I’m kinda dumb about artists. I never took an art history class or been part of much of an art community, so I’m kinda art ignorant. So this list represents some of the artists I’ve run across in my sinuous journeys and fell in love with.
I have always been enchanted by tiny worlds, the sense of worlds within worlds. Outside of an art context, I suspect this speaks to the fractal nature of the world where every person, every place, every creature has its own infinitely complex story. These little worlds represent a futile attempt to capture just a small piece of the wider world.
A mid-20th Century American artist who created hundreds of glass-fronted assemblage shadow boxes. He was influenced by the Surrealists and the Dadaists, and Marcel Duchamp in particular. He influenced the Fluxus art movement in the 1960s.
The work fills with me with a certain melancholy feeling that hints at the transience of everything and a futile attempt at capturing some bit of the universe. I started making glass fronted assemblage works before I discovered Cornell, but suspect it might be his immense legacy that unknowingly influenced my work.
Contemporary American sculptor who creates small worlds and landscapes, often of natural materials, some realistic, some fantastic.
Australian sculptor and film maker who makes elaborate and precise objects, architecture and fantastical inventions out of cardboard.
Dutch artist who creates tiny detailed houses out of books and other common objects.
I tend to love little worlds. Small little houses that I can get small and live in.
French sculptor, painter, and digital artist who creates delectable little libraries and strange mad-scientist workshops, rooms full of books and shelves and other strange objects, with a dark dirty edge.
These works kill me. I want to take them in my arms and hold them tight and not let go. Or live in their dark mysterious innards.
- The artist comprehensive web portfolio in French.
- An article in English about the author in Beautiful Decay.
Chinese artist that works in a variety of mediums, particularly his cityscapes, large scenes made from stacks of schoolbooks, held together by steel rods and wood clamps.
British and Pakistani artist who as a mixed-media sculptor works in wood, cement, and waddle and daub. His work often features miniature structures, guard towers, staircases, shacks, that appear as if they’ve been destroyed by fire. His work is evocative and dark, touching on things and people lost. For work that feels as if there is a message,it is more lyrical, less didactic than typical activist art.
Like the tiny worlds, but on a larger scale.
Incorporating both the beautiful and the wretched, David Brothers creates elaborate, fantastical, and sublime staged worlds as the palette for his photographic compositions.
I ran across Tom Burckhardt’s FULL STOP installation in Knoxville in 2016. It was a full recreation of his Brooklyn artist studio in cardboard and marker.
The detail has to be seen to be believed.
Exploring the Organic
This is another differently flavored attempt to capture the uncapturable wider world. The fragile beauty of a cocoon, a shed snake skin, a leaf skeleton.
Finnish sculptor who creates large organic looking sculptures out of paper and resin.
I love art that forges nature. The organic look and feel of paper, cloth, resin, and beeswax have always appealed to me.
Norwegian artist and photographer who makes magical and whimsical light installations.
I appreciate installations in natural environments, the unification of the man-made and the natural (as if they were two different things). I also like the juxtaposition, playfulness and absurdity.
Artists who are taking a step back and playing with the idea of art and artists, who makes art, who judges, who funds, who curates.
A contemporary American conceptual artist. He received national attention in 2011 with the release of “SEEK”, a biennial of art showcasing the work of 100 artists—all of whom he invented and created the artwork himself. He is an advocate for artwork that marries intellectual rigor, technical mastery, and heart and soul. I am inspired by the breadth of his talent, his playful engagement with art, and that he appears to be a really sweet, humble fellow.
- A great New York Times article about the artist’s Seek Biennial.
- The artist’s inspiring Ted Talk.
- The artist’s scant website.
New Media Immersive Spaces
This is a way of creating a little world you can walk around in and experience a new kind of relationship with your environment.
While I don’t know much about Berlin sound and light artist Robert Henke, his Fragile Territories installations is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
“Sounds – transformed recordings of a piano – fill the room, sometimes in sync with the visual aspects and sometimes running simply in parallel. Whilst everything is floating and happening in rather long intervals, a constant black shadow is moving in front of the projection, from left to right, every 4.2 seconds, like a giant blade of a windmill, a negative object that contrasts the bright projection by muting it where it appears. It is not only obscuring the image but also dampening the sounds at its current position and emitting a low frequency noise itself.”
Another, very different way, of capturing the magic of the world. Little living critters who have a small life of their own.
Mid-20th century Swiss sculptor and painter best known for his metamechanics or kinetic sculptures. He was influenced by the Dadaists and Russian Constructivists, and influenced a whole movement of kinetic artists.
I adore the idea of bizarre machines whose sole purpose is just to amuse. Beyond the sheer joy of watching his machines ratchet and clank and whir, the Dadaist sense of disgust over the pointlessness and destructiveness of modern industrial society resonate with me. A modern room-sized printing press or dragline excavator or high-tech IT server room are no less impressive or absurd.
- A video of an entire clanking, creaking, crashing gallery full of the artist’s pieces in motion.
- A video of Jean Tinguely talking about art.
- Google images of the artist’s work.
Chris Eckert makes beautiful and debatably useless machines, a series of complicated machines to do automatically what could easily be done by hand, an automatic tattoo machine, an impatient finger drumming machine, and so on.
Contemporary American sculptor known widely for his kinetic found-object sculpture, often wood and metal robots and sci-fi objects.
- Video of artist’s work in motion in Make Magazine.
- Google image search of the artist’s work.
- Related artists in the Device Gallery of which the artist is part.
Contemporary American video digital sculptor building fantastic, anthropomorphic creations out of circuit boards, memory chips, frame buffers and wires.
I encountered his work in the early 2000’s in a San Francisco gallery. His work had a profound influence on my art. I appreciate his skeptical analysis of the societal effects of technology all the while enjoying playful technological creativity.
Portland, Oregon artist who has focused on audiokinetic ball-sculptures he called Gravitrams since the early 1970s.
Mark Pauline (Survival Research Laboratories)
San Francisco Bay Area-based pioneers of the genre of large-scale machine performance, and builders of beautiful and terrifying robots.
Coming from early Burning Man culture, I appreciate that there was no guarantee of safety at an SRL show (in fact, several crew members including the director have been seriously injured over the years). Mark Pauline has said that he hopes he allows the audience to be “alive with fear.” I like the participatory nature of being ever vigilant of having to run for your life.
Contemporary Oakland, California-based sculptor who makes useful and non-useful machines, often with gears and weights and levers. Many of the machines have an absurdist bent.
When someone is obsessed with something even though there is no benefit, whether selfish or altrusitic, other than the simple feeling of participating in the action, I feel a kindred spirit. In many ways, my art-making is an absurd obsession; the resultant object aside, the process is the most important, yet irrational, activity in my life. And so, many of the sculptures I make are not only products of that paradox, but expressions of it.
Story Worlds in the Virtual
These are artists whose work exists outside of the physical, purely (or mostly) in the digital realm.
A prolific interactive fiction author who focuses on character development, NPC emotional response, unique user interfaces, and character-based storytelling. Her IF has positively influenced a generation of authors.
An interactive fiction author and major technical contributor to the medium, designing several technical achievements relied on by the interactive fiction authoring community, including the Blorb archive format, the Glk I/O platform, and the Glulx virtual machine. His IF masterpiece Spider and Web won many awards and was a remarkable use of the storytelling possibilities unique to IF. It is also one of my my favorite interactive fictions.
Music & Sound Artists
Aaron Taylor Kuffner
Co-creator of the Gamelatron, a robotic gamelan. Kuffner is a conceptual and mixed media artist, performer, and musician. Singer is a hardware designer, musician, artist, engineer programmer, and the founder and director of the Pittsburg-based League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR). I’ve played Gamelan Anklung for years, so combining that with my love for robots is almost too much to bear.
Musician, actor, storyteller since the early 70s.
I love storytellers, and particularly lyrical ones that leave more questions than answers. If you listen to Tom Waits music, inevitably you ask, “What is really going on here?” Beyond that, here is an artist who is so clearly enjoying his work while being himself, it is difficult not to want to be part of that.
Literature and Story
For me, books are my first love, the original way I discovered to explore other worlds and get to know wholly fictional people. I’ve often thought that I’ve learned more about life through fiction than any other medium.
Author of Underworld, White Noise, and a dozen other novels and plays.
I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember. But in all my experience, I have never encountered an author who I suspected was manipulating and hypnotizing me with words. Underworld is one of the few books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read this ginormous tome several times now) that I could read for twenty minutes and look up and have no idea anymore where I was. He captures something essential, the deep alienation and absurdity of modern life. That said, he is still a hopeful writer that finds in our separateness those moments that make life worth living.
Author of Never Cry Wolf, People of the Deer, A Whale for the Killing, and 30 more books, principally non-fiction. I discovered Farley Mowat in 5th grade and it had a lasting effect on my love of the wild, adventure, and humor.
Author of The Kon-Tiki Expedition, Ra and Ra II, and many other non-fiction stories of adventure and amateur anthropology. I discovered Kon-Tiki when I was in 5th grade. Few books have had such a significant and long-lasting affect on my young self.
Creator of the long-running radio show A Prairie Home Companion, particularly “News from Lake Wobegon,” an ongoing account of Garrison’s fictional hometown.
In general, I love stories, storytellers, and the powerful medium or radio. This humble storyteller has spun tales about his fictional hometown, creating characters, ongoing drama and relationships, connecting emotionally with listeners for decades. I’m always touched by the loving and precise details with which Keillor renders his fictional hometown and characters.
Credited at the author of the Tao Te Ching 2500 years ago. This work and those of Zhuangzi have had a profound effect on my philosophy and art.
Other Inspiring Artists
- Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/
- Bernie Lubell – http://bernielubell.com/installations_2003.htm
- David Forbes – http://www.cathodecorner.com/
- I-Wei Huang – http://www.crabfu.com/swashbot/
- Jeremy Meyer – http://jeremymayer.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=41158&AKey=23SVCF6T
- Paul Spooner – http://www.cabaret.co.uk/artists/paul-spooner/
- Roger Wood – http://www.klockwerks.com/index.php
- Aparna Rao and Søren Pors – Banglore, India – http://www.porsandrao.com