Excommunicate is proud to present artist Simon Boses. Simon Boses primary medium is sculpture, his pieces depict seemingly light hearted, comical sculpture. Like most things there is more to his work than meets the eye. His work is far more involving than initial appearances and we had the opportunity to interview him. Before we begin the interview we just want to thank Simon once again for taking the time out to do this.
JackDirt: Have you always been artistic or did that come later in life? Did you have any formal artistic training?
Simon Boses: I was constantly in trouble for drawing in school. I’ve been drawing or sculpting in one form or another for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents are artistic (although neither pursued art as a career) so they have always been very supportive. As a kid/teen I took a variety of lessons/classes in drawing, painting and sculpting. Eventually I got into a local magnet school for art. This in turn led me to art school. I graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art in 1997 with a BFA (General Sculptural Studies Major).
JD: Can you describe your creative and technical process for us?
SB: Putting my creative process into words is a bit like describing the shape of the wind – I can take a stab at it, but it’s easier to describe the effect of the thing than the thing itself.
The linchpin of my creative process would have to be the shower. It’s where I get to re-examine the day and ask myself how my experiences reflect on what it means to be human. This always leads to more ideas than I can put on paper. Luckily I have a deep seated compulsion to fill blank books with drawings so I do manage to record quite a few of them.
I’ve been lucky enough in my life so far to have experienced very few days that I wake up without any “ideas” for work. Most days start with flipping through a sketchbook to find something interesting. The most challenging step is moving an idea from a 2D world to one where it has to obey the laws of 3D physics. Often a sketch can’t be physically created in clay so I have to refine it. Once I’ve solved the structural issues I start to construct the form.
I build using a coil and slab technique. My work is formed as hollow shapes using coils of clay that are stacked on one another then blended together. I get a general hollow form, and then refine it by removing or stretching the clay. Sometimes when I’m cutting darts to cause an area to pull in I feel more like a seamstress than a sculptor (did I mention I was a fibers major for 2 semesters?).
The last step is surface treatment. I use a combination of slips (which I mix up myself), under-glazes (which I buy) and oxides (also purchased). All of these have a matte surface after firing. I’ve found that shiny glazes obscure the form of my figures. Glossy glaze does great things for pots, but I’m a sculptor first, and a ceramicist second so I use what works best for the forms rather than what’s most traditional. I’ve adopted a process of multi-firing my pieces. This allows me to apply a color, fire it into place, apply another color, wipe it off partially then fire again. I do this up to five firings (much after that and I start to get lots of cracks). Multi-firing like this does end up costing me a few pieces each year. The more times you fire a sculpture the more likely it is to develop cracks. The bright side is that I’ve ended up with a nice collection of cracked pieces in my studio.
JD: Do you find that your ideas come from experiences or emotions or both what do you want to convey or say with your work?
SB: I would have to say both. My ideas are rooted in my experiences but the work is how I express my emotions regarding those experiences.
I’m interested in building a mythology that explores what it is to be human. I distill my experiences and emotions into symbols and images. Those images and symbols become the language that I use to try to convey my experience.
JD: What sculptures hold the most importance to you and why?
SB: This is very hard to answer. I almost always feel like the work I’m currently doing is the best work I’ve done. If I had to choose work that I feel is my most important (this is a bit like choosing your favorite child) I would go with a series of pieces that I did for my first one man show. Unfortunately I do not have any images of this work currently on my website.
The show opened shortly after 9-11 and like most other artists I was having a hard time thinking about anything else. I was kept hearing people talking about middle-eastern culture as if the whole culture was responsible for the acts of a few fanatics. My mother was a world cultures teacher and I grew up in a very tolerant household.
I heard someone say what a horrible culture they must be to have spawned people who would do this. I grew up in the south so it wasn’t hard for me to find a parallel in our culture. I’ve seen my fair share of Ku Klux Klan rallies. I had many drawings for pieces that compared a Terrorist of Middle Eastern culture to a KKK member, the Terrorist of American culture, but only had time to sculpt 2 of them.
The first was titled “not quite not alike.” It was two figures that stood approximately 12” tall. They were fashioned in a style similar to the Russian Nesting Dolls, except when you opened the terrorist there was a Klansman inside and when you opened the Klansman there was a terrorist inside. At the time I was very interested in the idea of people having to interact with the art so I was very satisfied with people having to open a figure to see the one inside.
The second piece was titled “Hollow Point.” It was a shooting gallery with a terrorist figure and a Klansman each holding a gun and each pointing at one another. Where the audience stood was a pedestal with a ceramic gun, a single hollow-point bullet and the word “CHOOSE.”
My guess was that a person’s first interpretation was that I was asking them who they disliked more. To “choose” who they would shoot with the single bullet. However, as in many of my pieces there were layers of intention so, I wrote a small statement with the piece.
In the statement I explored the idea that most of my audience would be appalled by what these groups had done, but each of these groups felt that they their ideology was true. The problem was in how they chose to express those feelings and ideas. To me, no matter how valid your ideology, when you pick up a gun and kill someone over it any point you have to make becomes hollow. When I asked the audience to “choose” I was asking them to choose to pick up the gun or leave it lying there. I was hoping they would see that the gun in their hands was what separated my audience from the figures in the piece.
JD: Your Psycon series, depicts a cacophony of terrific personified icons. Do any of these statues represent more than just a sculpture and an idea to you? Where did you get the idea to start this series?
SB: As I mentioned before my mother was a world cultures teacher when I was growing up. I was constantly exposed to the art and images of other cultures. You have to understand that as a child I was obsessed with star wars men. I didn’t have many, but they were my favorite toys. As I grew up I noticed that other cultures had similar figures. Egyptian statuettes, Greek figurines, African Aquaba dolls, they all fascinated me. Throughout my schooling in art I would do drawings of them in museums.
One day my mentor Bill Dennard was looking through my drawings. He said, “these are nic- now, why don’t you make them your own.” He went on to explain that African and Egyptian figures didn’t tell him anything about my experience. That idea stuck with me. Action figures were the perfect vehicles for creating small ideas, but creating a ceramic action figure proved to be harder than I anticipated (I’m still working on that idea – future of Dongo Toys perhaps?). I knew that I wanted to make my own “Icons” and that I wanted to imbue them with a “Psychological” element. That’s how the term “Psycon” was born. I created a simple icon form to work with and as it turned out Psycons furthered my intention of building my own personal mythology.
JD: Your sculptures have a very surreal feel about them. They seem to evoke a feeling similar to old 1800’s dolls but with a more playful approach. Was it your intention to give your work a feeling like it could come to life at any moment and interact with you? or is it a side effect?
SB: I have to blame comic books and cartoons for the feeling that the work might come alive and interact with you. I once read a book about the science of cartoons. The author describes a phenomenon where the simplicity of the characters encourages the reader to invest themselves in the character. I attempt to harness this phenomenon when I sculpt my figures. Often people want to avoid some of the issues i try to address. I’ve discovered that my “cartoony” style has the effect of disarming people long enough to allow me to slip in an idea that they might otherwise avoid.
I’ve found that people are compelled to describe my work through the filter of their own experience. You’ve mentioned 1800’s dolls. I’ve been compared to dolls from many other cultures. I’m sure that my interest in cultural art has something to do with that. About a year ago I sculpted a piece called “bring your baggage.” It explores the idea that everyone interprets art differently because of their own experiences. Each art piece is like a little journey we go on (the one’s that engage us anyway) and none of us can help but bring the baggage we’ve collected throughout our lives. In turn those experiences make the art what it is to us. In effect this makes a piece different to each person who views it. For this reason I seldom discuss my intention with an audience before hearing their reactions to a piece.
JD: Are you spiritual or religious, and how does this affect your artwork? What pieces do you feel share these views the most?
SB: I’m a Buddhist. I’ve explored a few different forms of spirituality in my life and each has left a distinct mark on my work. Without the non-violence teachings I’ve learned in Buddhism it is likely I would not have created “Hollow Point” and “Not Quite Not Alike.”
I should mention that I’m not at all interested in sharing my spirituality through my work. In the past when my spirituality became the focus of my art I found that the work was no longer a reflection of me. It became a reflection of the values and imagery of the ideology I was involved in. My intention now is the use the same idea of symbols and images that carry meaning but use ones that I’ve created specifically to convey my experiences.
JD: In your latest endeavor Dongo Toys, you are taking the approach of the now popular vinyl artist toys except applying it to ceramic. Can you tell us a little more about the ideas behind Dongo Toys? What is your background with Ulamali?
SB: In art school I created several ceramic toys (action figures). None of them were what I considered “successful” pieces. The reaction that I got from classes and professors was a mild form of, “but that’s not really art.” The vinyl toy movement is something incredible. I’ve wanted to make toys for half my life but never felt that there was an audience who would see them as “art.” Now it seems there is.
I try to maintain a vein of multiculturalism in my work. Dongo Toys (Dongo is the Swahili word for “made of clay”) is an extension of that. I wanted to do some work that was a bit “darker” than my usual work. I also wanted a chance to explore my illustration/painting skills again. I started out with slip cast pieces that I then glazed and fired. After glazing the same piece for the 10th time I realized that I wasn’t cut out for the production art world. I decided that Dongo Toys would be a custom toy site and each piece would be a “one of a kind” work.
I don’t have any background at all with Ulamali. My art is a bit like “Borg” art. I’m constantly looking to other cultures and assimilating ideas into my work. I’ve been fascinated with other languages for quite some time. Recently I’ve been learning a bit about Swahili. Ulamali is the Swahili word for “Black Magic.” My original idea for the Ulamali dolls was that they were to be like “voo doo” dolls. That they would come in two types, blessings and curses. Some would depict a curse you would put on an enemy and others would depict a blessing you might bestow on a friend. I’m taking a playful approach to the world of black magic. I created curses like, “high maintenance girlfriend” and blessings like, “grow hair in bald spot.” I’ve somewhat strayed from this intention, but plan on getting back to it.
JD: In the Dongo Toys series, the Ulamali piece “Button Junkie” depicts a figure with the Galaga insect sending out its beams. Representing dark magic what is the intention of this doll?
SB: Dongo Toys finds it’s home in the world of Pop Surrealism. I wanted to pay homage to pop culture. The doll is designed as a monument to the arcade. The arcade was a fantastic place when I was a kid. We went there to eat junk food and socialize, but mostly we went there to do battle. This doll was influenced by the memories I have of watching the older kids furiously smashing buttons.
There is a button in place of the left eye of the figure. In my work this symbolizes someone who is a warrior. A person who has done battle with the problems of life and lost something to them. The doll is also wearing a hood that is fashioned after the idea of a knight’s chain-mail hood. I didn’t want to depict a knight’s hood, just interpret the feeling of one. The nipples are the player one and player two buttons from an arcade machine. In the center of the chest is an image of the Galaga Insect (also called a Boss Galaga).
I chose the image of the Galaga Insect because it’s recognizable to anyone who’s ever spent any time in an arcade. For me it’s the ultimate image of arcade skill. During game play the insect would occasionally emit beams that would capture your ship. If you were an accomplished player you could intentionally give up your ship then win it back later to create a tandem ship with twice the fire-power.
JD: Is there anything else you would like to say? Do you have any upcoming shows?
SB: I’m currently working on a piece for the All Children’s Hospital Telethon Auction that takes place in St. Petersburg, FL every year. A hand full of local artists donate work to the auction to help raise money for the hospital.
I’m also shopping for new galleries. I would love to hear from your audience if they know of galleries they believe might be interested in my work (actually I’d love to hear any response from your audience- I enjoy email and do my best to reply to anyone who takes the time to write me).