Artist Spotlight: David Altmejd
David Altmejd’s work is hard to describe if you’ve never seen it, because there’s really nothing to compare it with. Altmejd’s (pronounced Alt-medg) work spans across many scales and materials. No matter the scale, the work is always based on an all-encompassing vessel, sometimes a figures head, whether human, animal or fantastical beast, or a large scale plexiglass vitrine, filled with micro-universes of details.
In one piece, a sculpture titled Les noix, (translates to nut or walnut) a male figure in giant scale is presented in a standing pose, mid-stride with flowers in one hand. Though the man is not a complete figure, one arm is missing, it doesn’t come across as a “scary” amputation, rather it’s replaced with a slew of other elements. The amputated arm has Resin green grapes slumped on the shoulder of the missing arm. Extra hands peek out of his hips and another from around his waist. This figure doesn’t seem to be missing an appendage, but have more appendages and more elements than needed. We start to notice clues as to how to decode this sculpture. A string of repeating ears flow down his neck, across his chest, providing the viewer with a gilded text font revealing the title of work.
His work can be encompassed as a portrait, an action or a story. However, they can also be admired on their pure creative and unyielding “anything goes” limitless boundaries. All handmade, Altmejd has no fear when it comes to incorporating new material or subject matter; anything can fit into his worlds.
In Altmejd’s larger scaled works, we often will find contained worlds in giant room scaled plexiglass vitrines. In The Flux and the Puddle, the viewer walks around the space, diving in and out of different worlds that overlap, some of which come across like scientific experiments of liquids frozen in motion pouring out of coconuts, and following long tendrils creating paths that lead and then merge into figures. As our eye scours over the seeming infiniteness, so too does the work mimic our eyes path. Colorful strings span between the rooms, as if to link one scene to the next, aiding our eyes to follow the story as it’s meant to be laid out. Though it may not be determined, or even the artist’s intention to lay out a linear story, one can create mythical fantastical ideas of the creation of figures, and social dynamics as if the liquids are a sort of life essence, pouring from a creator flowing and imbuing figures with characters full of life
No materials are out of the realm of usability with Altmejd. In another series, with a sculpture of heads, the artist hacks away as much as he adds to these busts, often verging on the horror show, but never with actual gore. Horror is not the intention, but rather a visceral reaction to decapitated and mutilated forms. But here in Eye, what would be a rather nasty hole in a head, actually reveals a geodesic array of crystals, adding more to a face than what’s been taken away. In a celebratory way, we can imagine what creativity, personality and energy this figure holds. Whether they were a real person or not, he’s making a portrait of, or if, through the making of this sculpture he has awoken a new person. Titled Eye, but lacking eyes, or even a place to have them, this work sucks our attention into its cavernous void and stares back blindly, imbuing more power over us than a nasty look could ever do.
I should mention that I had a deeply personal connection working for Altmejd in his studio over the course of three years. This was an incredible experience, as David would have up to 12 studio assistants at a time when working up to deadlines. What was most remarkable was his ability to maintain a “hand made by the artist look” to his work, which is very difficult to do when you have several makers in the room. Through a combination of distinct and almost poetic ethereal directions, David would arm us with logistics on how to deal with the type of material obstacles he would anticipate as we continued our tasks.
David understood that half the importance of the raw handmade look of his work was partly due to mistakes, or the will of materials over the intention of the artists. His guidance and willingness to allow some mistakes, mixed with his fearlessness of starting over completely equal a solid, indistinguishable Altmejd style. I’ve seen him work on pieces the size of rooms to finish, only then to decide it was just not working right for him, and instruct us to smash it up and toss in the dumpster. It was somewhat painful to see the work we put into a piece go into the trash, but it was that kind of intensity of decided faith in his absolutism that makes it certain that every work he enters into the world a is strong one.