His mo­ment of Zen


Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Michael Abatemarco

Michael Mot­ley’s sculp­tural ex­hibit Drawn to the Wall 2 opens at Patina Gallery

If you are fa­mil­iar with Michael Mot­ley, chances are you know him as a two- and three-di­men­sional de­signer whose skills are sought by gal­lerists, artists, mu­se­ums, pub­lish­ers of art books and mono­graphs, and other busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions con­nected to the arts. Maybe you caught him at Col­lected Works on June 29 in con­ver­sa­tion with pho­tog­ra­pher Cira Crow­ell, whose book 108 Vi­sions: Ladakh Dur­ing the Kalachakra was de­signed by Mot­ley. His firm, Michael Mot­ley: Di­ver­gent De­sign for the Cre­ative Com­mu­nity, has worked with some of Santa Fe’s most prom­i­nent cul­tural main­stays: SITE Santa Fe, the Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe Mu­seum, and Santa Fe Pro Musica, among them. But Mot­ley is also a sculp­tor, a prac­tice he aban­doned more than a decade ago. Although he’s found de­sign work to be an out­let for cre­ative ex­pres­sion, in 2014 he re­turned to his sculp­tural craft. Mot­ley is one of three artists in Patina Gallery’s Drawn to the Wall 2: The Medium Is the Mes­sage, part of an on­go­ing se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tur­ing guest artists. The other two artists in the show are Isolde Kille and Seth An­der­son, who both work in mixed media. Drawn to the

Wall 2 rep­re­sents the largest show­ing of Mot­ley’s works since his re­turn to the stu­dio. His min­i­mal­ist black sculp­tures, sin­u­ous and branch-like, ap­pear partly or­ganic and partly con­structed. Mot­ley met with Pasatiempo to dis­cuss his sculp­ture and reen­gage­ment with his artis­tic prac­tice.

Pasatiempo: I was talk­ing to [gallery di­rec­tor] Ivan Bar­nett, and we agreed that you’re the go-to guy for de­sign work in Santa Fe.

Michael Mot­ley: Yeah. Pretty much. I used to be torn be­tween what I con­sider com­mer­cial art and fine art. I fig­ured out a way to make a liv­ing in the arts by work­ing with artists, mu­se­ums, and gal­leries. I re­ally like work­ing on books and cat­a­logs, things like that. It keeps me work­ing with artists and keeps me in the art world.

Pasa: I re­cently spoke with Bren­dan Con­nell about the book Ra­dius pub­lished on his fa­ther, John Con­nell: Works, 1965-2009. He told me the book was one of your de­signs.

Mot­ley: Yeah. That was quite a pro­ject. I shared a stu­dio with John for a while. He was very in­flu­en­tial to me on a lot of lev­els. He was re­lent­lessly work­ing. Cer­tain artists just get out of bed in the morn­ing and they make stuff. John ap­proached mak­ing art sim­i­larly to some Ja­panese pot­ters. They make 100 pots, paint them, and fire them. Af­ter fir­ing, they’ll go through and throw half of them away. My process is dif­fer­ent. It takes longer. I can’t work at that pitch but I find it in­spi­ra­tional.

Pasa: The pieces in Drawn to the Wall have a qual­ity like a hand­drawn line. They look like branches, but are they ac­tu­ally me­tal?

Mot­ley: They’re made from ju­niper roots mostly. I live out in Nambé. I find them in the ar­royos. They’re wrapped mostly with a one-inch, non­ster­ile gauze. It cre­ates a dif­fer­ent sur­face which I then seal. I put on black gesso with graphite and wax to get that me­tal­lic fin­ish. That’s the es­sen­tial process. Most of them are im­pro­vi­sa­tional works. I use Rus­sian olive and cot­ton­wood — dif­fer­ent trees I find around where I live — but the ju­niper is pretty spe­cial. The root has done the draw­ing for me in a cer­tain way. I love the fact that these roots are mov­ing their way un­der­ground, look­ing for wa­ter, go­ing around rocks, and kind of map­ping the ter­rain them­selves.

Pasa: They have ti­tles like Zen Les­son and Float­ing World, which are drawn from Eastern tra­di­tions. Are there other in­flu­ences at work?

Mot­ley: I look at a lot of tribal art, an­cient art, things like that. I’ve stud­ied Ja­panese aes­thet­ics for a re­ally long time. I try to re­spect those sources. Some­times I’ll see a piece of work by some­one and think, “That’s a mask from West Africa,” but it’s not. It’s some­body’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it. I try not to ap­pro­pri­ate too bla­tantly but rather let the spirit of it in­form. With Zen aes­thet­ics, it’s a philo­soph­i­cal ap­proach. My work can re­late to Arte Povera and other con­tem­po­rary art move­ments. When I look at Anselm Kiefer’s sculp­tures, or even Cy Twombly’s sculp­tures, there’s a cer­tain kind of vis­ceral qual­ity there, and they’re also quite beau­ti­ful.

Pasa: Like other artists in this ex­hibit se­ries, you don’t have sta­ble gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion, but you did have steady rep­re­sen­ta­tion at a num­ber of gal­leries be­fore you stopped sculpt­ing.

Mot­ley: I started in the early ’80s and then maybe 10 or 12 years ago is when I stopped. I used to show with Ar­lene Le­wAllen right next door. I had a cou­ple of shows there and then Ar­lene died, and the gallery kind of went through an up­heaval. I pulled out and stopped mak­ing work. Pasa: What prompted you to give it up?

Mot­ley: If you’re in the art world, some­times you just know too much; you see how it func­tions. I just started to ques­tion the whole struc­ture of the mar­ket. You’re mak­ing stuff for the walls of the peo­ple who can af­ford it: peo­ple who have big houses, or peo­ple who have sec­ond or third houses. At least, struc­turally, that’s how the mar­ket is here. I couldn’t mo­ti­vate my­self to get back at it. I used to say, “I’m not sure if the world needs any more art, but I think it re­ally needs artists.” Peo­ple with an artis­tic back­ground need to train their skill set on big­ger is­sues than mak­ing stuff for peo­ple’s walls. That might have been part of my pulling back.

Pasa: For the past sev­eral years your fo­cus has been on de­sign projects. What caused you to re­turn to mak­ing sculp­ture?

Mot­ley: It’s a happy con­ver­gence of ac­ci­dents that got me back in the stu­dio. Axle Con­tem­po­rary asked me if I wanted to be in the show they did out at the wet­lands last fall. So I did that. Then when Axle had the show at Peters Projects in Fe­bru­ary, they said, “Do you want to be in it?” And then Ivan called and I thought, “I guess it’s time to get back in there.”

Pasa: In the Patina show you’re paired with two other artists. Seth An­der­son’s pieces, in par­tic­u­lar, seem to res­onate with yours, even though you work in dif­fer­ent medi­ums.

Mot­ley: They’re beau­ti­ful works. Ivan sent an email to me that said, “Well, I hung the show and your work is in di­a­logue.” I thought, “Oh, man. What does that mean? But I trust Ivan. He makes it work. I used to show at the Okun Gallery. Okun dealt with a lot of high-end craft: Robert Turner, a pot­ter, and re­ally well-known bas­ket-mak­ers who were es­sen­tially mak­ing sculp­tures, not nec­es­sar­ily func­tional bas­kets. Tom Joyce and I were the sculp­tors in there. I found that peo­ple who loved craft un­der­stood my work. They just got it on a cer­tain level. So we’ll see what hap­pens here.”

Michael Mot­ley: left to right, Snare 4;

Rivulet 3; Rivulet 2; op­po­site page, Ob­sid­ian River 2; all mixed media, all 2015

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