Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 Studio Visits: Oliver Sanchez
Giant stellated dodecahedron for R and R Studio’s ‘Peace Show’ in Denver.
In conjunction with recent collaborations between Thomas Hollingworth, Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 (Magazine pg. 100), Modern Luxury (Miami) and NO MAD Paper, which feature Miami’s cultural highlights, ARTLURKER is presenting studio visits of select Miami based contemporary artists. Running concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach the aim of these features is to venerate the cities native artistic wealth and honor those who continue to make Miami what it is.
A New York art scene veteran, Oliver Sanchez now lives and works in Miami. In addition to his personal projects which range from large canvases to quirky sculptures and performance events he is also chief fabricator and installation technician for many of the Miami’s top artists, galleries, collections and Museums.
Oliver, your studio is famous in Miami and yet you take little credit for all the work that you do, why?
I am a ghost artist. Politicians have people who write their scripts and they deliver them. I make people’s art.
Oliver Sanchez’s Design District studio.
What about your own work and your own contributions to shows?
When I didn’t know any better I went to school for architecture; in architecture the first thing you are taught is to ask lots of questions, really get to know your client. Because its’ not what you want, at least initially, its what they want. Its an applied art, you are solving a need whether its for an individual or a whole city. And the drafting and the craftsman ship, well, it’s always been there, but believe it or not I grew up without a hammer. There wasn’t a hammer in the house. There was no male role model and compounded by the fact that I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded great artists all my life, starting with my brother. So I just figured how can I contribute to something great, make it better maybe, and get something in return obviously, you get the inspiration and all. So, you know, your surrounded by great painters, do you want make more paintings? No, you want to make great frames for the great paintings. Don’t even go there. Do your own thing. And I have always thought in a three dimensional realm.
The role that you fill is pretty essential to Miami art. How did you come to occupy this niche?
It’s like coincidence and coincidence is fate. I didn’t set out to be a fabricator. I didn’t set out to solve other people’s… their dreams became my realities. It’s a practical thing, the art of necessity really. And people, they put value on that; they want something done, they want it for less. I always begin with the end in mind and then start deconstructing ideas and then set about to actually realize them. Lately its been weird because you have these artists coming out of art school being told that the sky is the limit, which it is, but you start up there and then you start whittling yourself back down to earth. And it’s unfortunate when artists, for whatever reason, remove themselves from the process by focusing on just the theoretical part with this impetus that anything is possible, the museums will provide the money and this and that but for God’s sake, the kids are just out of school, where’s the humility? If they start out with huge bronzes where are they going to go from there? What are they going to do when they’re forty? Luckily, not everybody can afford to make giant bronzes because we would be stuck with a load of lousy giant bronzes.
Oliver Sanchez’s Design District studio as seen through The Bordello Bodega.
So you have always embraced the fiscal element to art production and prospered by making work for other people, but you do nonetheless make your own work. You are currently having an open studio, running the infamous Bordello Bodega and showing in a show curated by Harold Golan entitled Kaiju Monster Invasion Miami Beach, at Art Center of South Florida.
When people set out to participate in an economy whether it’s the arts industry, the local arts community at large or the world industry let’s say, they have to make decisions, consciously or not, particularly where to capitalize. Do you capitalize on yourself, do you capitalize on one aspect of yourself? It’s a nice word for whoring. You need to make those choices. Sometimes they are made for you. I have chosen, almost not even intentionally, but I don’t really capitalize on my own personal work, probably because I cant get a show for the life of me, but mostly because I have been able to keep it free of those anxieties and pressures. Not that I didn’t sell, in the early 80’s in the east village pretty much everything my brother and I made sold, but then it kind of stopped. In regard to three dimensional works; they just take up room after a while. Paintings are great, you just pile them up, and even drawings on paper can become tonnage. I mean I’ve got boxes and boxes of drawings and they become quite something.
You are lucky in a way to be able to solely make work, even if it is mostly other peoples.
Artists have got to pay the rent like everybody else. You find ways. You could be an out of work waiter doing television. One thing I know from talking to people is that they make their moves cautiously. There is some prescribed behavior. If you want a show at a certain gallery, for example, you aren’t going to go there and solicit installation work. That pretty much kills it. Sometimes I wonder why the local arts people recognize me as one thing, like you said, they identify you with something, they pigeon hole you as something, they’re happy with that and there it remains. And certainly if you don’t generate any work of your own, and I rarely have time to generate work of my own, then you get labeled. That’s why I was doing these things, these were a painting a day. You know, I carved out the ten days and said OK I’ll do that. It’s a joy, it’s a hobby. Some guys go fishing, I go painting. And partly because it’s just a great process, canvas, paint. You know, if I could grow old doing watercolors and selling them for lots of money that would be great. I don’t know how long I can keep doing these mega things and all the art hazards that come along with them. As much as I love it, the carpentry and all the plastics and epoxies and such… But in terms of the individual deciding which part of themselves do they want to capitalize on, that’s a personal question. Oftentimes it’s chosen for you by circumstance. There’s no shortage of talent out there.
But here’s the breakdown. There have been brief periods of time, economically where there’s exceptions but for the most part, in moderns times, there is a market for the 50 dollar painting. You got o the coconut grove fair or the one on the beach and you get that stuff. People spend their 50 bucks and they get their reproduction Rauschenberg or a laser print on canvas and then you’ve got the 50,000 dollar market, the blue chip. It’s a vested interest, there’s a market for that and there always will be. But the 5000 dollar painting, good luck. Because that’s very dependent on the nuevo riche, the collectors, the mindset of you average working person. You know we almost saw it here, you know, the bubble. The nuevo collectors, we love them, and we need them, but it kind of evaporates. In this culture there’s a trade off in the pursuit of money. You got to pay your bills, you want nice stuff and then you manage to accomplish that to whatever degree, but what’s the trade off? The trade off is that sometimes to forfeit a certain type of culture, a certain familiarity with culture in all its incarnations so that an individual might be successful in business. Lawyers and what not, they come down here and they say “man, your lifestyle! God, its just so cool” they come here in their suits and they’re like “you don’t know what its like for me” and they think its all anything goes Bohemia (and it is) but its not because I look at them with their material gains and comfort that goes with that and sometimes I wouldn’t mind just having a corner office and clean clothes, wear socks.
But art has great value too. Didn’t you buy your house with the proceeds from an auction?
In the past I have used Keith Harring art works given to me for Christmas and stuff for emergencies, medical bills and such, and when I asked him if it was OK he said “that’s why I gave it to you”. More recently with all that madness in Tallahassee with Jed Bush and insurance you could lose your house, and we would have lost our house if we hadn’t sold some work. But not everybody has stuff like that and people have lost their homes and will continue to struggle with out of control debt. It took us a year but no problem. We called a friend at Christies, hit the auctions just at the right time and paid off the fucking mortgage, which is just chicken shit to somebody else, not like the huge crazy amounts that people owe today. Today people are buying houses for 5 or six hundred thousand. How the hell are they going to get out of that hole? All that pressure, it’s the ball and chain. Afterward, all of a sudden, I realize I’ve been walking around with this dark cloud over my head. First of all I never thought I would even ever own a home, or a yacht, I don’t own a yacht, don’t want one, but you know, those things were not in my realm of… they just weren’t. So, dreams come true even when you don’t dream them. So all of a sudden this debt thing is gone and man, it was like a dark cloud was lifted. Nothing changed, its not like winning the lotto, you’ve still got to go to work everyday and do everything the same, but this low gray drain that is so pervasive. It turns people into gray matangos, so I am thankful everyday. Artists often trade and artists who are rising stars trade with other rising stars and it’s good. It’s good to have other people’s work.
People come, drink coffee and go seemingly as they please and roosters and birds fly in, out and around with wanton. Would you say that there was order here in your studio?
Yeah, it’s structured. There’s no proper business model for this, and its not a business, I am the business and in the most part I am the art. Oftentimes I don’t even have art; I am the art. The artist lives the example, the model, the face, I think artists have that in their definition. You know, the Hollywood, the celebrity thing, the example, you become to others. But with that comes a lot of misconceptions, and I would just as well let them stand. Like I said, people come to the studio and they think this is just like anything goes, but its not, there’s a structure, you try to keep some semblance of working hours. Its not just Bohemia unchanneled. And you can make a living in the art industry; there are many niches. Lately the prospects are not great, especially for fine art painter, but if you have a good command of auto cad you can do something with that, or if you apply yourself to fashion, industry, graphic design etc. And you work out of your kitchen. I didn’t have my own place until I was forty years old. Economics[.]
In spite of his modesty or indifference to furor, Oliver is in fact involved in a number of great events this week. From now until Sunday his Design District studio (3821 NE 1st Court, Miami – Directly opposite Design Miami) will be home to The Bordello Bodega, a charitable Cuban style neighborhood convenience store with a hospitality club theme laced with a unique Latin Manhattan flavor. Over on Miami Beach, Oliver is exhibiting work in Kaiju Monster Invasion Miami Beach. Curated by Miami’s lowbrow renaissance man Harold Golan, the exhibition will take place at Art Center of South Florida (800 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach). Oliver Sanchez also runs Swampstyle, a popular pointedly political online soapbox.
For more information please visit: www.swampstyle.blogspot.com