Spotlight on Thomas Putzier: 2016 FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist

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Thomas Putzier

Minneapolis-based artist Thomas Putzier began work on Our Crazy Baby, Sugar Shack as a 2016 FSP/Jerome Fellowship artist. Thomas has been working diligently over the past year to complete this ambitious sculpture/architectural feat; his largest project of his career thus far. At first impression, the 26-foot tall structure appears austere and a bit ominous, but Thomas entices the viewer to crawl inside and up into a calming, meditative space. 

Describe your creative process:

I have several streams of consciousness flowing through my head most of the day. Things stack up, up there. The desire to vomit is strong and whatever way you can get it out you must! Paper and pen, 3D rendering, whatever is necessary to free up some space up there. So there is this constant feeling to produce and as a conceptual artist that usually manifests as staring at the wall for hours each day thinking, and then you feel sick again because you need some type of physical form to help your audience cross that bridge. Looking at architecture, I ask what is going to take me there? Which gestures produce presence? How do I bend the form to give it some innocence? How can I take classic fascist architecture tropes and subvert them — and then ask people to crawl inside?

I was exposed to social conditioning at a young age, like everyone else, but I saw its transactions so clearly. By the time I left high school each gesture of programming I witnessed pushed me closer toward a desire to undo it. The best way to work through difficult times in this life is to practice art – and practice it introspectively directly addressing what you are experiencing. How can form and shape be used to mirror the pressures of societal expectations?

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Tell us about your project at Franconia Sculpture Park:

Our Crazy Baby, Sugar Shack is an architectural space providing the opportunity for the audience to ascend into a cabin of meditation. A skylight at the top interrupts daily routine and provides a guide to enlightenment. The structure can be viewed as two separate components whose forms appear to be pulling away from each other. This gesture creates a historical narrative. At one point in time these forms were closer together. Structurally the tension between the two forms is what supports them. When looking at architecture and considering foundations we might think of the five classical orders. The upper cabin is supported by five columns, and one that stepped out of line. A tall chimney extrudes from the north facing roof. The exterior of the piece is clad in a flat black while the interior is covered in a hand-painted floral wallpaper – an important juxtaposition.

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Why did you propose this project for FSP?

I proposed this project at FSP because my practice is often on canvas, paper, or digitally rendered for projection. I have had opportunities to create sculpture relative to human scale, but never at the size I achieved at FSP standing 26 feet tall. Some of the architecture I design on paper seems to demand to be built. When I first drew the Sugar Shack I knew it was begging to be interacted with and there is no better place than Franconia for art of this nature.

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How does your project relate to your previous work?

As far as formal sensibilities go the family resemblance is strong. Aesthetic jokes aside this work asks some similar questions conceptually that some of my previous work shares. Some years ago I made a short focusing on three characters. The piece was titled “Two Sisters: Reality & Safety (& their possible offspring).” Two of the characters were polar opposites and their child found himself stuck in the middle and very confused. I was looking at simple gestures that would serve as indicators for personality, practice, & identity. Formally the Sugar Shack is in a similar position as the boy in the short video work. The piece is monolithic, yet ready to bolt into the tree line at any moment. The lower component of the structure has got a side-eye going on which is reminiscent of some of my other architectural character work.

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What did the experience of working here offer you?

In my creative process I will draw by hand, then sketch digitally, & sometimes have the desire to build in some form physically be it a painting, a model, or a life-size sculpture. Over the past five years the larger sculptures I have worked on have been 8 feet tall, 12 feet tall, and 13 feet tall sequentially. In 2016 I was able to double the height of my previous work thanks to Franconia Sculpture Park. This is something that would have never been possible without their help and guidance.

How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies?

Franconia is the first open air studio residency I have been a part of. Constructing and exhibiting outdoors is an experience that is completely new to me. The sculptures I have built which are larger in size have been exhibited in galleries and warehouse spaces only so I had the chance to work with the context of the exhibition space in a whole new way. I could not be more grateful for my time at Franconia because it has provided me with the opportunity to explore a number of different practices in sculpture which I have previously not been able to do.

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Where and with whom did you study?

I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago. I studied with Annie Pedret, Debra Stratman, Jennifer Reeder, Jimenez Lai, Tony Tasset, & many other accomplished practicing artists and architects.

I had this craving for dialogue and a need to shake the pop can and watch it burst, and these people could grab me by the shoulders and shake me up at times when I needed it most and even when I didn’t.

What did you learn at FSP?

At FSP I learned more than I could have ever imagined. When I set out to construct the Sugar Shack there were some construction practices that I had less experience with than others. I learned how to connect joints in ways I never have before which were integral to this design. Constructing for the gallery space and constructing for the great outdoors require different approaches. I have built pieces people can walk through and sit in, but never crawl up. I learned how to construct an interior space that not only changes in horizontal direction but also in vertical elevation.

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What was your biggest challenge?

How to cope with not meeting your own expectations. All of my previous work has met the ground at a single foundation – one solid platform providing ample stabilization etc. This project meets the ground in 6 cement footings and 1 cement pad. The form bridges together between these points. Making that middle connection point line up is not something I focused on, I just expected things to line up and when you fall short of that connection by half an inch you are so excited at first because damn, you got close. A few weeks later you start to notice the subsequent reactions of that half-inch where you were off. Adjustments must then be made to all the corresponding touching pieces. Working digitally you can control any problem the form poses against you, but in physical practice you must take a much different approach. My biggest challenge was navigating through the unexpected problems that occur when you least expect it while making sculpture at this scale.

Do you have any other projects coming up?

I am currently working on another architecture project as well as a short video work which has been evolving over the past three years. I will be producing a series of 12 three- to four-foot tall models, similar in sensibility to the Sugar Shack. The models will be set aside a smaller scale “city” model, which will interpret the larger models as if they were in the same setting together. The short video work is titled, “Sweetie Star, Our Star Sweetie” and focuses on a set of characters worshipping a child god.

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The FSP/Jerome Fellowship Program is made possible, in part, by generous support from the Jerome Foundation. Established in 1997 with Franconia Sculpture Park, the FSP/Jerome Fellowship Program supports the creation of new works by emerging visual artists from New York City and Minnesota. Thank you!

Subscribe to Franconia’s blog and never miss out on a FSP Spotlight interview. Check out earlier 2017 Spotlight installments:

Thomas Matsuda
Bridget Beck and Joy Feuer
Carissa Samaniego
Nick Rivers
Samantha Holmes
Zaq Landsberg
Jordan Rosenow and April Martin
Nooshin Hakim Javadi and Pedram Baldari
Bill Klaila
Laura Feldberga
and 
Ojars Feldbergs

We will be featuring all of our 2017 Fellowship Artists, so stay tuned!

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