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Artist Interview: Stacy Deslatte

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Q&A With The Artist

Artist Interview: Stacy Deslatte

What are your ear­li­est mem­o­ries relat­ed to art?
My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of expe­ri­enc­ing or see­ing art was the stain glassed win­dows and the 60’s era ban­ners in the rebuilt Cathe­dral where I attend­ed Mass with my fam­i­ly. I also wit­nessed my moth­er cre­at­ing some of those ban­ners for the church and oth­er fab­ric cre­ations includ­ing most of my and my sis­ter­s’s cloth­ing. And it was the six­ties and the sev­en­ties so that was art! But to me art was all around when I was young. I saw artis­tic expres­sion in the curves of the rows of the corn fields and the undu­la­tions of the seed heads of the wheat fields. I saw art in the way trees grew and ants trav­eled and clouds bub­bled. To me art was beau­ty and beau­ty was nature. Or maybe i mean art was an attempt to express beau­ty as well as nature did.

How and when did you start becom­ing an artist yourself?
I think every artist starts becom­ing an artist when they are born. Every expe­ri­ence leads to an artists “being”. Same as for any oth­er descrip­tor a per­son may choose for them­self or have cho­sen for them. But maybe I’m evad­ing what I rec­og­nize is being asked. There was no art class in my pri­ma­ry, mid­dle, or junior high school school sys­tem but my old­er sis­ter drew and paint­ed con­stant­ly. I admired her seem­ing­ly easy and nat­ur­al skill and even envied it. But I also held a weird idea that amongst my sib­lings we could not share “gifts” and she was the artis­tic one, my broth­er was the “handy” one, my next sis­ter was the musi­cal one, and there­fore those things were tak­en so I was the “smart” one. So i con­cen­trat­ed on scholas­tic endeav­ors. How­ev­er, when I start­ed high school I remem­ber walk­ing by the clay class­room. THAT I want­ed to do! But I denied myself that adven­ture because I need­ed to be the “smart” one and to enroll in the pottery/clay course a stu­dent must first fin­ish Fresh­man Art. And since I was not artis­tic and could not draw (who con­vinced me of that?) I would not risk a grade less than an A on my record for a chance to play in that clay! But I do think that is when the idea of cre­at­ing three dimen­sion­al art first entered my con­scious­ness. Then while pur­su­ing my “smart” one degree in chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing I had zero spare time but did at every walk across cam­pus from the com­put­er lab (oops-just dat­ed myself by admit­ting being in col­lege before there were even per­son­al com­put­ers!) I would detour around the back of the art build­ing where i could see into the win­dows at sculp­tur­al projects and into the fenced back “yard” where all kinds of stuff was hap­pen­ing — like raku fir­ing and glass blow­ing. I do not remem­ber though see­ing any stone carv­ing. I don’t think I’m answer­ing the ques­tion oth­er than to describe how my desire to become an artist grew. I final­ly made the deci­sion to pur­sue being a stone sculp­tor and all the art edu­ca­tion require after see­ing sculp­ture in pub­lic places as a young adult. I was­n’t drawn at all to bronze or cast sculp­ture, just stone. I think that is in large part because of, as I men­tioned ear­li­er, how I saw art and beau­ty in the nat­ur­al world and that includ­ed stone or as oth­ers call it — rock. So while still work­ing as an engi­neer and rais­ing three chil­dren I start­ed find­ing books and tools and began hand carv­ing small pieces. Main­ly from soap­stone of course. This still was before the inter­net was very pop­u­lat­ed or acces­si­ble so books where searched for at libraries and book stores and vis­i­tor’s cen­ters of nation­al parks. And some­how my hus­band found me a set of hand tools which con­sist­ed of two rasps, a very small hand ham­mer and three hand chis­els. I would spend hours in my garage or on my porch chip­ping away. By this time my Dad had retired from his long long years as a con­struc­tion plumber — my need to make things came nat­u­ral­ly you see as both my par­ents were also mak­ers or as I call it pro­duc­ers. So Dad toward retire­ment age began wood carv­ing . He became very very pro­fi­cient in the very intri­cate old world type of carv­ing called chip carv­ing and began trav­el­ing for work­shops and shows all around the mid­west. My old­er “artis­tic” sis­ter also added wood carv­ing to her reper­toire. So when my Dad got a fly­er for a wood carver’s sym­po­sium in Crete, Nebras­ka that includ­ed a side ses­sion of stone carv­ing and a water­col­or class he encour­aged my sis­ter and I to go. She chose the water­col­or class and I of course had thoughts only of stone carv­ing. That was it for me. I know that was what i need­ed to do. The instruc­tor, Bill Snow, became my men­tor and I con­tin­ued those class­es as long as they were avail­able and also was men­tored by Bill in his home town of Carthage, Mis­souri. I think Bill was the one who con­vinced me that I was an artist or that at least I was becom­ing one.

What was the evo­lu­tion like toward find­ing your cur­rent voice and visu­al vocabulary?
Much of the evo­lu­tion of my style or voice is direct­ed by prac­ti­cal issues such as access to tools, work space, time, and of course, mate­ri­als. As I said I start­ed with hand rasps and small chunks of soap­stone but meet­ing Bill Snow opened my eyes to the world of alabaster and lime­stone and even mar­ble. Each type fo stone appro­pri­ate for not just dif­fer­ent meth­ods of sculpt­ing but also, in my opin­ion, styles. Flu­id grained col­or­ful alabaster gets too “busy” with detailed rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al work unless it is very large. And I was rec­og­niz­ing the look of my roots in the corn­field and wheat fields of my youth­ful admi­ra­tion. I like those smooth curves so that informed the evo­lu­tion of my style of carv­ing, I love the look of the alabaster. My effort is in no small part to give the nat­ur­al stone its voice. Bill also intro­duced me to “mod­ern” tools so that I would not always need to Michae­lan­ge­lo every piece. Hav­ing air ham­mers changed the game for me. I began doing larg­er and larg­er pieces but lat­er evolved to a plan — again because of tools or more a lack of tools — a plan of mak­ing things no larg­er than I can car­ry and move on my own. And now I have evolved to mak­ing even small­er pieces so oth­er peo­ple find them more acces­si­ble. Anoth­er fac­tor in the evo­lu­tion to my cur­rent voice is also a tool thing — mar­ble, gran­ite and some­times lime­stone require high speed cut­ting and grind­ing tools. Much of the rea­son I am a stonecarve is that I need to make things and in mak­ing them I must enjoy the process. The hum of an air ham­mer and scratch of rasp blends well with my blues and jam music which are also part of my process but the squeal and dust from a rotary grinder or dia­mond blade cut­ting tool total­ly drowns all the enjoy­able parts of the process to me so I do not carve those types of stone. I do carve some lime­stone when I feel the need to have a more detailed sto­ry — lime­stone is much more homoge­nous and works with details but that tytpe of work is more an excep­tion than a rule to my most nat­ur­al product.

What is your process like?
I would say my process is some­what iter­a­tive. Its a con­ver­sa­tion with a piece of stone. Kind of a nego­ti­a­tion. It can start in one of two ways — one is with a piece of stone I’m lov­ing the look of and the oth­er is with an idea for a shape. So in the first case I look at the shape of the stone and the col­ors and grain pat­tern — what can be seen from the “out­side” — and I like to ask the stone what it wants to be and just be inspired by the stone. When I start with an idea I search for stone that will work with the idea. The next steps are the same no mat­ter how I start­ed. I start with a very small oil clay ren­der­ing of my idea. Often I will shape a chance of clay into the shape of the stone I will care and i will attempt the carve the clay just to see if my idea “fits” in the stone. Then I start carv­ing on the stone. I have a decent­ly out­fit­ted stu­dio now with a wench to lift stone onto a table, sand bags to prop the stone in dif­fer­ent ori­en­ta­tions, air com­pres­sor and mul­ti­ple tools and chis­els. I also have a sink and lots of wet sand­pa­per for the final step of hand sand­ing and pol­ish­ing the fin­ished pieces and also of course access to great music and fans for sum­mer and a wood­burn­ing stove for win­ter. But before I get to that fin­ish pol­ish­ing I might have to mod­i­fy the plan due to a frac­ture or break or just some­thing on the inte­ri­or of the stone that was­n’t obvi­ous on the exte­ri­or. That can be a thrill and that is why i say it’s iter­a­tive. the best exam­ple I have of this is my piece “Repose” which is a sweet but punky soft flesh col­ored alabaster that I had envi­sioned and made a maque­tte of stand­ing styl­ized female fig­ure. Well the stone did not agree and so after some nego­ti­a­tion the piece became a reclin­ing fig­ure. So in news­pa­per or engi­neer­ing terms the process is 1. Acquire stone 2. make maque­tte 3. Block out or rough carve stone 4. Fin­ish carve with small air ham­mer and hand rasps 5. Sand and pol­ish 6. sign piece 7. some­time design and acquire base and mount to base. But in that process is lis­ten­ing to good music, feel­ing the weath­er, feel­ing the phys­i­cal effort of the carv­ing and lift­ing and main­tain­ing the tools.

Is there any­thing from your artist state­ment that you wish to expound on, that you nor­mal­ly don’t have the chance to discuss?
I think I have touched on it in the oth­er answers but I would like to empha­size that I am com­pelled to carve stone. I am a pro­duc­er like my par­ents before me and many oth­ers and I need to make things from stone. the stone I am most drawn to work with are the many beau­ti­ful alabasters. My work is about me pro­duc­ing — mak­ing some­thing- very inti­mate­ly with my own intel­li­gence, cre­ativ­i­ty, and phys­i­cal strength. My work is also about the stone. its a “give and take” thing with the stone. Its’s a chal­lenge to bring out the beau­ty of the stone, to show­case the col­ors, grain. add amaz­ing for­ma­tions with­out over­pow­er­ing them with my ideas. I try to sculpt and carve the stone to both reflect my expe­ri­ences and dreams while giv­ing the stone its own voice. I know as I have said before that I have suc­ceed­ed in my goals when I can watch some­one approach my pieces for the first time and they have a slight gasp or com­ment on the col­ors the then they are com­pelled to reach out to touch the piece. I know I have touched them in that moment.

What do you try to con­trol in your sur­faces, and what do you leave to chance?
Maybe this is ter­mi­nol­o­gy for an artist in two dimen­sions? I do have sur­faces but I’m not famil­iar with dis­cussing them as such. I would say I try to coax some feel­ing of motion and flu­id­i­ty out of the sta­t­ic nature of the stone. I try to nego­ti­ate with the stone on the lev­el of pol­ish and col­or. I most­ly try to be sure I have cre­at­ed enough depth in the pieces that they look alive and real. I do how­ev­er often try to leave some areas of native stone — or ref­er­ence or maybe for homage. Noth­ing is exact­ly left to chance — chance hap­pened when the stone formed — I’m nego­ti­at­ing with that now.

Where do you see your work going from here?
I hope to have a resur­gence in work. I have a small stock­pile of nice stone and I would love to ven­ture out for some new stone. I’d like to pur­sue a new series of smalls — very small pieces done quick­ly and also some more organ­ic pieces maybe with some tat­too style engrav­ings on them if the stone wants that!

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