The tools have been put away and the work pad is ready for winter. With the hibernation season upon us, we’d like to rewind to warmer weather and days of a house full of artists. Today we’d like to focus on artist Pete Driessen in the third installment of our FSP Spotlights series. (Other installments include 2015 Fellowship artists Foon Sham and Wendy Klemperer.) Read our interview with Pete below to find out all about his Franconia Boat Tower sculpture installed in the newly expanded portion of the park.
Describe your creative process.
My creative process is scattered, like a squirrel! Prior to working in sculpture I worked with a wide range of smaller mixed media pieces that slowly became larger and larger. For example, I started out using ship-fleet models or gaming tables, and after I had some success with those smaller ship forms, I moved to a larger scale. Now I am at the point where I am actually using full-size recycled boats. My creative process while I have been at Franconia is based on finding used boats and then developing sculptural ideas surrounding the boat shapes.
Tell me about your project at Franconia.
My project at Franconia was originally developed as a vintage boat tower that would be very clean, very polished, and be amusement oriented. The proposal had flags on top and was going to be very colorful with a polished, fine wood veneered structure with encircling steps to the top. As soon as I got here the Artistic Director, John Hock, suggested that I set aside using very clean cedar wood and move to recycled telephone poles made from Douglas Fir. He recommended a nearby sawmill (Cummings Lumber) as a lumber source. So I transitioned to working with a rougher, little bit more rural, weathered look rather than a clean suburban deck look.
The second issue I dealt with was moving from treated lumber to untreated lumber. That shifted the color of the wood structure from a greenish tint to something more gray over time. While I worked it slowly started graying and by this time next year it will be a strong gray color.
The third change came in the boats themselves. Originally I wanted all Midwestern boats created by Midwestern companies or ones that have gone out of business, Like Chris Craft, Crestliner, Larson, or similar smaller manufacturers, but that shifted once I began looking and saw what was available online.
Another component that shifted throughout the process was finding the boats and developing the sculpture without having the actual boats on site. It was a challenge to plan and produce a large piece without having all the forms and dimensions available, so I had to plan a particular size of boat to go in the structure hoping the boats I would later purchase would fit within the elevations of the structure’s parameters.
In the end, the interior structure is an upright rectangle, 96-inches by 106 inches, and about 26 feet tall. The 4 boats are stacked within the rectangle, the smallest at the top to the largest at the bottom. The one at the top has a nice little teal strip to it. It’s an old aluminum runabout style, called a Southwest Utility from Arkansas.
The second boat is an old, wooden, Parkers Prairie fishing boat. It is about 13 to 14 feet long. The interior is green and it is the lightest weight of all the boats. The exterior has a unique texture because a previous owner started to sand it, but never finished the refinishing process. It still has some very nice metal elements on it too, such as the manufacturer’s bow plate.
The third boat is an aluminum Crestliner. It has a bow that is enshrined and a beautiful windshield, little side vent windows, a beautiful cockpit with a driver stick shift on the right side, no motor, a front flagpole and back lights. Part of the initial plan was to have all engine and gas elements removed from all of the boats for safety purposes.
The fourth boat is an old Chris Craft from the late 50s and was formerly a kit boat. Chris Craft made these kits and the owner would do a DIY building project, perhaps in their backyard or garage, always tinkering away. The former owner took the Hemi motor out, but the hull is waterlogged and still fairly heavy. It has a neat faded black color and a front bow plate that sort of looks like a mustache. The back had a beehive in the gunwales (I was stung several times during the building process). It was the largest and heaviest, and therefore the hardest to lift and position with the crane.
Once the boats were finally all at Franconia, the sculpture really developed. I was specifically choosing wood or aluminum boats, so everything was more natural, more organic, and so it would slowly break down, creating a really interesting dematerialization that occurs with the elements. The wood begins to weather and the metal rusts, and the heavy metal fasteners I used eventually discolor and oxidize overtime.
How does the Boat Tower relate to your past work?
This piece has grown from a series of nautical works that has been developing over time. It started out with small ship models that I created with found and recycled wood, similar to baby cub-scout boats. I produced these models with my son using found wood, raw canvas, and chopsticks. These models later became fleets of 25. This moved into making boat parts, then using found media to create boat shapes, and that lead into combining 2D, 3D, and installation pieces that were nautical related.
The nautical theme I have been following a long time. My dad was in the Navy and he made model ships just like my grandpa. Grandpa Driessen had two fingers cut off in a farming accident and still made these models with teeny-tiny figures back in the 30s and 40s. I also took sailing lessons as a young boy and later became a sailing and windsurfing instructor, I even raced sailboats for a while. All of this history has had a clear and direct presence in my artistic practice. I still, to this day, go back and forth to the family cottage and do some form of boating, so there is an ongoing development of theme.
Last year I developed a project for Silverwood Park (St. Anthony, MN), it also included four boats, but each was aligned to the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west. The project also lines up with the solstices and equinoxes.
The nautical theme is interesting to me because of the wide range of social, philosophical, and psychological connections is contains. Foucault, the famous French philosopher, stated that the boat or the ship was a type of heterotopia, a place where you can develop your own mysterious life force and create your own space to develop anything you would want to do in life. He often related the boat to walking in the desert all alone on a nomadic journey to being alone in the ocean; this makes for some very powerful references. It also takes a lot of money to own boats, so economical themes are present.
Why did you propose this project o Franconia?
One of the reasons I chose to propose the Boat Tower was the sheer size of the space here and the incredible working conditions at Franconia. The size of the crane, the forklift, the work pad, plus the wide-open space; being able to make something large is not only interesting, it’s challenging and I like the challenge of working on a large scale. This particular piece is probably my biggest piece ever, and required the most physical labor. I did not know that going in, but it has been very creatively enterprising.
What did the experience of working here offer?
The conversations I’ve had, the dialogues I’ve had, the relationships I’ve built, are all unforgettable. The past 3 months have been incredible. The collective knowledge here is outstanding, plus working with the interns was really great. Those connections to the sculpture and relationships with people go hand-in-hand.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?
Due to variable conditions—time, weather, travel, finances, research, physical production and project finalization—the residency has been one of the most spatially beneficial and creative discovery periods of my life. One of the factors is the luxury of working in the early springtime, when it is cool, there are no bugs, and the prairie grass is still low. One is able to see the structural bases and lower physical areas of all the many sculptural projects at Franconia, and this is very helpful in generating sound ideas and base footings for your project as a whole. It was incredibly healthy to watch the natural greenery organically come alive within the park and connect that growth to my own exploratory sculpture. It was altogether beyond the brief “art marketing elevator speech” and “revolving door” that happens at so many residencies.
Where and with whom did you study?
I went to 4 colleges. I started at MCAD when I was 18, then took a break and went to St. Thomas and finished my BA in studio arts. From there, I went down to Atlanta and studied at Portfolio Center in Art Direction and Graphic Design. Later I went to Vermont College of Fine Art and got my low residency MFA and worked with some incredible mentors: Doug Ashford (Group Material), Faith Wilding (Subrosa), Claire Pentecost, Humberto Ramirez, Dr. Steven Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble), Janet Kaplan and many others. I also had three studio mentors in the Twin Cities during this time: David Lefkowitz, David Rich, and Vesna Kittelson, who are all primarily 2D painters, but helped develop my social political sensibilities for working with painting and mixed media on another level.
What did you learn while you were at Franconia?
When creating a sculpture project on the scale that I produced, you need to be adaptable, flexible, malleable, resourceful, and persistent. All of these were keys to having a successful outcome.
I love FSP! I am extremely appreciative of and inspired by all of the Franconia Team and I am very honored to have been able to research, develop and produce the Franconia Boat Tower alongside them. I could not have produced the Boat Tower had it not been for the kind, vivacious and generous support from so many staff, interns, artists and volunteers at Franconia Sculpture Park.
Subscribe to Franconia’s blog and never miss out on a FSP Spotlight interview. We will be featuring all of our 2015 Fellowship Artists throughout the winter, so stay tuned.