of the day I need to see the number “12” at the end of the page, and if it’s not there I feel like I’ve ripped off the project. I am kind of nerdy about that. My dad talks about having a fishing logbook, and he questions the legitimacy of my birth date, because according to his fishing log, he had to fly back from Tasmania because mom was in labor with me. I was born a day early or a day late of my actual birth date. So he thinks it was just a mistake on the birth certificate that got turned into my birth date. But . . . anyway . . . this piece [points to cactus in catalogue] is the biggest thing I’ve worked on completely independently, which may be one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. But . . . you know how you were going to ask me that question, ‘If you were in L.A. . . ?”