Mark Baugh-Sasaki

sculptor, San Francisco // May 2012
The natural world and industrial worlds are directly impacting and changing one another. This link creates relationships, adaptations, transformations, and conflicts for balance within the new hybrid environment.

Mark’s studio is in a converted garage in Hayes Valley. It’s dusty, cluttered, and dimly lit. At first glance it’s hard to tell what might be artwork— coming in from the sunny street into the cool, shadowy garage all I could see was a bramble of branches in a corner, an assortment of rough-hewn forms made from wood and metal, and a stack of dried up palm fronds. I looked about; squinting, letting my eyes adjust, not yet ready to ask questions. Upon closer inspection Mark’s work becomes more explicit, and all the commonplace objects and raw scraps of materials converge to reveal a distinctive point of view. Mark makes sculptural work that combines organic and manufactured materials that draw attention to the ever-evolving dynamic between natural and industrial systems. Though his pieces are composed from familiar and basic elements such as stone, steel, and wood that he’s found on outings to the mountains, the desert, and defunct industrial sites, in completion they take on an almost mythical quality— they become unicorn-like creations; only partially knowable, elusive, avoidant of total capture. These composite works are a meditation on the complexity and nuances of our hybridized landscapes, where the natural and man-made collide, merge, and metamorphosize one another. There’s playfulness and whimsy in the work, but interestingly when discussing it Mark hinted at no humor; his tone was sincere, deliberate and he was full of earnest musings and explanations. But because his materials dictate so much of the outcome and preclude fixed strategies, Mark’s process relies heavily on intuition, which is often a wonderfully wayward thing, leading to diversion and unexpected possibility.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I work sculpturally with a combination of natural and industrial materials— that usually means steel, cast metal, wood and stone, although I do incorporate other things like earth and objects I collect from both industrial and natural landscapes. I also incorporate photography, video, mechanics and interactivity into my works depending on the project.

I use my materials and process to describe the relationships I observe between man-made and natural worlds. Through my observations I’ve come to realize that we exist in a hybridized world, one that is neither natural nor man-made. This new world is in a constant state of flux. The natural world and industrial worlds are directly impacting and changing one another. This link creates relationships, adaptations, transformations, and conflicts for balance within the new hybrid environment. My sculptures are inhabitants and illustrations of the evolving systems and interactions of this new setting. With my work I’m trying to make the individual more aware of their environment and their connection to it.

Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
I do reference my history and my cultural background in my work but not so much in the form of the work, but more in the way I connect with my surroundings and my observations. I am half Japanese and I identify with a naturalistic perspective that is often prevalent in Japanese art and culture. Also, the way in which I engage with my materials is very much driven by feelings— my work is led by my intuition, and this approach is more synonymous with my Japanese heritage. These are not overt references though, just subtle ones.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I don’t have a day job but I am self-employed in a non-fine art capacity. I am a freelance photographer and graphic designer, as well as a freelance fine art installer for several galleries in San Francisco. Being able to have something else that I can go to when I get frustrated or burnt out while making art is very nice. It allows me to give my mind a rest. Also, selling my sculptural work is difficult at times and being able to fund my art making while still being able to maintain a flexible schedule is very important.

Have you had to make sacrifices in order to live your life as an artist? (explain) Do you encounter misconceptions about that life or choice?
I haven’t had to make too many sacrifices except for the usual one of “money.” I have actually gained more since I have made the cross over to making work full time. I travel more, have a greater range of experiences, and am able to build better and more innovative work. Also, I have found that my relationships with people are overall more rewarding— lots of my friends are artists and we spend a good deal of time together, discussing ideas, giving each other feedback, and working on collaborations. It gives me a great sense of community and fulfillment.

I have definitely had to deal with people assuming I’m doing whatever I want to do and not working that much. They don’t realize that in being a professional artist you spend a large portion of your time devoted to administrative work and things that take you away from the creative process.

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to or look at to fuel your work?
For me it is imperative that I spend time out in the wilderness as far away from people as possible. This helps me think as well as observe the way nature flows. My time spent in the High Sierras and desert allow me to engage with the flow of natural forces and observe the disruptions, ripples and diversions when it encounters the man-made landscape (not to sound too much like Star Wars).

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I have two large projects that I am preparing for this fall. The first is my residency at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA. I have a month in which to create works on site at a large scale that will then be installed permanently. This is a very exciting opportunity, one that I have not had yet. The second is a solo show at Krowswork in Oakland, CA. It is tentatively titled “Improbable Landscapes” and will focus on manmade systems we’ve put in place (such as aqueducts, bridges, dams, etc.) that allow inhospitable landscapes to become livable. In looking at these systems, my work will examine the development of engineering concepts and the evolvement of our interactions and interventions with nature. I’m currently in the planning phases of figuring out locations to explore and mine inspiration from.

How do you navigate the art world?
I am constantly meeting people, whether it’s at openings, events or just happenstance. I always carry my card and now, in this new age of technology, I’m able to carry my portfolio in my pocket and have it on me at all times. In a way, this has been my largest asset in talking about my work when making new connections within the art world.

Essentially, I actively seek out the opportunity to meet people and I’m constantly applying to a slew of residencies and art opportunities.

Who taught you the most about art?
One person didn’t really teaching me everything about art. It was more a series of interactions with many people over the course of my life. My initial interaction with sculpture came when I was a young child. I was given the opportunity to work with Ruth Asawa. She taught me that I could make something in three dimensions and call it art. Then in 2000 I had the privilege of working on a Sol LeWitt wall drawing and had an opportunity to meet him. Witnessing firsthand how he produced art and came up with ideas changed the way I perceived art and the art making process. Finally, I had three professors— Bob Bingham, Ron Bennett, and Patricia Bellan-Gillen— who mentored me while I attended Carnegie Mellon University for my undergraduate degree. Ron taught me everything I know about metal and showed me how to build my own foundry so I would be able to create work after I left school. Bob helped me expand my ideas and grow conceptually as an artist by introducing me to new materials, artists and the idea that science and art can interact simultaneously. Pat opened my eyes to the world of installation art and large-scale sculpture. These three professors constantly pushed me, supported me and taught me to survive on my own as an artist.

Do you have a motto?
Sleep is for the weak.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I have a residency at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA from September 11 to October 11, 2012. I’ll have a small opening to showcase the work made at the residency.

I have a solo show coming up at Krowswork in Oakland, CA in November 2012.

To see more of Mark’s work: