Interview with Al Gorman
1. Can you explain your process of creating work?
My process is elaborate and combines working in the field at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, IN with occasional work from my home basement which is kind of a studio, but not really! I feel as though I can work anywhere and with anything at most anytime. My work can be physical and analog as well as nonmaterial and digital and exploring those differences and similarities is a part of my process too.
I am formally educated with two degrees in drawing. After grad school, however, the developing world wide environmental crisis required a different response by me as an artist. I simply could not draw a picture of the growing challenges that we will encounter and have it mean as much to me. I decided to return to nature and retrain myself as an artist by directly testing my creativity using the physical materials I find which includes some of the poorest manmade materials deposited by the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Many of the materials I work with have traveled hundreds of river miles to reach me cast upon the Falls riverbank where I photograph my finds and collect them in my various canvas bags. All have a previous history that often strikes me as absurd and poignant. I mostly work with Styrofoam, waste plastics, coal, glass, wood, and various other found materials.
To me, water is sacred and its cleanliness and ability to sustain life is an aesthetic concern. I also feel very strongly that the river needs to remain as much as possible, a key collaborator in my process. To do that, I try to respect the condition and forms of the materials that the river gives me. My work is not about overly exerting my will over my materials or the environment, but rather how can I include nature directly in effect forming an accommodation with my art? Nevertheless, the river’s ability to shape Styrofoam and something hard like coal is a marvel to me. The work I make on site begins with finding and collecting. From there it is a matter of seeing the possibilities in the various forms I find be it a hunk of Styrofoam or a spent cigarette lighter.
Ideas come from the form and type of materials I come in contact with. I can’t help but feel that much of what we need to do with nature is respect its processes and its ability to heal itself if given the chance. I am also a big believer in universal creativity. We are all born creative, however, most people sublimate this which gets expressed through consumerism. I find the evidence every time the Ohio River floods. I hope that my now 20 year process of working in this world recognized site will inspire others to interact with their own creativity. If people feel that they can make my art…they can. Encouraging others to engage their creativity leads to greater respect for life.
2. What is your studio like? Do you face obstacles outdoors?
I haven’t maintained a proper studio for many years now. That is due mostly to the fact that I prefer making and seeing my artworks out of doors. Yes, there are many obstacles to overcome in working in nature, but among the things I deal with are every vagary of weather. I’m out at the river when it’s over a 100 degrees or when it’s below zero too! Other hurdles include poison ivy, annoying insects, vandalism of my outdoor works, boards with nails in them…the list can go on. At home, my work area mostly houses my various river collections, potential materials, and pieces that I have made and exhibited previously. Working outdoors also provides some advantages too. For example, I never need to buy art materials…I recycle what I find. It’s healthier to be outside getting exercise and breathing in fresh air. I also personally feel my work is more relevant in this outdoor setting rather than the isolating context many galleries provide.
3. How do you go about getting work into shows? What kind of feedback do you get on your work?
It seems of late, the majority of the shows that I have participated in have been invitationals. Long ago I quit entering paid art contests that my entries subsidized. I still prefer seeing my work on the riverbank than in a gallery. More people are also finding me as a result of social media (particularly Instagram) and that has led to a few opportunities too. By now, many people particularly in Kentucky’s art world, have some familiarity with me and my activities and I have intersected with them in one way or another over 30 plus years. People generally have had good things to say about my art in person and in print and I have been lucky to attract a couple of good articles. I have had great comments on my blog and other social media outlets too. Having said this, it’s also hard to grow as an artist when you don’t get constructive criticism…in our area…that’s harder now than when I first got started as an exhibiting artist.
4. Do you ever sell your work?
Yes, I do sell work and it surprises me whenever it happens! The surprise, however, comes more over the nature of where I find my art materials and what they are made of which is still hard for me to accept and as a consequence…probably am selling this body of work shorter than I need to? At no time during my art career have I made my living solely upon the sale of my works.
5. If you could give your college self any advice, what would it be?
I’m not assuming that college back in my day is anything like it is today. I guess the general advice I would give myself is to soak it all in and try as hard as possible. School is one of those things that the more energy you put into it…the more you get back. I also would recommend as much travel as possible. See all the real art you can…reproductions are never good enough! There’s also a good chance that the work you are making now in school won’t look anything at all like the work you will make later. Be open to change.