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The Makers

Meet four interdisciplinary artists who surprise and inspire with their innovative creations.

The Natural | Jack Sanders

It was Samuel Mockbee, co-creator of the Rural Studio design-build program at Auburn University, who first told a young Jack Sanders that architecture was the mother of the arts.

It was an all-encompassing philosophy that inspired Sanders, founder of Austin’s Design Build Adventure, to see architecture as a limitless backdrop for what he calls “the good things in life;” things like listening to music around a campfire, making art with friends, and barbequing on the back porch. And since 2005, Sanders and his design-build team have worked to create innovative frameworks for a wide range of artistic pursuits, be it devising campsites for Voodoo Fest or hosting hands-on camps for metalwork and furniture making. But Sanders also channels his creative impulses into personal works of art—sketches, collages, and prints, or what he calls ‘adventures on paper.’

“It’s never been about one certain medium for me,” Sanders says. “It’s the creative, collaborative process that is thrilling—in all mediums.” Last year in between Design Build Adventure projects, Sanders scheduled time during the slow-rolling evenings of a stay in Marfa to simply “sit down and make art.” So, armed with a supply of Modelo and his favorite El Pollo Rico tacos, he created a series of prints inspired by Marfa’s vast night skies. He started with detailed sketches of the stars, before having the “light bulb” idea to print a tortilla on inked linoleum cuts, resulting in what looked like a dreamy-blue desert moon.

“To me, there’s place connected to that,” Sanders says about the unique series, entitled “Far Out,” which was exhibited along with one of Sanders’ tetrahedron sculptures this June at Dallas’ RE Gallery. “There’s culture, there’s Mexico and Texas, the food I love, and that mysterious night sky… It’s wrapped up in all the things I love.”

And seeing as Sanders’ creative influences include everything under the moon, inspiration can hit at any moment and tends to have a cross-pollinating effect on his collaborative design-build endeavors. His celestial sketches were tied in part to the El Cosmimosa installation, a kinetic mobile made of street sweeper brushes Sanders found at the Marfa city dump, which he and his teammates created for this year’s Trans-Pecos Music Festival.

“It just has to be intriguing,” Sanders says about deciding on his next adventure, whether it’s a collaborative design-build project or a solo art series. “But it also has to feel like it’s a little too much or a little too outside of our realm…It has to feel like something that’s pushing me and the team further than we’ve been before.” But aside from constantly treading new territory, Sanders says the best part of his artistic process will always be the collaborative dialogue he enjoys with his team, clients, and other creative professionals. “I’m so thrilled when people call me and tell me about their dreams,” he says.

So, inevitably, people will keep dreaming. And Sanders’ creative realm will just keep growing.

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The Equalizer | Megan Carney

Fine art photography and woodworking might seem like an odd pairing at first. But for Megan Carney, who opened her design shop Hat Trick Woodworking in 2011, it always seemed to make sense.

A self-professed “serial hobbyist,” Carney began exploring an interdisciplinary practice while studying photography at St. Edwards University in 2006, finding inspiration in a current contemporary photography trend to “photograph things you’ve personally created in comparison to a more historical trend of capturing the moment.” The impetus to experiment with handmade objects for the sake of photography eventually led to a passionate pursuit of sculpture, which seemed to satisfy Carney’s urge to work with her hands. So after graduating, she enrolled in woodworking classes at Austin Community College, teaching herself how to use new tools and techniques on weekends by repeated processes of trial and error.

She attests to losing herself in woodworking, just like her other lifelong hobbies and interests (what she refers to as things she “gets weird about”), which act as juggernauts of inspiration that come from a variety of unexpected places, from graphic designers to the Summer Olympics. Whatever “it” is, Carney says her inspirations will begin as an initial magnetic curiosity (whether it’s the meticulous order and design of the Heaven’s Gate cult or international soccer jerseys), and quickly evolves into a tangential design focus. For example, she recently began collecting old Olympics ticket stubs (“little time capsules of design”) and immediately found their influence seeping into her work, specifically her latest line of woodwork accessories. The eccentric series, (“almost overly designed but still utilitarian”), with splattered paint accents and colorful gradients, was inspired, she says, by the neon colors and bold patterns of the LA ’84 Olympics. It’s an eye-catching series that showcases Carney’s adept ability to envision her handmade objects first and foremost as the subjects of a photograph. And her juxtaposed approach results in an odd, but organically-balanced aesthetic.

It’s also a process that successfully slakes Carney’s opposing artistic impulses. Woodworking satisfies a more tangible impulse of her creativity, which is comforted by the solidity and mathematical certainty of the art form. (“I love visual progress,” Carney says. “I love to mow lawns. I love to physically see what I’ve accomplished as I work.”) On the other hand, her photography allows her to express a wilder, uninhibited side. (“I feel out of control in a really great way when I create art,” she says.)

And with the fusion of her two, now honed, disciplines, Carney feels she has achieved a more balanced artistic status in which she has figured out when to be patient and methodical and when to ease off and have faith in the unknown. “I’ve learned to leave a little wiggle room in my work, whether in my photos or woodwork,” Carney says. “That’s when great stuff comes out.”

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The Moment Maker | Andy Rihn

It’s difficult to categorize Andy Rihn’s work at first glance for the simple reason that it’s always changing. The San Antonio native, who works out of East Austin’s Monofonus studios, has a chameleon’s flair for creating art that complements uniquely different canvases, whether it’s designing abstract furniture pieces for a contemporary gallery exhibit or coordinating eccentric outdoor happenings in the West Texas desert.

And his flexible sensibility can be seen most clearly in the latter, like his 2011 opus, Texas’ Longest Hammer Choir, which originally occurred at high noon on a windy day in the middle of a dirt farm just outside of Austin. The “psychedelic worksong, film, and denim-heavy installation” starred almost 200 chorus members, striking matching pairs of hammers together as a denim-covered, armadillo-shaped cart (filming the choir and playing a haunting melody entitled “Prelude to the All Night Dustbowl”), wound through 50-foot piles of assorted dirt and rubble.

It was an admittedly strange and uniquely Texas happening that Rihn pulled off with a grant from The Idea Fund and has since reintroduced to different venues and event spaces, including the Marfa Trans-Pecos Music Festival and its final exhibition at MASS Gallery in September (featuring the original film and 1,500 square feet of various deconstructed denim installations) in conjunction with the 2013 Texas Biennial.

“I’ve realized how much I like theater,” Rihn says about his epically proportioned compositions, which blend textiles, wood, metalwork, and plenty of surreal imagery. “I like making something for a specific time and place, so people are looking at art, listening to music, but no matter what, experiencing the moment.”

And when an idea or specific material inspires him, whether it’s pre-Eliminator ZZ Top or uncut limestone, it acts as a tuning fork that reverberates throughout his various forms of expression (woodwork, metalwork, mixed-media collages, large-scale textile fabrications, and 3-D models) both in and out of traditional gallery spaces.

But in between major productions like the Hammer Choir, Rihn focuses on his expanding line of furniture designs, along with additional commissioned woodwork projects. And while his same artistic impulses (surreal, absurd, and with a little grittiness thrown in) are at play in his small-scale designs, the personality of the materials themselves take center stage, like the rough-milled cedar and oak furniture designs he exhibits at galleries, like 1117 Garland in San Antonio, or the individual accent pieces (like steel and cedar shelves and louvered limestone light fixtures) he sells during the annual East Austin Studio Tour. “I want to celebrate the organic materials I fall in love with, but also show something that’s beautiful but also absurd or funny in some way to me,” Rihn says, whether it’s a pair of “invisible jeans” displayed on the walls of MASS Gallery or a juxtaposition of steel and limestone in a handmade recliner.

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The Collaborator | Norma Yancey

Architects often don several hats over the course of their careers, but 29-year-old Norma Yancey doesn’t shy away from the diverse job description. She leans in.

After receiving her Masters of Architecture from Washington University in 2009, Yancey moved to Austin, where she has spent the last few years working under local architecture and design pioneers Emily Little and Paul Clayton. But she has also dedicated herself to a variety of “artistic overlaps,” specifically, mixed media sculptures and public art collaborations. The most notable recent example being THIRST, a 38-foot-tall dead cedar elm tree that has hovered in a suspended, lifeless-white state just above the surface of Lady Bird Lake since September as a memorial to the 300 million trees lost in the Texas drought. The innovative installation, accompanied by a meditative trail of 14,000 Tibetan prayer flags, was a collaborative effort (on display until Dec. 20) between Yancey, Emily Little, visual artist Beili Liu, and landscape architect Cassie Bergstrom, in conjunction with Women + Their Work and an “Artistic Innovation and Collaboration” grant from the Rauschenberg Foundation.

Yancey, a “6/7th architect” (Her seventh and final certification exam is scheduled for December), dabbled in metalwork and minored in sculpture at Baylor University, but never seriously considered exploring different disciplines until arriving in Austin, when opportunities beyond her drafting table suddenly seemed to materialize.

Yancey first collaborated with Emily Little in 2011, along with a local percussion ensemble, for Seeing Times Are Not Hidden, an award-winning installation consisting of a melodic array of glass, steel, and wooden chimes suspended underneath the Waller Creek Bridge. The cross-disciplinary experience lit a fire within Yancey, which she quickly began to stoke with the creation of new mixed media sculptures and collaborations with artists, like Travis Weller, a local composer with whom Yancey constructed an experimental instrument, Skiff, as part of Austin New Music Co-ops’ 2012 “Vessel” series.

“There’s just so much work to be done,” Yancey says about Austin’s rapid growth and her subsequent workload at Clayton + Little. “But having the time to step away for art gives my mind the freedom to run wild and ultimately be a better problem solver without having to stop creating.” So instead of implementing a one-woman blueprint in all areas of her work, Yancey prefers to explore theoretical approaches by aligning herself with other passionate artists, whether they’re filmmakers or lighting designers, arborists or violinists. “Everyone wants to be the Renaissance man,” Yancey says about her reliance on cross-disciplinary collaboration. “But I’ve come to realize that I want to have the Renaissance team.” And it’s in pieces like THIRST, which inhabit that dynamic, tenuous space in overlapping art forms, where Yancey especially thrives.

Next on her agenda? An ambitious collaboration with a physicist for a large gallery installation depicting the choreography of gravity and human movement. It’s another entirely different world for Yancey to explore, but she’s already itching to arrive.

Credits

The images in this series were created by Loren Doyen and Adrian Whipp, the husband-and-wife team behind Lumiere Tintype, who create tintype images in their mobile photobooth using traditional 19th century techniques. An intersection of science and art, the couple explains that the process is “an alchemy that requires us to slow down and return to the very roots of photography.” Learn more and book an appointment at lumieretintype.com.

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