Introductions: Robert Wechsler
Introducing Robert Wechsler, an LA based artist finding beauty in the ubiquitous. We caught up with him via email and here is what he had to say:
Tell us briefly about the focus of your work.
My current work focuses on the U.S. penny. In production since 1909, the penny has been one of the most familiar objects of daily life in this country for more than a century. Rendered practically worthless by inflation, the penny is now nearing the end of its life. Still produced but without purpose, exceptionally common but rarely used, ubiquitous to the point of invisibility, I see the penny as fertile ground for surprise.
What themes are you currently exploring?
Much of my work involves the appropriation and manipulation of objects in the public sphere. I am interested in adding value to the public’s perception through unsanctioned creation.
The trickster archetype, as described by Carl Jung, is the symbolic figure who reveals psychic truths through mischief. The trickster employs jokes and pranks, his armaments to puncture through hubris, in order to enlighten. Bringing meaning to the meaningless, he reveals the truth behind collective symbols while simultaneously demystifying collective conventions. Analogously, my work seeks to awaken undiscovered virtue in everyday objects and spaces by challenging commonplace associations through careful intervention.
I focus on the familiar. Comfortably accustomed to everyday objects and spaces, we are blind to their unseen beauty and elegance. Who looks at a shopping cart or a toaster for the object itself? This state of static expectations is fertile ground for surprise. A conscious re-examination of my subjects re-instates the novel back into the
familiar. This is the moment of surprise, the moment we discover what is unseen in what we always see. In reverence for what initially appears modest we get a small glimpse of the boundless elegance of our world.
What are you looking at, reading, or listening to right now that is influencing your work or process?
I am impressed with the work of Tim Hawkinson, and Ann Hamilton. I appreciate their intuitive understandings of materials, and mastery of space and scale. I am inspired by the natural rhythm of Hawkinson’s structures, and intrigued by Hamilton’s command and integration of Language.
I am also interested in design magazines and websites. There is a celebration of problem solving, innovation, and accessibility in the design world that I find sadly lacking in the world of fine arts.
I am currently reading an essay/testimony by a fellow artist and close friend Gregory Michael Hernandez, in which he explains his religious philosophy and relationship to the church. I have also recently reread Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and Lamb by Christopher Moore Both of these books are entertaining fictions critiquing contemporary religious conventions and exploring the validity of Faith. I am not a religious person but I am interested in religion and faith as fundamental ingredients of our culture. It is a theme I often visit in my work.
I am always listening to audio books, podcasts, and music while I work, and I believe it all has some informative effect on my own practice. Recently I have been listening to comedian Pete Holmes’ podcast “You Made It Weird,” in which he records one-on-one conversations with his peers discussing intimate details of their careers, relationships, and religious beliefs. This podcast touches on many of the serious ideas I think about in my life and in my work, while remaining a source of delight and amusement. As an artist I value the amusement of my audience. At once earnest and entertaining, this podcast represents a generosity toward the audience that I value and aspire to in my own practice.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
I use my garage as a studio. A typical day begins around 8 am and ends around 10 pm, with frequent breaks for coffee, cat petting, and contemplation. I usually listen to audio books or music while I work. My studio activities vary greatly from project to project. I may be working with power tools, or drawing on the light table. Often my work involves tedious assembly or repetitive activity. When this is the case I will break regularly for short walks around the neighborhood.
Is there anything unusual that helps you stay focused while working?
I often wear protective headphones, even if I’m not using power tools, to block out ambient noise and help me stay focused. I also tend to have ear buds in under the headphones so I can listen to an audio book or music. If I’m having a particularly hard time concentrating, I will listen to a single song on repeat all day. This helps me loose track of time and is especially helpful while working on complex and physically demanding tasks. If I am feeling frustrated I will listen to recordings of Martin Luther King Jr.
What's the best advice someone has giving you about your work? The worst?
Good Advice: My college professor Kim Yasuda told me to stop worrying about “If it’s been done before because it has all been done before.” She helped me realize it was more important that the idea was new to me than new to the world, and that an idea could be unique without being wholly original. This piece of advice is in no way new, but it was new to me, and it has shaped my creative practice for the better ever since.
Bad Advice: A fellow artist told me years ago not to make a website for my art because no one would take me seriously as an artist.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows/events/happenings?
I am working on a book project and website. I hope to launch in early November
Is there one particular thing you are most looking forward to at Project 387?
I am most looking forward to meeting the other residents, building relationships, and contributing to a new creative community.