this issue Eric contributed the phallic panoramic drawing
for the shop review of Babes
in Toyland,contributed extra
desktop wall paper include some of his notebook
drawing for a Visual
Essay this month.
Interview with Eric Fertman
I sit in Eric Fertmans
converted deli space studio in Greenpoint Brooklyn.
The place is a smorgasbord of visual pleasures: pockmarked
rocks, fluted vessels, wrinkled plaster sausage-like
forms, bright orange buttons, knobs, and patterned wooden
boxes are stacked on ceiling high shelves, filling every
nook and cranny. From the ceiling, meat hooks still
hang; a testament to its previous incarnation, and everywhere
the room is filled with this kind of culturally diverse,
vibrant, organized clutter...
AP: Where are you from?
EF: Winchester, MA -- the suburbs
north of Boston.
AP: What's your family like?
EF: Small. And weird like most
families. My parent's house has an the most beautiful
ancient Japanese maple tree in the back yard, better
than any at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
AP: When would you say was
the period of time when you developed your distinct
EF: Which part of my artistic
style do you find to be distinct? I hope I developed
something distinct as recently as today. I want to have
a style, but I also want it changed over time. This
is one of the characteristics I most admire in other
artists; Philip Guston is a good example. I glued a
lot of stuff together as a kid. I try to keep playfulness
in my work. There were things I really fell in love
with in college that changed the way I thought about
making art -- Chinese Art, furniture, of course, the
rocks, and annoying art students. College is when I
found a love for objects. I went object crazy. I'm an
object worshiper. Since then I've had so many ideas
that my hands can't keep up. I also love early Soviet
art, especially Malevich. AND MOVIES. Sorry to be so
rambling but I could answer in so many different ways.
It's like asking - who is Eric Fertman? Unless you just
want an actual date, in that case 1997. To summarize--
playfulness + glue + philip guston+ Chinese rocks =
ef's distinctive style annoying art school students
+ a lot of old movies time+some other things
AP: Since this issue is all
about the male member, and you have an affinity for
that style of object in your sculpture, let me ask you
- whatās up with your phalluses?
EF: What phalluses (joking)? Do
you mean the fungi or the cacti? The clouds of radioactive
steam? The fantastic mountains? The wrinkled sausages?
Or just simply the incredibly hairy satyr's dicks. I
try to keep an open mind about them and not only think
of them as phallic symbols.
AP: Youāve spoken with me
about how you make objects that are in some ways slightly
off-putting yet acceptable, slightly grotesque yet pleasant.
Are you trying to create a visual experience for people
that they react to, experience in opposite ways?
EF: Yeah I guess so, I mean, in
the end I want it to be enjoyable. I try very hard to
make art that I hope anybody can understand. You know,
if something is slightly off, or awkward , it can emphasize
the parts that are more easily connected to by people,
the cute parts. I like work that speaks to that little
f*@#ed up tree growing out of the side of a mountain.
Without the grotesque or unpleasant an object can never
achieve profoundly cute status.
AP: What about Chinese art
and culture do you find so inspiring?
EF: Classical Chinese artists
had a totally different appreciation of the world. In
much of the work that I like there is a deep connection
with nature but also a very strange abstract quality
that western art didn't really develop. The Chinese
loved weird rocks - and they made stands for them that
were equally bizarre, they took their cue from nature
but really perverted it in a great way. The lonely/pathetic
quality I was talking about before was treasured by
the Chinese......... In addition, what we call wetting
the bed --the Chinese call drawing maps of your dreams!
I love it!
The lonely and pathetic quality in some Chinese art
you like, can you tell me more about that?
EF: Once at the Met I saw a Chinese
drawing with a poem inscribed on it. It said something
like, "Tall ancient trees, broken banana leaves, sparse
bamboo, bony rocks, and dying grass---does anybody notice
this kind of scenery? Does anybody notice? It's a great
homage to garbage and rotten things. And this guy who
wrote it felt that these forgotten objects were the
height of poetics.
AP: Can you tell me what you
like about scholar rocks?
EF: Scholars rocks are the rocks
that generally have fitted stands made for them. They
are mostly displayed indoors. They are composed of a
rock that looks nothing like most rocks. In fact great
pains are taken to make sure of this, many of the rocks
undergo extensive plastic surgery, and like human nose
job recipients, the surgery is generally kept very hush-hush.
And then there's the rocks stand that is also very strange.
It is the marriage of these two elements that I find
to be one of the ultimate acts of imagination. In the
end it does not resemble anything but itself; it becomes
an object which cannot be understood except for it's
eccentricities -- this what I try to cultivate in my
own sculpture. I think this is very much in opposition
to most contemporary art.
AP: Who are some artists you
EF: Jean Luc Goddard, Philip Guston,
Isamu Noguchi, Kasmir Malevich, Dziga Vertov, Jean Vigo,
Marco Ferreri, Carl Dreyer Jacques Demy, David Cronenburg,
William Blake, Mi Fu, Charles Baudelaire, Alexander
Calder, Bob Breer, Prabda Yoon.
You just finished working with Prabda Yoon on illustrations
for his new book. So
what were the materials you were given, and what was
it like to move from 3-dimensional sculptures to illustration.
Or is moving between mediums something that doesnāt
EF: Well it was hard actually.
First I only had a week to do it, and then all the themes
for the essays were things like "On Breaking Up
with Girls", "On Fake Buddhism", "On
Paragraphs", and "On Robots"..
AP: So vague or conceptual
ideas that weren't so obvious, there was no "Oh,
Iāll do that"...
EF: Well, "On Robots"
was easy, but "On Breaking Up With Girls"
was really hard. I guess it was a different way of thinking,
but sometimes that's nice. When I make sculptures the
only limits are things like how much money am I going
to spend on it, and how much space do I have in my studio.
It was fun to have limits for a change, but it was hard
coming up a drawing that wasn't too literal. Now that
I look back on it, I like how the illustrations came
out, but I think I could have made them more abstract,
and they still would have held together conceptually.
If I hadn't been trying so hard to stick to the topic,
I would have gone a little bit farther out and made
the drawings a bit looser. Some of the drawings are
pretty loose anyway, but they stop short of hotdogs
flying off a cliff to represent "Breaking Up with Girls".
AP: Is book illustration something
that you would like to do more of?
EF: I'm really interested in that,
I hope there are more, Prabda and I are doing something
in September for a Japanese magazine, and the tentative
theme is "Bangkok Lunch Boxes". .
AP: Why "Bangkok Lunch
EF: Well the subject of the whole
magazine is Bangkok. So we just picked something fun
that had some sculptural potential and also had something
to do with Bangkok.
AP: In Bangkok, are the lunchboxes
there pretty sculptural?
EF: No, we invented it, it's our
own idea and I don't mean lunchboxes like American kid's
lunch boxes, but more like Japanese bento boxes, they're
not even that, they're our own unique kind of lunchbox.
AP: You've been living in
this kind of converted deli space for five years. How
do you feel about it as a workspace, how do you feel
being an artist in a deli?
EF: Well part of me hates it because
there's no good light, or ventilation. Its just one
really crowded big room, and I would like to be able
to look at my sculptures in isolation. But on the other
hand I like it because I like saying "I live in
a deli"..................Chinese seals often carry
the owner's name. But a lot of times they say something
poetic, something like, "Lonely fisherman waiting for
a bite." Loneliness is a kind of lofty pursuit among
Chinese scholars. My seal should read, "Lives in a deli."
AP: But you did build windows
into the wall of your room space, what was the idea
behind that, just to give it more ventilation?
EF: So I knew when morning came
around, so I didn't live in this sleep chamber, so there
was a hint of........................
AP: .............natural circadian
EF: Yeah, but it doesn't really
work. I don't know we need to get a rooster or something.
AP: I heard you designed a
honeycomb-inspired table for an exhibit in Japan, and
the Princess of Japan liked it very much, can you tell
me more about what transpired?
EF: Youāre mixing up two different
stories but I like it, so I won't bother to correct
AP: If you could transport
your work anywhere in the world and show it, where would
that be, and how would you like the work displayed?
EF: In the nine thousandth nine
hundred and ninety-ninth room of the Forbidden City
in Beijing. Just a quiet little installation.
AP: You choose a small humble
place to show your sculpture, just this quiet little
EF: In my opinion the Forbidden
City is one of the least humble places in the world.
I like the Forbidden City because it is this monster
place, but you could just come around this one dusty
corner and bump into my little sculpture. . I have a
lot of fantasies about where I'd like my work to be
shown. I have this one fantasy: say the Antiques Roadshow
is still on in 2075, and someone brings in one of my
sculptures and says- "My grandfather had this thing
in his attic and we don't know what it is. The appraiser
would reply, " I have no idea what it is either, but
the material might be worth ten dollars. There is definitely
not a market for this thing. Maybe you should just keep
it for your family."
AP: So what do you think about
high art/low art. Or do you even care?
EF: I don't care. I mean I care,
because I don't really think that everything is art.
It has to be thoughtfully constructed, or I guess I
think it has to be constructed period. Ideas are important,
but art is something else.
AP: Do you have a craftsman's
point of view in some ways?
EF: I do, but I think that the
craftsmanship should only be present to the level it's
needed. If you want to make something you should invest
exactly the right amount of craft, it shouldn't be about
the craft but it shouldn't be so shoddy that all you
can see is the tape peeling off of it. A kind of efficient
construction is important. Even if it took 30 seconds
to make it, that it was a considered 30 seconds. There
are also very beautiful accidents.
AP: Do you think that you
can tell the difference between something thoughtfully
created and something that is just a meaningless assembly?
And does it bother you that art like that gets pushed
as art and it's so obvious that it doesn't have much
EF: I like work that, even if
it didn't take very long to make, achieves a certain
level of style. You could make something in a few seconds
that was totally thrown together but if you had style,
thatās an achievement, and in some ways that's the highest
level of achievement.
AP: Have you had periods where
you felt you were creating in that mode?
EF: Yes, but its never really
that easy. I have to work really hard and do all kinds
of horrible chores, then at one point, something will
just sneak up on me, and all of a sudden I'm putting
AP: And then what do you feel
after that happens?
EF: I don't know, I feel really
good. I feel my antennas are totally out in outer space
picking up crazy signals. (Laughing.) I don't know how
to talk about it really.
AP: When you go to a junk
shop, do you have a certain way of going around and
picking up objects for your sculptural endeavors? Youāve
been going to these shops for a long time now, do you
know the people there, and do they pick things out for
EF: Usually I look for objects
that have a kind of unfinished quality that I can exploit.
I don't usually buy something that can stand by itself.
I buy parts. Then I like to make new parts, so in the
end maybe the original object, if not totally obscured,
at least has a hole through it. I also like stuff that
reminds me of Asian objects. When I see a pipe stand,
it reminds me of the stand for sushi hand rolls. It
also looks like an ice cream cone holder. And then I
think "Oh, I'll make my own crazy sushi hand roll/
ice cream cone/Fertman sausage stand". And as to
the people who work there, I don't think they have any
idea what I am doing. No one as ever come up to me and
said, "I found this thing and you're going to love
it!" Usually what I pick is really garbage.
AP: How do you feel about
the color Bright Orange?
EF: I like it. But I don't think
I would paint my house with it. Well maybe. I like it
because it can have a kind of radioactive quality. A
quality I would like my objects to have. You know that
object I want to display in the 999th room in the Forbidden
City? I want it to be in the corner of the room emitting