The "Uncatagorizable" Artist

Meet teenager Jaden Christopher-Muench a talented clarinet player who performs both classical and jazz music, then meet Mary Giles a fiber artist incorporating porcupine quills into her nature-inspired works; next up is southwestern artist Woody Gwynn who strives to paint "the truth", and finally Nick Cave an "uncategorizable" artist sharing his many art forms at the Detroit School of Arts.

AIRED: May 25, 2019 | 0:26:46

>> BJ Robinson: In this edition

of KPBS "Arts":

Music to live by.

>> Jaden Christopher-Muench:

There's a feeling of wholeness

when a sound comes together.

>> BJ: Meditation found in


>> Mary Giles: To get into my

studio and just sit and coil and

work on pieces is a lovely

place to be.

>> BJ: Painting on the road.

>> Woody Gwyn: Beauty and

possibility, that's what great

painting puts you in mind of.

>> BJ: And wearing sound.

>> Nick Cave: The sound is

generated from materials that

make noise, such as bottle caps,

twigs, raffia.

>> BJ: It's all ahead on this

edition of KPBS "Arts."


>> BJ: Hello, I'm BJ Robinson,

and this is KPBS "Arts," the

KPBS show that focuses on the


Winter Garden, Florida high

school student Jaden

Christopher-Muench takes his

musical talent very seriously.

Comfortable in both the jazz and

classical idiom, he feels at one

with his clarinet.


>> Jaden: My name is Jaden

Christopher Muench, and I'm a

senior at West Orange

High School.

There's a feeling of relaxation

when I play.

It's like there's nothing else

going on, and it's just me and

the music.



>> Jaden: When I play, I kind

of get in my own world.

I don't really think about

anything else that's going on

at all.

The concentration comes

naturally 'cause there's nothing

else that's really important at

that moment.

>> Kenneth Boyd: It's pretty

much a once-in-a-career kind of

a talent.

You don't have students come

along that can understand what

you're presenting to them as

quickly as he does, that work as

hard as he does, and that then

become as proficient as he is.

And you hope you have students

like that.

>> Jaden: What I like about

playing the clarinet is how I

can hear myself with others and

how the sounds interact.

There's a feeling of wholeness

when a sound comes together.

>> Kenneth: We don't have a lot

of students that come along like

Jaden because his love for music

is evident, so it really becomes

more of a collaboration than a

teacher-student, mentor kind of

a approach.

>> Jaden: Playing music is a

part of my life.

It's not possible to let that

go, and I'll be doing it until

I die.


>> BJ: And now here's a look at

some of the arts events

happening this week in our


>> BJ: What's it like to work

with porcupine quills?

Fiber artist and native

Minnesotan Mary Giles uses

quills, fabric, and metals to

make art inspired by nature.

Her work has been exhibited

across the US and


Take a look.

>> Mary: Inspiration is so


It'll come when you least

expect it.


>> Mary: So much of my work is

environment, where I am, what's

happening there.

That's where I get my


If I'm scuba diving, I'm looking

at those creatures.

If my father gives me porcupine

quills from our woods up north,

I'm using those.


>> Mary: I don't do shock value


I'm not out to make big

political statements.

I think art should be beautiful.

I think it should give you


When people ask me what I do, I

say, "I'm a fiber sculptor, and

I incorporate fiber and metals

in my work."


>> Mary: Over a period of 30

years or 35 years, my work has


I began with my exploratory

period, when I was really trying

out all the different techniques

of basket making, and found that

coiling was the one I loved the


I love the process of coiling.

It is the most comfortable


It's almost an escape from

telephones ringing and having to

do this and going there, and

just too much going on.

And to get into my studio and

just sit and coil and work on

pieces is a lovely place to be.


>> Mary: Years ago, I took a

workshop from Diane Itter, who

was a fiber artist who did flat

pieces, but in knots and

beautiful patterns of color.

She said, "Develop a mystical

symbol or an image, and then

repeat it many, many times."

And then when I started doing

the porcupine quill pieces.


>> Mary: That became my real

identity, my real national

identity, and that was

recognized in my first museum


I incorporate a lot of metals,

either hammered metal or metal

wire or found metals or

manipulated metals in some way.

>> Mary: This is where I do the

torching of the metals.

I use a MAPP gas, which is hot

enough to melt the copper and

also to blacken and do

gradations of the other metals

that I use.

>> Mary: All the materials are

untreated so that they will,

over time, oxidize.

Copper darkens a bit.

The rust may rust more.

I'm also assort of celebrating

aging of materials, and I think

that that's something that can

be very beautiful.

>> Mary: Sometimes I make just

all iron figures, iron armature

wrapped with iron wire, and I

leave 'em outdoors for a few

weeks and I get this nice rusty

coating and I use those in some

of the pieces.

Sometimes I need to varnish 'em

a little bit with a wire brush

and just loosen some of the

oxidation, and the these pieces

incorporate into other wall

panels usually.


>> Mary: The male figure

appeared because it was part

of the tribal stuff I was

interested in.

I've just stayed with that theme

the whole way through.

And then I say, of course, I

like men, so that's okay with

me too.

But that isn't the idea.

The idea is that just they make

an excellent symbol because in

so much tribal work, the male

figure was rather dominant, and

the men were very dominant, but

that isn't because I think

they're dominant.

I think it's just they make an

interesting image.

I know I get a lot of people

going about men, you know?

And I'd like to be as neutral

about that as possible because I

just think it's not a big deal,

but maybe it is a big deal.


>> Mary: In the summer of 2015

I had a very special exhibit at

the Textile Center in


This was a retrospective of my

work and about a 35-year career.

It was wonderful to be able to

pull all that much work


I was surprised at how different

my work looked from early on to


We do grow.

We do evolve, hopefully improve

in our work, and I hope mine

reflects that too.

Being recognized in your field

is rare.

There are many, many artists out

there who get various ranges of

success, but I feel very

fortunate to have this work.

I love doing the work so much.

I think there's always a big

idea just waiting to come along.

I know they're out there.

I haven't finished working.

I'll work as long as I can.

There's always the next thing.


>> BJ: Now here's a look at some

more arts events happening

around San Diego.

>> BJ: Shapes in the New Mexico

landscape are what inspire

Southwestern artist Woody Gwyn.

He often paints what he sees as

one substance turning into

another substance, but always in

his work he strives to paint the



>> Woody: It has such an

incredible scale about it,

this place.

You can't help but sort of be

put in mind of infinity looking

at some of these shapes.

>> Woody: Right here.

>> Woody: We know that the

mountains are finite, but they

put us in mind of infinity,

you see?

They put us in mind of something

even bigger than themselves, and

New Mexico is a place that

does that.

It's big, but it puts you in

mind of realities that are even


That feeling of infinity is the

feeling of beauty and feeling of

possibilities, and all of the

positive things that we all want

and need in our lives.

Hopefully, that's what great

painting puts you in mind.

When I got out of high school,

everyone expected me to go to

college, and I knew it was a

hopeless situation.

Let's put it this way.

I'm not up to normal when it

comes to mathematics.

I did meet Peter Heard.

I phoned him up.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Gwyn, come out

tomorrow at 3."

So I did.

When I showed up at the ranch,

he couldn't have been nicer,

even though I'm sure he was

surprised that I was a

18-year-old boy.

Just told me that he himself was

once a waif, which I'll never

forget him saying to me.

And it was very radical advice

for 1962.

He said the only time he wasted

was the time he was at Haverford


Well, nobody was talking that

way to me.

He said, "If you really wanna be

an artist, then go to an art


And he said, "I went to the

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine


I remember following Mr. Heard

out to his orangery.

He was treating me just like an


We were gonna out and have a

drink, which we did.

But as we did, it had begun to

snow, and I put my foot in his

footsteps, and I thought to

myself, "I hope I can be an

artist like this," you know?

I remember that.


>> Woody: And so I was on my way

to the Pennsylvania Academy of

Fine Art about two or three

months later, and that's what I

did, but it was on his advice.

And, you know, sometimes people

pay you compliments in the

strangest way.

And one compliment that a friend

of mine painted--or paints, gave

me was, he said,

"You know, Woody, I saw

you out painting a few days ago,

and I stopped the car and I

watched you for a long time, and

you weren't looking at


There was nothing that he saw

that was paintable out there.

And another time, I'd done a

painting of the big embankments

going in on the interstate into

Santa Fe, and he said, "I was

here when they blasted out those

hills and made way for that

highway and I felt horrible

about it at the time, but you've

shown me that there's still a

certain beauty there."

Quite often, doing a painting is

an exploration of finding out

what it is exactly about the

thing that did inspire you.

And you find out through

elimination, through eliminating

things, sometimes cutting off a

part of the painting physically,

I mean, that it really, you

know, that that part was not

what was really stirring you,

and focusing in on what it was

that did excited you and

interest you.

Sometimes, almost invariably in

the creative process, at least

for me, I have a period of real

despair, where I think, "Oh, no,

this idea isn't gonna work at


And that's really a crucial


That's a good moment because

invariably, that's the moment

when your ego gives up and you

really are open to new solutions

or something that you weren't



>> Woody: I think that once

something passes through the

prism of expression and human

thought that usually something

has sort of happened to it.

There's been a transformation,

you know, I think.

I'm not a Catholic, but anyway,

part of the doctrine is

transubstantiation, the idea of

one substance turning into

another substance.

Well, that's a very exciting

thought to me.

And like my painting of a pond

that I did near Mora, you know,

that helped inspire me, the idea

that it was like the substance

of water was turning into this,

another substance of light.



>> Woody: The greatest danger of

abstract art is that it ends up

being not anything beyond


Well, the same thing with


The great danger in realism is

that the content, the emotional

impact, or the quality of the

work is such that it does not

get beyond illustration.

I like abstraction, by the way,

that seems rooted in reality and

realism that seems rooted in


That's why I like so many of

O'Keefe's abstractions because

they came out of real events in

her life.

It would be wonderful to paint a

painting of just a blue with

really no objects involved, but

a blue that was so evocative of

looking at, let's say, a New

Mexico sky that it made you feel

the way you feel when you look

at New Mexico sky.

But that is much easier said

than done, you see?

It would be a subject you would

have to be sensing it very

strongly every moment you were

working on it in order to

possibly get it across.

Whitman said something about

subject matter, and it's really


He said, "If my poem of the

river does not smell of the

river, then my poem of the river

is not good."

Agnes Martin used to tell me,

"Oh, Woody, we've just got to

get a little bit of the truth

into our work.

Even a little bit is enough.

Even a little bit is enough."

Because in the end, that's what

people respond to.

They respond to the quality

of the truth.

>> BJ: Find out more about Gwyn

and his work at


>> BJ: Nick Cave has been

described as an "uncategorizable

artist" because he works in so

many forms.

In this segment, Mr. Cave shares

his sculptured sound suit with

students at the Detroit School

of Arts.

Here's a look.


>> Nick: I can either create art

that's offensive, defensive, or

I could create art that is


And I think my chosen art form

is really sort of, I think it's

sculpture, but sculpture that

also has the ability to be

brought to the body and then

utilized in a series of

performance activities.

I'm a graduate from Cranbrook,

and I think what I received from

that experience was knowing how

to trust myself.

And so I think that that was the

beginning of me, after

graduation, taking charge of my

life and recognizing that this

is how I want to go about

existing in the world and using

art as a vehicle to arrive at

different perspectives.

A sound suit is a sculptural

object that has the possibility

of being worn on the body, but

the sound is generated from

materials that make noise, such

as bottle caps, twigs, raffia,


So, you know, the body becomes

the carrier for this wearable


The interesting thing about the

work that once identity is

hidden, so it hides gender,

race, class, so we're forced to

look at the work without


When I really sort of get down

to, you know, what it

politically means, it really is

about removing all of that so we

can then come to a point where

we have to be open to something

that is unfamiliar.

And how do we respond to that?

Detroit was such a critical part

of my education, be in an urban

environment and yet be in this

rural sort of setting.

It just really created the

balance that I needed.

So, it's really me also giving

back to Detroit what it sort of

provided for me.

I wanna function as a change

agent, and also I'm interested

in the role as an artist with a

civic responsibility that, you

know, are there ways in which,

you know, I can come here and

help sort of rejuvenate, help

jumpstart, help recognize the

amazing talent here?

"Nick Cave: Here Hear" is such a

vast project.

There's the solo exhibition here

at Cranbrook Art Museum, which,

you know, there's a lot of

educational sort of programming

around that, but I tend to bring

the physical work to a city and

then really start to do research

and to pick my cast from the


So, we bring the work and then

hire the community to build the

work, leaving an imprint versus

an impression.

At the Detroit School of Art,

we're presenting the project

titled "Heard."

So we're working with the dance

and music department there.

>> DeLois Spryszak: Cranbrook

approached us.

They said that "we have this

year-long project involving Nick

Cave and we would like him to

bring his work to your students

at Detroit School of Art," so we

just jumped at the chance.

>> Nick: So it's really

interesting for me as a

artist/choreographer to be able

to come into a school setting

and to provide a different point

of view to these students, and,

you know, allow them to be part

of building an experience.

>> Cecelia Sharpe: For them

to be able to take

what they have learned

in the classroom and then apply

it to an actual performance

where they're still sharing

their talents with other people

and working with a professional

artist, it's just a great

combination, especially being in

a performing arts school.

He's looking to work with our

dance students, who do a

performance that incorporates

his sound suit, and a

performance at the River Days


>> Nick: For me, the project

"Here Hear," is a project that,

you know, it's just getting me

closer and closer to how I want

to function as a citizen

in America.

And so I think that, you know,

this project offers me, again,

another amazing platform to

speak about what I stand for and

what I stand behind.

So I'm excited about it and real

excited about coming here and

working and being effective and

leaving with a purpose being


>> BJ: To find out more about

Cave's art, visit

And that wraps it up for this

edition of KPBS "Arts."

For more arts and culture, visit, where you'll find

feature videos, blogs, and

information on upcoming arts


Until next time,

I'm BJ Robinson.

Thanks for watching.









>> announcer: Support for this

program comes from the KPBS

Explore Local Content Fund,

supporting new ideas and

programs for San Diego.


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