I met Auguste Garufi 10 years ago at his studio in New York. If you visit his studio, you are certain to be impressed with his extensive body of work on display. His living legacy, currently an estimated 10,000 works of art, is diverse yet interconnected with one concept building upon another. Garufi creates art as a vehicle to explore the existence of relationships within the world. Motivated by the creative journey, rather than simply creating products, the space in-between the initial idea and the final piece is most valuable to him, providing understanding and knowledge. While his works are aesthetically beautiful and interesting on the surface, the artwork offers deeper revelations for the observer. Since our initial meeting, it has been fascinating to see how his work has evolved and the new media introduced each year. Suffering a substantial loss of equipment and work during Hurricane Sandy, this destruction provided Auguste Garufi with opportunities for reflection and discovery resulting in the revival of existing works and new concepts. With a new simplicity and focus to his work, he is creating his most complex and best work to date. Read the interview with New York contemporary multi media artist Auguste Garufi for an overview of his current work and focus for 2016.
Link to Auguste Garufi’s Gallery
A Conversation with Auguste Garufi, New York Contemporary Multi Media Artist
TL: What is your first memory of being inspired to create art?
AG: When I was in grade school, I used to build models to explore what I was studying. That building process is still very relevant to how I create art today. I never thought of myself as an artist who creates artwork or designs products. Whatever materials or process I was involved in was simply motivated by a method or vehicle for me to explore the world through every sense: physically, emotionally, and philosophically. The physical model creates a gateway to enter into that space or concept as an observer.
TL: Working with a variety of mediums and applications from paintings to sculptures and poetry, is there a basic guiding principle that inspires you throughout your series of work?
AG: I have always been drawn to unfinished works, such as the Michelangelo’s unfinished Rondanini Pietà 1552-1564, both ancient and modern, parts finished and unfinished. You can see the exceptional quality of the work and the purposeful direction that each move of the chisel made in the process. Each tool provided a different degree of finish, quality, and beauty, and the process is visible in this unfinished work. Seeing this quality and fluidity in the process is really beautiful. I am not in a race hacking away to get to a finished product. I have to trust that every touch and phase of the work process has purpose and clarity.
TL: Can you tell me a little about the Woodstock Art Colony where you spent your 2015 summer as an Artist in Residence? What projects and techniques did you focus on there? Are you working alone or do you have an assistant?
AG: The Artist in Residence program at the Byrdcliffe Art Colony in Woodstock, NY is supported by a grant assisting artists affected by Hurricane Sandy. Located within in the Catskills Mountains, the art colony provides a place, a refuge for artists of different mediums to come together in a peaceful environment to live, rest, communicate quietly and casually with other artists while exploring their craft. The program invites 15 artists, 4 times a year, including visual artists, composures, writers, and ceramists. I avoided applying originally because I thought it would be a factory, but I really enjoyed my time there. There was a really nice spirit.
While there, I continued working on a lifelong project, in its third year of development, creating vessels. These sculptures are made from 25 lb. clay blocks with carved interiors, keeping the integrity of the exterior, then cast in iron. My goal is to produce 100 per year and a total of 1000 pieces over my lifetime. I dream of having them displayed in groupings or possibly a linear outdoor installation, maybe in the Southwest desert. However, this is a costly project, a USD $2.5 million life project with materials costing USD $2,500.00 per piece. A series of 9 clay blocks cast in iron were completed. I have an assistant for this large-scale project, but mostly I work alone. I carve the vessels myself, as the result should be a reflection of my relationship with each block, my movements, my mistakes.
I also worked with sheets of lead, engraved with my poetry, which is physically tough work with engraving requiring one hour per line. I have always written poetry, but I am just now realizing ways to incorporate it into my work. I started exploring some ideas of layering these lead sheets with paper hangings where the text is somewhat hidden.
TL: Can you tell me a little about the Flower Petal Series titled “you will end where you end in silent space do not reject the gift of the earth”? How were the materials selected for this series?
AG: The petals are made from Japanese Kozo fiber from the mulberry tree. There is no specific connection with Japan, although maybe subconsciously selected as I spent some time there. I used this paper fiber originally to make vessels due to its strength. I started making the petals over 15 years ago, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the petals, so I set them aside and trusted they would reveal themselves when the time was right. Before Hurricane Sandy, I had been working on the idea of plasters and papers, but I didn’t have the references right. A bucket of petals tipped over into the water during Hurricane Sandy, which changed the composition of the original pieces. Some of the canvases were also victim to water damage giving them a completely straight water line, which was really interesting. I decided to combine the two by sewing the petals into the canvases, and it just made sense. A new form, a quiet piece created from what initially appeared to be ruined. The work reminds me sometimes of the spring blossoms that cover the ground in New York after a rain shower. This was not intentional, but maybe part of my subconscious. Now, I am exploring the connection of these paper pieces and hangings with the lead sheets engraved with my poetry. The sheets of lead are very delicate with a beautiful texture like leather. I am seeing more connections in this layering process, and I am looking forward to exploring these in more depth.
TL: The 2015 Simon Miller Collaboration exhibit included your poetry displayed in a typographical display of salt as well as relief painted muslin panels. Can you tell me a little about this installation and how did you hope visitors would interact with the installation?
AG: I have always liked the idea of installation work because a whole unique form and experience is created when the installation interacts with the elements of that specific context. The Simon Miller event was a 1-day event, and I had a limited amount of time to set up the installation which would be live only for a few hours, some of the work, such as the poetry in salt on the floor, very temporary. It really came to life and became more beautiful, real, and alive when all the elements of the show were there. The people, press, and models became part of the installation and completed the work. There is so much more energy in a live installation opposed to a gallery, and this was really special to observe. The two installation pieces, both individually strong and beautiful really worked together in the space. I hope to do more collaborative installation work like this.
TL: What have you learned about creating art that you did not expect?
AG: I didn’t expect anything, but at the same time expected everything. I am continually surprised and learn from my work in unexpected ways. Understanding it is a bit like a dream out of context and out of scale. I believe that life is like an oracle. We have all the information present and available to us, but we can’t process it all at the same time and or at the same pace. We need to go through the process of solving problems and reflection to understand it.
TL: How would you describe your body of work?
AG: My work is varied, but linked. I have arrived with a new clarity to see how these pieces created over time actually come together with a new level of maturity. You have to spend time with my work. It only tells you what you give yourself time to discover.
TL: What will you be focusing on in 2016?
AG: I started off the year with a solo exhibit titled “the imperfect being possibility” in a private space in NYC called Project: ARTspace. The show was not curated by an art authority, but rather by myself, a first for me and really exciting. I showed various phases of my work layered together, and it was interesting to see the transition and connection between the pieces. New Yorkers simply interested in art attended, and that was great and real. The success of the show gave me a lot of positive energy.
I’m now revisiting the work started last summer, specifically the paper petals and lead sheets and looking at their relationship to other pieces in my collection. I also want to look at long-term opportunities for a more permanent place to exhibit a collection of my work. I would love to find a living space for my work where it can continue to evolve and reveal itself.
Link to Auguste Garufi’s Gallery
Headline Photograph, “Auguste Garufi working at Byrdcliffe Colony, Woodstock NY”, Photography Credit: Loreal Prystaj; additional photography by Auguste Garufi
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