American Wire Sculptor Rodger Stevens

Interview with American Wire Sculptor Rodger Stevens

About Rodger Stevens

Rodger Stevens was born in Brooklyn, New York, and studied at the Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. His sculptures, installations, and drawings have been exhibited in galleries and museums in New York, California, Paris and other locations since 1993. He’s also appeared in a variety of publications worldwide, commissions include works for Yohji Yamamoto, MTV and Persol.

Interview date: 17th of May, 2013

Introduction

We’ve long been admirers of Rodger Steven’s work, a talented wire sculptor from New York. I remember locating him early last year and I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging conversation through email, so it made sense to do an interview with him so that other creatives can join in on the experience and discover his work.

He’s highly admired in the art scene and it’s easy to see why, he has a unique style, using reclaimed materials to create forms that are both flamboyant and eye-catching. Although his wire sculptures are wild at first sight, once you look closely you can see all the intricacies and details that have been painstakingly implemented. With each wire sculpture having a sense of playfulness and intrigue about them.

Rodger is also quite unusual in the sense that he works in a medium that isn’t all that common. With wire he creates a variety of forms, from mobiles to wall hangings, each one stems from Rodgers own creative brain. He also experiments with wood to create different sculptures, so he’s always on the look out for interesting concepts to pursue. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading through his thoughts below.

1. For those that aren’t familiar with Rodger Stevens, could you explain a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Born in New York to a complicated doctor and an indefatigable mother, the third child under two sensational siblings. Still fully a son and a brother and now a father of two. A maker of things since the beginning. Childhood was playing in the street and drawing. I studied Economics then Art, reported to Sotheby’s for six years, and never stopped trying to devout as much time as possible to doing my work. That pursuit continues.

2. Being born in Brooklyn, New York, what would you say are the main things that have influenced you growing up?

I used to think that what had the most influence on my work was all the stuff people made: the bridges, the buildings, the schoolyards, the buses, the hotdog stands and graffiti. Now I think it was the people themselves.

Chalk wall by Rodger Stevens
A wall commission for a gallery space drawn using just chalk on a blackboard type painted surface. Superb geometric shapes and complex patterns, notice the house on the left hand side.

3. You seem like a creative that makes the most out of your surroundings, often using materials in your works that are wastage or recyclable. Have you always been this innovative, or did this process stem from a particular concept?

The alchemical exercise of taking one thing and turning into something else is as thrilling to me now as it was when I was four. And besides, buying “art supplies” seems far too easy.

4. You use a mixture of materials, mainly specializing in wire, but you also experiment with lumber, plastic, driftwood, and leather. Which one do you find the most challenging to work with and why?

Often the more limiting a material is, the greater the challenge and consequently the greater the reward when you’re through. Wire is such a material: elemental like a pencil line but, with sufficient intervention, fantastically expressive.

5. When you start a project or specific piece how do you approach the design process? Do you traditionally start with sketches?

Never sketches. Always visions. And then pursuit.


Inside Rodger Stevens workshop.
Inside Rodger Stevens workshop with all his tools and Knick-knacks. The piece on the wall is a sculpture piece that he made out of wood.

6. I’ve previously heard you say about playfulness being involved in your work, which makes it much more than just shape or symmetry. What would you say are the main things that sum up your work?

For me, content is the fuel. A story or a subject is at the core of every piece I make. If I’m not striving toward the manifestation of meaning, the work suffers and I suffer through the working.

7. I guess when you’re making private commissions you’re restricted slightly by the client, and in an exhibition you can create more of a concept around the works. Which one would you say you prefer?

Both enterprises have their charms. Commissions are almost always edifying thanks to the presence of an alternate viewpoint. Making work for a show is a more solitary proceeding, a more unbridled one, but not at all without restrictions and the countless considerations of making objects for public consumption.

One of Mr Stevens installations titled Between Tuesday and Jupiter.
One of Mr Stevens installations titled “Between Tuesday and Jupiter”, which he put up at the Abingdon 12 gallery in Manhattan’s west Village.

8. With your wireworks are there any particular inspirations? Do you draw any parallels between yourself and famous artists like Alexander Calder or Bruno Munari?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. Everywhere. I certainly look at a lot of art but I am as likely to be moved by an Olmec temple or a Bernini Marble or an Etruscan Chariot as I am by a pile of trash.

9. Mobiles have quite a fascinating effect on humans, often we just stare as they move freely without many restrictions. Why do you think we do this?

Probably for the same reason we watch films or clouds or waves: to be surprised.

Hanging Sculpture Outside Hanging Wire Sculpture for a gallery space.

10. Looking through your home there’s wire sculptures scattered all over, including above the window and the door frames. What made you start to cover your own home, were they just experimental designs that needed a place to live?

My work is like my children’s toys: it gets picked up, considered, put down, hung up, ignored, rediscovered. It’s just part of our surroundings.

11. You converted the garage at your house in to a studio, and it looks like the perfect place for experimentation, you also have quite a few tools and works dotted around. What made you decide to work from this space and in what way do you think it influences your designs?

I’ve nearly always worked and lived under the same roof; usually it was the roof of an apartment building. Making things is so thoroughly incorporated with the rest of my life that seems only natural that the space where most of that making takes place would be just as connected to my home as the kitchen or bathroom or garden.

12. Exhibitions have always been a big part of your working schedule, how do you set about each one and what goes through your mind when you begin an exhibit of your work?

Exhibitions come and go like the weather. When there is one in the offing or underway, minor adjustments are made to prepare; measures are taken to minimize hiccups. The heavier elements of the process are all cognitive and those, like “what shall I make and why” involve sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.

Downpour – 96 x 56 x 82, steel wire (private commission, Blesso Properties, New York, New York)
Downpour – 96″ x 56″ x 82″, steel wire (private commission, Blesso Properties, New York, New York)

13. Is there anything that you’re working on that you can tell us about, what’s on your mind at the moment?

I just completed a 28 foot long mural, executed in chalk, for an office lobby in lower Manhattan. And this goes back to your question about materials: to take something as simple as a piece of white chalk and compose an art work that, with any luck, will engage eyes and minds for years … that is a near-optimal storyline.

14. I can imagine you’ve learnt a wide variety of lessons whilst working as an artist, what would you say to those out there who’re considering taking on a similar path?

Imagine what work you would make if no one was ever going to see it. Make that work. In the end, even if no one ever likes it or buys it or shows it, there will always be at least one person who absolutely loves it and understands it, you.

A carved burr oak bowl. Notice how Jonathan leaves a lot of the tree intact when carving.
Intricate wire sculpture by Rodger Stevens, made for a gallery space. Notice all the complex shapes and structures.