Magazine article Sculpture

Steel Fluency: A Conversation with John Clement

Magazine article Sculpture

Steel Fluency: A Conversation with John Clement

Article excerpt

John Clement is a mid- career sculptor whose studio is now located in Long Island City, Queens; until recently, he had been working at an out- door studio in Bushwick. The new space is across the street from Mark di Suvero's workshop, where Clement learned the basics of welding metal sculpture some two decades ago. Clement belongs to a group of (mostly) men who work on large-scale metal sculptures; his ellipses of six-inch metal tubing appear monumental and elegant at the same time. During our discussion, he elaborated his vision of contemporary sculpture-a point of view that examines the issues of new art with considerable insight.

Jonathan Goodman: When did you know that you wanted to become a sculptor? Was art school helpful in your training?

John Clement: I was fortunate enough to find sculpture, or better yet sculpture found me, within two years of graduating college. It wasn't as if I knew I wanted to be a sculptor, because I really had no experience with fine art at all and didn't even know it was an option. I spent four years of college walking under a big Alexander Liberman, never, ever really looking at it. At the time, all I knew about myself was what I didn't want to be. After college, around 1992, I was working multiple odd jobs in New York City; I also took some drawing classes at the School of Visual Arts (being a disciple of MAD magazine, I was always in love with cartooning and thought I'd look into that a bit; I discovered that I wasn't very good). Then I learned that there was part-time work available in the tool room of the SVA sculpture facility, and I took the job. Once there, surrounded by all the sculpture stu- dents and their materials, I started to fool around with wood and plaster. A professor there, fellow sculptor and now good friend, Joel Perlman, saw what I was doing and asked if I wanted to learn to work with steel. It was a medium I knew nothing about, so I was inclined to say yes. I had a eureka moment when I first welded two pieces of steel together; a switch went off in my head, and I knew, just knew, that this was for me. Art school was key in introduc- ing me to materials and people, though I was not really enrolled in the program. If I had attended art school in a formal manner, my path would have been much different.

JG: You worked closely with Mark di Suvero in his compound in Long Island City. How long did that last, and how old were you at the time? What was it like working with di Suvero?

JC: From around 1994 until 1999, I worked with Mark as an assistant and rigger, as well as an artist-in-residence at Socrates Sculpture Park (Mark was the driving force behind the creation of the park). This is where I really started to fall in love with public art. I was about 25 when I started there. It was the most important, fun, and informative time of my life and my career. When I was first introduced to Mark and the job he offered, I was still new to the world of sculpture. I had heard Mark's name mentioned but didn't really have a full appreciation of who he was and how much he stood for. It became real clear, real fast, once I immersed myself in his world, just exactly who he was. I knew from the moment I met him and stepped into his studio that it would be an honor and privi- lege to be part of his outfit. It felt like I was actively participating in art history, learning from a master of sculpture. It was an amazing experience, and essential to my growth as a sculptor and young man.

JG: After you left di Suvero's compound, you rented an old firehouse as the site for your work. You then moved on to a mostly out- door studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. What were some of the advantages (and disad- vantages) of the two sites?

JC: After I stopped working full-time for Mark, I stayed on a bit as an artist-in-residence at Socrates. It was around this time that I was introduced to John Henry and started working with him part-time as a rigger during his installations. …

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