AHA! A House for Arts

S7 E3 | CLIP

AHA! 703 | The Sculptures of Susan Meyer

How do utopian communities influence the sculptures of Susan Meyer? Producer Matt Rogowicz visits Susan at The College of St. Rose's Center for Art & Design to find out.

AIRED: July 19, 2021 | 0:06:56

(gentle music)

- I'm here at the Center for Art and Design

at the College of Saint Rose,

to speak with artist Susan Meyer,

and learn more about her incredible sculptures.

Follow me.

(soft upbeat music)

- [Susan] I work with wood,

and I do a lot of laser cutting of slats that go,

that kind of cover the wood structure.

I also make smaller sculptures,

and I do some walls, some flat wall work as well.

(gentle music)

A lot of the work is inspired by utopian communities,

ones that sprang up in the mid-1800s

as a response to the Industrial Revolution,

mainly in the Northeast portion of the United States.

(gentle piano music)

"Nude-topia" was probably the earliest piece.

The model utopian communities look a little bit

like architectural models,

and they're occupied by HO scale figures

that are all nude. (laughs)

And the figures would either be together

in scenarios where there seem to be a bit of tension,

or they would be alone, and kind of in a state of ennui.

So they had kind of a curious relationship

to the utopian community.

(energetic music)

So I'm interested in that,

that idea of great possibility and great potential,

and then the kind of human weakness

sort of mashing up against each other.

So I grew up in Utica, New York and would go

to Munson-Williams Art Institute quite a lot.

And there was that Thomas Cole series "Voyage of Life",

and I was interested in the way

it goes through these stages,

sort of a sense of a rise and fall.

And in making the pieces "Nude-topia", "Together",

there's one called "The Enterprise",

there's a little bit of this sense

of a rise and a fall of these utopian communities,

which indeed, over, and over, and over again,

these communities would spring up,

and then dismantle relatively quickly.

I wanted to start making singular sculptures,

rather than installations.

I just thought that would be kind of challenging in a way.

(uplifting music)

With pieces like "Nude-topia" and "Together",

the exterior shapes of the individual sculptures

seem to talk about the landscape and topography.

And I wanted to take that and have it be

the interior of the sculpture, and have a more

geometric kind of boundary around the pieces.

So those pieces, for instance "Shaft",

the topography within them is all taken

from areas where utopian communities

sprang up in the Northeast.

So, it's all from maps that I would

turn into Adobe Illustrator files,

and then laser cut each individual section.

(uplifting music)

(string bass music)

I was gonna be in a show dealing with scholar's rocks.

And scholar's rocks are sort of these,

from centuries in Asia, scholars, and poets, and painters,

philosophers would have these small, natural rocks

on their desks, sometimes on kind of elaborate stands.

And these rocks would be sources of inspiration.

I started to make "Plinth" because I thought

of these elaborate stands that this,

that the rocks would sometimes sit within or on.

So I made "Plinth", and making the structure

almost, like, more elaborate than the little kind of

offhand stand-ins for scholar's rocks

that sit within and on it.

And "Plinth" is called "Plinth" as, you know,

plinth being a stand for a sculpture.

So the stand for the sculpture kind of

became the sculpture in "Plinth".

(upbeat music)

I have for many years, been making these tiny little,

sort of scruffy sketches in my tiny little sketchbook.

Kind of an idea for a sculpture and they have

a real two dimensional, doodle-like quality.

So, I thought I'll just start with the sketch,

and kind of look at the sketch and work in wood.

And kind of make it directly from the sketch,

rather than making a three-dimensional model

from the sketch and kind of sizing it up.

You know, things that I would tell my students to do.

(laughs) For instance,

I thought I'm just gonna go straight from the sketch,

and it became kind of an interesting way of working.

So "Plinth" is directly from, there's a little sketch

that looks quite a bit, actually that's very offhand,

very doodle-like, but looks quite a bit

like the final piece.

Initially, I make a wood structure from

these little drawings in my sketchbook,

and tape onto each individual plane,

a black strip of construction paper,

mark it all up with the information I need,

then I take it all off and scan each piece of the pack,

and put them in Illustrator, and trace them.

Then, I cut each plane from different types

of different colors of material, different painted wood,

and collaged wood, and put that on

each of the individual planes of the piece.

So these pieces will have, you know, 200 planes on them.

Scholar's rocks, part of the reason

they're interesting to me is that

they're these objects of inspiration,

or transport to somewhere for the scholar,

or the poet, or the writer.

And I guess as artists, we're hoping that what we make

will likewise inspire or transport.

(gentle upbeat music)


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