Claude Collins-Stracensky

Artist/Sculptor, Los Angeles // February 2012
Challenges are always things for me to learn and grow from— the catalysts that get you over the big hurdles.

Claude’s studio is in a commercial building in Downtown, Los Angeles right where two fairly busy streets intersect. It’s a few floors up, and as soon as Klea and I stepped out from the elevator doors Claude’s Vizsla dogs greeted us with wild tail-wagging enthusiasm and then lead the way into the studio. It’s a huge corner space with tons of natural light streaming in through the wide windows that lends an almost limitless feel to the room. I took a few minutes to wander around and take it all in— the dogs tumbling about together in play, the dust particles fluttering in and out of the hazy afternoon light, and the many projects underway, all of them in various states of completeness. At any given time Claude is often at work on multiple endeavors, taking time with each to experiment, re-think, tinker and tweak. His studio is a like a research lab where he plays around with concepts and materials, creating mock-ups and models, and then tries to bring these ideas to life with his hands. There is a bit of a “mad scientist” in Claude— he approaches his work with unfettered imagination and whimsy, totally unafraid to scheme and dream big, and he seems almost possessed by a rampant curiosity about the natural world and how it works. At the core of Claude’s practice is a preoccupation with physical systems and processes and the innate dynamics of different materials, and the ways in which these forces and elements can interact to bring about a new consciousness of one’s surroundings. Embracing a range of mediums, his practice often plays with perception and aims to expand his viewers’ visual experience and spatial awareness to create impressions that go beyond an everyday understanding of the world. I got the impression that the wheels in Claude’s brain must always be spinning at top speed, never at rest, always at work on questions, always in a state of assessing and hypothesizing. Which is kind of funny, because he comes across as super mellow… but I didn’t let that easy-going vibe fool me!

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I usually say I‘m an artist and sometimes a designer.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I’m in the studio 11am-7pm, Monday through Friday usually— unless I’m able to play hooky and go surfing for the morning or afternoon. The studio practice is my day job. Some of the time I’m working on art, some of the time I’m doing design work for clients or working on new developments with MettaStudio (a design and object production collaborative I started some years ago).

I’m very grateful I’m able to work in this way, it’s like I’m fulfilling my “special purpose.”

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I work with spatial relationships and the dynamics of light and energy as they are reflected within elements and materials. They are implemented in ways to enable a deeper understanding of the inherent dynamics of material in relationship with its setting, or context. The core of the work is about illuminating the ways in which these relationships, dynamics and elements are seen and experienced by the viewer, both inside and outside the work.

The vitrines I’ve been building are a good physical example of this. They simultaneously display and contain, reflect and refract –in the process make new form and understanding of their individual parts. They also reframe our understandings of the contextual elements of the site in which they are seen. One vitrine I’m working on now is for a site project at the Mount Wilson Observatory. I’m going to position a glass form that contains a pine needle bird’s nest in the pines near the 100” telescope on Mount Wilson. The glass has holes in it making the nest accessible for the bird that made it, and has a birdbath like reservoir for water in the top portion— It’s a bit of observational architecture like the telescopes up there. The working title is: The Birds Like The Stars.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I’m just finishing What The Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, the collection of New Yorker essays by Malcolm Gladwell— he has a beautiful approach to looking at very complex problems. By looking at subjects from every angle, even seemingly disparate ones, he arrives at new and clear understandings of them. In the essay about why Caesar Milan is so successful at what he does it looks at it from the perspective of a dog in training— placing the reader in the vantage point of what and how the dog sees.

I’m also into The Dancing Wu Li Masters again. It’s a survey or “An Overview of the New Physics”, quantum mechanics, string theory… Physics history and development. The interesting part is Gary Zukav draws parallels to very old Chinese and Indian cosmologies and practices, and those of the “New Age”— it looks at the larger whole, the substructure (and superstructure) of the universe in an attempt to understand ‘real’ space, multidimensional or metaphysical space and the dynamics of the two. It’s a fun read and helps with structural mechanics in understanding someone like Jorge Louis Borges or the playful systems and structures of the OuliPo group and practitioners like Georges Perec, etc…

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
The challenges are constantly shifting— whether from life, relationships, running a business of creating works that can levitate and penetrate the core of the human experience while supporting you financially… Currently the challenges are financial. The other elements seem to be swimming well, or at their own pace for the time being. Challenges are always things for me to learn and grow from— the catalysts that get you over the big hurdles.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Space and context are central to my work, (and I suppose to who I am)— Space in relationship with context are the medium of the work in a way, as the work grows from these relationships. The better the context (or more dynamic the context) the better the work and its potential is to illuminate a larger context for the viewer. I’m lucky I have a studio I can work at everyday— it’s like base camp, a lab, or testing grounds. It’s a physical space where the mental (or theoretical) can manifest into the physical.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
I’m not sure that I can pinpoint just one catalyst, though there have been many.

My work has been an evolution and process of learning and articulation. The work as a whole is much like an exploded drawing— a group of seemingly separate elements that come together to uniquely function towards a (special) purpose. It’s all about conceptually putting those parts together, seeing it as a whole, and appreciating its parts and design— much like the Infeld & Einstein quote:

Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it’s ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m trying to keep cool about creating a rainbow with a city fire hydrant on Market Street for the Venice Beach Biennial. It’s been challenging, but the challenges are forcing me to become more and more elegant with my approach and application. I’m happy with the ephemeral nature the work is starting to take on, also working in a more broad spectrum way— but in this ephemerality there are many, many, practical challenges, though for the people who get to see it in person I believe it will be worth all of them.

What are you most proud of?
The works, and the relationships I’ve been able to share so far.

What do you want your work to do?
Provide a window to seeing the day-to-day in a new and refreshing way.

What advice has influenced you?
When I was in college Jerry Saltz said “Just keep making your work, keep developing and keep it true, don’t worry about the trends, some day your work will transcend them.” This has been very valuable advice. I’d like to add that the part about ‘keep developing’ and ‘keeping it true’ have been the most important.

How will you know when you have arrived?
My work is a process, the process is the goal. Sometimes the process is fluid and easy— this is completely fulfilling— sometimes it seems like I’m swimming against a strong current. The more fluid things are the more I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
The ones I can share now are:
Knowledges: at Mt. Wilson Observatory June 23-24.
Venice Beach Biennial. Venice Beach Boardwalk. July 13-15.
MOCA, FRESH. Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue. March 17-24.

To see more of Claude’s work:

He has a piece up now in the Bay Area, in a traveling show called Afterglow: Rethinking California Light and Space Art.

And here are a few more interesting links:
Spatial Expansion, The Oneness, And The Suchness
Claude Collins Stracensky Interview
Q & A with Claude Collins-Stracensky