Woody Stauffer: "I aim at exploring an interweaving variety of aesthetic expression within my sculptures that bind us to the earth and the eternal."

Written and Edited by Jes Reyes

Shedding Snake, Cast Bronze

Explore. Unearth. Discover. These are some words that come to mind when thinking of Fabled Mechanisms, Ae’s current group exhibition on view at The Southern Theater. Each artist from the show approaches the exhibition’s theme uniquely. Some immerse us into the roots of projected mythology while others invite us to engage with our past, present, and future selves. Woody Stauffer, a Featured Artist from Fabled Mechanisms, blends organics, myth, and machine in his artwork.

While peering onto the surface of Stauffer’s three-dimensional expressions, you look into his object’s inner workings, getting to know the structure on a deeper level. What transpires from this interaction is the recognition of history and personality in something that we might not necessarily attribute a self to, even if it is connected to one’s daily life.  “I believe this idea of appealing to the everyday comes from beginning my work in a grounded state and understanding of our current social world. We all communicate better when we focus on the environment we’re in, and what makes us want to create an object to include into that environment. But there’s also a historical element to my practice that pushes me to convey our mythic past, and connect us to it,” Stauffer explains. This approach is both a form in storytelling and investigation.

Stauffer offers us more in this interview on where his artistic motivations come from and why his work is so connected to our physical worlds:

Jes: Your artwork evokes mechanical yet natural environments. What is it that you are trying to investigate or explore within your structures/sculptures? Can you expand upon what you are aiming to communicate?

Woody: I aim at exploring an interweaving variety of aesthetic expression within my sculptures that bind us to the earth and the eternal. When I incorporate natural elements and organic material in my work its purposes are often to provide the underlying statement of the everlasting endurance of the earth. The dirt, the grasses, the rocks, the metals; The fortitude of these pure physical materials is something I find fascinating to think about. To frame my work with these materials provides that underlying tone and cradle of the infinite. With this ideology I have been partial to organic shapes and experimenting with organic aesthetics and concepts of decay, overgrowth, and cyclical mannerisms. I also enjoy presenting an audience with stark aesthetic contrast to heighten all of our awareness of our lives and our world. Another raw material that I highly enjoy working with is cast iron, which in itself as a material, can evoke a mechanical like nature. The activity of turning a metal into a liquid is a very visceral experience. The energy I feel when I’m participating in an iron pour motivates me to transfer that energy into a physical form much like how the sensation of live music also motivates me. There’s a wide spectrum of thoughts and emotions that one can feel when listening to music, and there is a part of me that wants to transfer that feeling into our 3-dimensional visual world. Music is a very calculated activity, which provides a great backdrop to contrast with the raw natural workings of our world. A mechanical, yet natural, basis of creation.

Iron Pendants, Cast Iron

When reviewing your artwork for exhibition, we were interested in how your work appeals to the everyday. What makes your work stand out in this sense though is the mythical elements you play with. What does play mean to you when creating your work? How do you want your artwork displayed?

I believe this idea of appealing to the everyday comes from beginning my work in a grounded state and understanding of our current social world. We all communicate better when we focus on the environment we’re in, and what makes us want to create an object to include into that environment. But there’s also a historical element to my practice that pushes me to convey our mythic past, and connect us to it. All of the stories, symbols, tales, relics, and beliefs that we have created in our history, and rallied around, is something that is increasingly subverted in our current culture. A lot of us only view ourselves as being American, but in reality, this human experience we are all in is akin to the experience of the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans, the Aztecs, and so on and so forth. Just because we are in the “Modern era” doesn’t set us apart from these civilizations, so I do believe some of my work can be labeled as “mythic” due to my beliefs of better connecting our environment to our ancestral mythic nature. These concepts that I go between I do enjoy playing with because I don’t believe that any one idea is an undeniable truth that we can’t tweak and explore. Playing with these thoughts in my head, and with my materials at hand, stretches me into areas that bring about the best contrast and best aesthetic to a piece. The fun of moving individual elements around and finding the best way to display a piece is an element of play for me. Sometimes I throw whatever is around me into a composition to see if it works with the other components of the piece, and to also visually sense the addition to see if I want to go further with what I throw in. Nothing is ever set in stone from beginning to end when I create, everything is changing to how I sense the piece is communicating as it is being assembled.

A Bird Bath Called Erosion, Limestone, Granite

There is also a sense to your work that seems to be process focused. Where do you start when you begin one of your pieces? What are the materials you use to create your work?

To simplify my beginning process to its very core, without talking a lot about concept, I initially begin with sensations that I either enjoy, despise, or what I find hauntingly inevitable within my experience. Within these wide ranging passions, barriers, and visions is where I find an idea for which I’d like to express through a newfound visual manner to make an impact. This often means the stretching, distorting, and combining of the basic physical properties/forms of the things that I’m thinking on. I have an appetite to go further and further within certain concepts to mix symbiotic relationships to find a physical representation that communicates the sensation that I’m after. We all have things we want to express, but we often can’t find the correct words to express that thought to justice. This process of combining various physical correlations to a given sensation is one of the ways I create. I love the word “Amalgamation” when describing a lot of my work. When creating, I often imagine my work melting itself together like a giant blob of ooze even though it might not even be close to the true physical realities of a blob. Some of my favorite materials to work with are metals, rocks, and various ventures into mold making. I believe it can be through my mold making that a lot of my work can be seen as being somewhat “processed” and created in a “focused manner” due to the processed though it takes to make a mold. The negative space is something you need to focus on, and I often take mold patterns from any object I find an aesthetic connection to.

Spinning Sparks, right after being poured

We are exhibiting three of your works in Fabled Mechanisms. One of them is Spinning Sparks which is created by many materials such as a record player. Please speak to the organic nature of this work. How did these materials come together to create the overall work?

Spinning Sparks came from my love of music. The piece’s organic, yet mechanical, distraught aesthetic comes from a visceral expression of emotion, much like what one would feel from a highly amplified song, which I’m trying to capture in a sculpture. Music is a platform that performers pour their soul into, so in my relation as a sculptor, I pour the earth’s blood of molten iron onto a record player. There weren’t really any concrete expectations for what would come out when I made this work. All I was going to do was to pour iron over the record player and then let it breathe and fluctuate. What came out in the end is the process of the near incineration and melting of the record player’s components.

Dragged by Chariot, Installation: Steel, Wood, Fabric, Glass, Cast Bronze, Plant Material

Where did your background in art begin?

It all began very early due to my family having a history of art minded individuals. My dad is a professional freelance photographer and my grandfather was a sculptor, glass blower, and art professor at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. My most significant memories with art that propelled me down this path was interacting with my grandfather’s sculpture filled lawn and going out fossil hunting in the Kansan prairie. The detail that can be discovered and preserved in the natural landscape is something very inspiring. The phenomena of fossilization and decay over time is something I want to explore more when I create as they are both inherent conclusions of our physical living world. Thinking about where my work will be in this world when I’m gone is something I’ve always liked to think about because it causes anxiety, yet also an unexplainable awe. My grandfather was a significant contributor for me going down this path. Being able to understand that it was a single man’s doing of grappling into existence these 3-dimensional figures of otherworldly stature definitely had an impact on me.

Pieces in Forefront, Woody at Fabled Mechanisms

As you move from project to project, how to you keep your creative spark?

I believe it is all about transitioning and building upon previous works and thinking on what all in the end you want to communicate with your work. Focusing on this aspect has brought to me what feels like an endless creative spark. Currently, I’m in the middle of expanding my art practice into a business by way of “Winged Snake Art & Garden.” Through this shift in mentality I have begun to explore all of the standard structures of garden accessories, and then creatively shifting them to expand on the possibilities of what all a garden can be.

What do you want your relationship to be with your local arts community?

I have a history of being part of one of the most inclusive and supportive arts community, which is the iron casting community. An iron pour needs many participants due to the countless number of jobs that need to be fulfilled, and this factor cultivates a very supportive community within the pour, and also away from the pour. This family of iron realize the importance of sharing new mold making strategies and techniques for us all to grow with the work that each individual is confronting. It’s a welcoming and continually beneficial group to be part of. I want to take this ideology to all of my other associated art communities. Artists helping artists realize their potential is one of the biggest things us as artists can do. I also would like to develop more connections with local businesses to propel art funding opportunities and exposure of local talent. Collaboration ideas are also always welcome.

Close up, Woody at Fabled Mechanisms

All images courtesy of the artist.

For more information on the artist, please follow Woody Sauffer’s website.

You can view artwork exhibiting in Fabled Mechanisms until May 31st, before or after performances at The Southern Theater or during limited public gallery hours on Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30 - 7:30 PM.