A Minnesota native currently living and working in Minneapolis, Perci Chester is our featured artist! Chester is a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. We wanted to learn more about the artist behind the eye-catching abstract sculptures so we asked Chester some questions..
Q: What’s an unusual, non-artist job you’ve worked?
A: When I first arrived in San Francisco after graduate school – I worked in the garden of the Tibet center so I could get free drawing classes from a renowned Tibetan thangka painter. When I was in high school – for holiday work -I worked at Target selling watches.
Q: How did you become an artist?
A: I have always made drawings – my first drawing I remember at age 5 was a selfie – myself drawing myself! My father Alexander Chester was an artist who studied at the Art Students League in NY- he was very encouraging. He painted many portraits of me as I grew up and I thought he was magic. I watched his concentration and deliberations as he worked. When I was a child – he would grade my drawings by percentages – 80% would deserve 10 cents, 85% 15 cents – once in a while I scored 95 or 100. The most was 25 cents.
Q: How and where do you find inspiration?
A: My work is inspired from so many sources that my unconscious would know how to define that better than I! Most frequent inspiration comes from watching people’s interactions and contemporary culture that surrounds me – elemental structures, puzzles or toys – like Slinkies- sometimes images from cartoons and often materials themselves suggest ideas to me. I sometimes find scraps or materials that remind me of something or suggest a way to transform them and I’m off and running with it. I’m intrigued by architecture –lighting and new technologies that I can incorporate into my thinking.
Q: What is your process for beginning a piece?
A: Every piece I do has its own origin and process though the latest series of large-scale pieces begin with drawings and small-scale models in cardboard. I often depict a human form via a schematic void or cut-out positive. I then commit the design to a computer-generated template. Once my design is cut to scale from a large sheet of steel, I work with an assistant metal worker stretching the form, then bending, cutting, heating, welding and pulling to facilitate the metamorphosis of a free-standing form. I am continually photographing each stage of the process – spending time looking and considering possibilities as I’m working. Once I’ve completed the twisting arabesque-like structures, I paint them with automotive enamels to express a dynamic joie de vivre. They evoke a sense of humor rooted less in irony and more in notions of memory and the play of human experience. Other sculptures I’ve made are combines of assembled elements in which the metal is allowed to express itself, even when coupled with bronzed forms or video projections or LED lighting- moving images behind the sculpture. This technology allows me to insert cinematic information into the sculpture and create the illusion that video sequences are generated by the sculptures themselves. My commitment to innovation in my sculptural practice includes inventing tools needed, such as a compressor-powered roller on a radius, that can turn and contract the metal, and is reflected in the addition of time-based media to my work. Bronze work is made with the ancient lost wax method. It begins with a wax or wood positive from which a mold is made. Then a hollow wax is made – I rework the hollow wax – it is burned out and the metal is poured at the bronze foundry. Then the metal is worked and assembled and patinated. I worked in bronze exclusively for many years though recently I have combined bronze elements with steel or glass and other metals, but like the ability to work larger in sheet metals with a freer approach that often includes vivid color. I find it very liberating to paint on a three dimensional work- playing with space in a more inventive way.
Q: On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece?
A: There is no real average – since the work varies so much. I work on drawings that transform into prints for weeks or months – until I’m satisfied that it clicks. I can develop sculptures of found objects more quickly – but then they may have stages where I set them aside to consider them – looking – thinking –maybe combining a whole other process, like a large photographic element printed on fabric or another material. The large metal pieces sometimes take several years – though when I have a developed model – and have made the decisions going forward – I can make the large pieces in several months.
Q: Have you ever created a piece and decided you just couldn’t give it up? What is the story behind that piece?
A: I made a series or cycle of bronze pieces I call Rosie Rider – which is a figurative image of a doll-like woman acrobat riding a horse on one leg. Her spirit of adventure and “fly with the wind“ resonates with my personality. I sold the first piece in the cycle which was made of bronze on granite. I made the surface patina [which protects and enhances the metal] of the horse cobalt blue and the figure became a translucent purple that revealed the bronze glowing beneath. Several years later I made two others with different surface treatments. One is painted with black & white car paint and the other is also painted with car paint – painted very delicately with silver undertones and cobalt for the horse and the figure has a spectrum of pale tones. That is the piece I can’t part with. in my view it has the feel of carnival color combined with Japanese lacquerware!
Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Seeing art to me is like feeding my soul! I love aspects of many artworks. Some of my influences include artists and thinkers Maholy-Nagy, Nevelson, Calder, Noguchi, Ruth Asawa and Tony Cragg. I admire many photographers as well- including Mary Ellen Marks, Lisette Model, Cindy Sherman, Arnold Newman among many others.
Q: What are your goals or hopes for the future in what you create?
A: Art making is very revelatory to me – it teaches, surprises and connects. My essential goal is to always have more ideas of what I hope to work out in some form – being continually excited about new possibilities. When I work on a painting for example – I feel it could have many variations. I am always learning about new technologies that may add to my toolbox. Key to my work is the stimulation of the imagination, and how that leads us to an array of possibilities: for greater community through a shared experience of art; through the restoration and creation of private and collective memory; for discourse about our absence and presence in nature; through an understanding of our role in the expansion of technology in our lives. I love having people see and interact with the work. Everyone brings their own interpretation and experience to the piece so it lives many lives. I enjoy working in public art when the opportunity presents itself. The democracy of having my work out in the world so a broad range of people can experience the work is wonderful. As is the intimacy of galleries and museums that offer a protected environment for contemplation. I am hoping to find homes in collections and museums for my more delicate and complex installations.
Q: When someone walks into your studio, what will they find?
A: The space of the studio in the warehouse district is light filled with high ceilings! I have large completed works as well as small sculptural models in my studio. I have paintings, prints, drawings and photographs as well as videos of installations that I have completed. I welcome visitors to come to the studio.