What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
Man, I’ve been one of those guys my whole life, that when I needed something, I would build it. The go-kart was the first thing we built. I remember the rich kid got one from TSC, the farm store in Aberdeen. We were bummed, but we asked my dad anyways. He had eight kids, so there was no go-kart from the farm store. So we made it, just went around to the neighborhood. We got a lawn mower motor that was so loud and so slow. A piece of plywood, an old fishing boat seat… it was fantastic. A found object contraption. That was the first one, but I make everything.
Some day I’m going to have a party for artists in my garden. I’m one year away from my garden being cool, from where I want it. When I wanted an arbor, you know something to walk under… I’m a big strapping dude. You can get a birch wedding arbor, frilly, maybe a fake vine twisted in it. I can’t stick it in my yard; I could never walk under that. No way. If you go somewhere to buy one, it’s cheap crap. I don’t want vines and frilly, I just want a macho arbor. So, I went out and studied my house and looked around and drew a gigantic, macho steel and copper arbor. Then a second one followed for the front yard and then two gates that matched it. It’s just different. People trip out, they don’t know what a gate is, and they just go buy a gate. You would never make a gate, would you? Of course you would. The gates you go buy suck. Why would you buy a gate? I’m always thinking completely opposite. I make whatever I need. I get to go all over the world, too. I get to go to Turkey and see what they’re doing with their hands and their art and their tools. It’s a trip. Anywhere you can go, if you can go to Mexico or Canada or Iowa. It doesn’t really matter. You have to get out of your house or your art goes stagnant.
Did you go to school for art?
My last art class was in 8th grade; we had to draw our shoe. I thought art was stupid. I thought I don’t need this. I’m going to be a doctor. Big bucks. I had big plans–that all went to hell. By the time I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor I already had like three years of college under my belt, only two more left. I had biology, math, chemistry, physics… I had it so I just kept going with it. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I ended up becoming a bouncer right after college in Aberdeen. That’s where I met my wife. (Laughs) I checked her ID, checked her, and checked her again. I stayed there for a year. Then I worked at the state health department as a communicable disease specialist. I knew who was naughty or nice in 20 counties around Aberdeen. It was really interesting. I loved the job, and we helped tons of people out. I did public speaking. It was when AIDS first started, and I went to all the schools and places around the state. I did that for like five years, and then I started working on the res [reservation]. North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska. There’s ten in South Dakota if I remember right. My buddy is Native and he had a Native American owned office supply company and so we just worked in Aberdeen. There were like four office supply stores there, and they didn’t buy much. It was boring. It was like pencils, staples, a few things like that. On the res, at the casinos, they need 200 chairs… we got there just in time. Business was super fun. My buddy and I, we ran all over, tons of miles, got to know the res. No one ever gets to go out to the res in South Dakota. We don’t know anything about it. I knew more about Japan if I needed to ask someone intelligent questions. But now I know about the res and it was great. After that, five years I think, kind of like every five years I was changing, after that I had a tree business. I became an arborist, a tree expert. People would say, “I want to cut this tree down,” and I would say “oh, how about if we just trim it up? I’ll make it beautiful.” I just shaped these trees for aesthetic, but also for health. I wanted to make them look cool, and I knew how they were supposed to look. I was more of a pruner than a Mortician.
Then, finally, twelve years ago now, 9/11 came. My mom got a phone call, and it was Hassan from Turkey. He remembered her because she bought rugs from him right before 9/11, in Istanbul, and she bought a bunch. My mom has 17 kids; eight of her own and nine step children, so she bought us all a rug. Hassan, a good Turkish salesman, will never forget my mom’s name. She’s a good shopper. He calls and says, “I’m in Aberdeen.” She says “that’s impossible, what’s going on?” He says “business is dead in Turkey, no tourism because of 9/11, I’ve brought 200 rugs and I’m here. I want to show you, will you have a party?” She asks him what the sign says, and he’s in Aberdeen, MD. There’s only one Istanbul in Turkey, I’m sure. So, he did eventually travel the 1,500 miles, and I jumped on board with him. I was going to help him for one month. My tree business was kind of taken care of; I had some contracts lined up for my guys to do. I fell in love with the art of rugs. I sold my whole tree business, all my stuff. I took my money to Turkey with Hassan and started buying rugs. This is how it started. This is my story from college until now. I got through college; I got my degree–I tried, I learned some things. I could have gone either way with college. I’m all for anybody doing whatever you want, whenever you want to. It’s nice when someone will support you, too. My wife always had a job, so I could always be like “Tove, I’m just going to go for it again.”
What are you currently working on?
The Sushi Series. I started just thinking, I’m going to make fish. This one lures you in with this tail; she’s dangerous. These are really deep water fish. Really rare. When you get close, she just chomps you. (Laughing) A lot of these, when I’m making them, some I’ll put pairs or more together. They have to breed, so I’ll figure out a way to make it boy-girl somehow. A lot of the time I think about protection, like how do they survive? I took biology, so it seems so normal. It makes sense. There will be a few spikes—there’s a lot of creatures that are going to come up behind her. These are guitar strings; I have a huge fetish for these. This is a phonograph horn from a player. You have to change the light bulb too, so two of the teeth move. I love balance.
I didn’t know when I was going to tell this, but when you said you wanted to write a little story, and I figure why not announce it? Basically, I’m going to be doing the Sushi Series for the Pavilion. August or September of 2016. So right now I’m going to try to make about 50-70 fish. Deep-deep-deep water. No one has ever been down that far; everything is electrifying. Watch footage of Jacques Cousteau going way down in these tiny subs, it’s all these crazy creatures and structures. There are tons of new discoveries happening in my studio every day. I’m super excited about it. There will be plant life and fish hanging, swimming, crawling. Who knows?
(Showing another piece) This is one of my new fish. I’ll put all these away. You guys will see what I have tonight and then once I get them painted I’ll just put them in the basement and wait for the show and surprise everybody. But, after I got done with this one, I’m thinking, Man, that’s a beautiful fish. I need a school of fish. The same ones. So how do I find this 1940’s Kenmore vacuum? It’s impossible. (Laughing) But I’m on the search; I’m going to every vacuum place. Minneapolis, I’ll check out every place for vacuums.
I’ve also been making lots of tables. We design tables; we’ll make metal bases. Here again, biology. I do lots of vagina. I just sold a huge vagina table, it went to Minnesota. I’m not into angst. I’m not a little kid anymore, so I don’t have any of that. I’ve seen so many vaginas sewn up in art, and I think Why? What the hell? I’m so happy anytime I get close to one… I’m not going to close it up! Vaginas always sell. Do you know Hugo Sarmiento? He’s a dress designer, Mexican, gay… fantastic artist. He bought a 4′ vagina and said “This house needs a little more pussy in it.” I always try to give them nice names when I do them. Wallflower was one. They have secret names too. One was pretty hairy, with horns from some animal, but one of the girls here secretly named her “Sascrotch.” Fantastic.
When you look at most of my art, it’s kind of like I have two personalities. One is really clunky, and one is really sleek and space age. They kind of cross over, but most of the time I try to not use more than three pieces, or three different things. Everything I’m using is in front of everybody in every antique store. They’re all going right by it. So to me, if he wants to make this, it’s boring once you see it. The first car was phenomenal, unbelievable. Can you imagine? Now, it’s just cars. You’re just tweaking it. It’s not fascinating anymore. So that’s kind of my thing. To take things in front of everybody’s eye balls that I know we’re all seeing and I’ll twist them somehow a little different. We all are, we all see something different.
(Gesturing towards several pieces on display) These over here are all wooden pieces from Turkey. Kitchen bowls and the bottom table is a cart. These are potato ricers. I’ve got everyone’s potato ricer. If you have one in your drawer, you’re lucky. Hardly anyone does anymore. I have tons of them.
This is a wine box. As far as I’m concerned, once the wine is gone I don’t know why anyone keeps these boxes around. (Laughs) It’s silly. This one was in the Governor’s show last year, so it traveled around. So yeah, everybody thinks I’m really strange now. These were about the first kind I did-pendant lights. They’re wooden buckets from Turkey. Every now and then I’ll just do ten at a time. It’s a great exercise. They always change, you know? Squares, circles… I’ve discovered glass vials. Those are going to start popping out all over the place; I bought a lot of different sizes. My vials. I love the vials.
Are those vials antiques?
No, those are from Ax Man in Minneapolis. It’s a funky store, kind of like Macs but only groovy. Check this out. I’m carrying all these vials, what if I get stopped by the cop? The dude asked if I wanted the caps and I said no. The cops are going to think I’m selling cola, so I didn’t buy the caps. I don’t need the caps. The cop can’t get me on anything. So I have lots of different sizes of vials, thousands. I just discovered them two pieces ago. All of this is just so space age. That’s when I grew up, the 60’s and 70’s as a little kid.
Do you find that you go back to things from that era most? Taking things from your childhood?
Definitely. Jetsons, Dr. Suess. I was reading Dr. Suess this morning; He’s so cool. He is the best architect. He made the coolest stuff. You have to go back and revisit it now. Look at those buildings, they are such a trip. (In his studio) The baby heads, I have tons of them. I have lots of fun ideas with them, they’ll come out someday. But it has to be a good one. I don’t want to give up all of my baby heads. I don’t really know what else will come. As artists, all of us, do you guys ever find yourself awake at night and frustrated? I used to. I still wake up at night but I find it like, screw you insomnia, I’m just going to think about this piece and figure it out. Then I’ll run in here in the morning as early as I can.
When you fall in love with a piece you think, I’m never going to sell this, I love it so much. But then you’ve gone another piece into it and you forget it and someone takes it and you’re happy. There’s nothing like more flattering than selling something, is there? It’s so cool when someone digs something that much.
Especially when it’s something that you really love, that you don’t want to get rid of.
You start interviewing them, seeing if they’re cool enough, wishing you would have said a little higher price. We’re just like dogs. Try to teach two dogs to share some time. They can’t. It’s hard for us too. I always want that last piece of pizza. We’re all trained to leave it there, everyone kind of glancing sideways. If I was with you guys I would say I’m a big guy, they know I get it no question. (Laughs) That just rules; it trumps everything for a long time.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Reggae is the number one, probably folk Americana after that. Austin, TX, not Nashville…that kind of country. I like everything though, I dig so much, but that’s really it. For a while, I definitely had the biggest reggae collection in South Dakota. (Laughing) That’s nothing to brag about, is it? Everybody has like three CD’s, greatest hits or something. Back when we all had albums, I lived in Minneapolis, and the Electric Fetus was there. Dang. What a great place to learn about music. It’s groovy. You just feel cool in that place.
What do you think about the art scene in Sioux Falls?
You know, there’s two different ones. I dig the one that I’m in, and that all you guys are in. Everybody is just cool and groovy and accommodating and accepting. If I see anyone, I want to see what they’re doing. No one asks what your education is before they see you or tell you whether or not they like your piece. When I first came to Sioux Falls I met the other group first, and they’re mostly older. It was trippy. There was no way that anything at Rug and Relic had any relevance to these people it seemed. I just thought damn is this a stuffy place. Then I started meeting all the groovy people and it was really nice. I think there’s definitely not enough wall space, like not even close. Even for us, I have a rug store, and I sell really funky, weird sculptures. I don’t sell pheasants. It’s tough around here; a lot of people haven’t accepted that kind of thing yet. Cabela’s has all the pictures that you need, already framed. You can do your whole house, get the kid. Buy two of each. That part is hard. Even if I have my pieces somewhere it’s still really hard and I think damn, this is going to be way more fun if I don’t have to box up a ton of my stuff and leave it here and hope it sells on the internet. So, what we’ve been doing is thinking, okay what can we do? We’re trying to find shows or galleries or a juried show somewhere, wherever it is in the county, that pertains to me or Laura or Jamie or whomever. Just try to start sending them to these places and have a little fun. One show was in Maryland, but you need to send it five years in a row to Maryland and then someone is going to go, “oh, that’s that dude again. We’re going to get that.” Me sending it one time isn’t going to work. Even in South Dakota, like a juried show, the state ones, we’ve been applying to those. Some of us get in, some of us don’t, and each time it’s different. But it’s fun! I don’t gamble, but it’s the same feeling for an artist. We’re just trying to get a little bit more organized. Try to break out of Sioux Falls a little bit more, which is really hard. Who knows? I think the art scene, as far as the camaraderie, is super fun, and the talent is unbelievable. So much talent; everybody has their groove and people are so cool to each other. That’s the nicest, just human nature again. If someone isn’t nice to you, damn, it hurts. That sticks with you a lot longer. We’re all in the same boat. We all have our thing.