Jul 16, 2015

David Beck and Olympia Stone talk with KALX Berkeley

Excerpts of an interview recorded on 6.13.15 before the San Francisco screening of Curious Worlds at the SFDocFest (full interview below)

KALX interviewer: First let me tell you that 20 years ago I saw a piece by David in a museum in Washington DC. It was L’Opera and it was so amazing that my sister and I were both just transfixed by this. It was a scale model of an Opera but with people in it and performers, and they are moving, they are doing things (see a video about L'Opera).

I love dioramas, of all varieties. How did you get started?

David Beck: I used to start just doing drawings and flatwork, and there was a period of time when I couldn’t express what I wanted to do in two dimensions, so I started adding things to the drawings and paintings. And then it was how do you protect them and build an environment for them. So they ended up becoming like dioramas. Then I started thinking about the outside, so some became animals, some buildings. The Opera piece you mentioned was a sort of a culmination of that sort of work. And I included both lights and movement.

KALX interviewer: Does it take a while for you to build up enough pieces to actually have a show?

David Beck: Yes. In the older days when I was showing in New York at the Allan Stone Gallery, I would have a show almost every year, once a year, but it would be one piece. I would be with other artists, they would fill the walls and I would have a sort of a complicated piece.

KALX interviewer: Well, one enormous piece!

David Beck: …with a lot going on!

KALX interviewer: What the initial contact was about the idea of making a film, and how it developed in the course of making the film?

Olympia Stone: Because I’ve always loved David so much, I’ve always wanted to make a film about him. But I was very nervous to ask him and also how to make a film about somebody you admire so much, but without doing a hagiography. And also David is such a private person. I remember one of David’s comments when I showed him one of the rough cuts was that there was too much about him and not enough of the artwork. Which is funny because I feel you also need to get some of the maker, to make you wanna care about the artwork. But that was a fine balance, because David is private. Sometimes I asked him some questions and he said “No! We’re not gonna talk about that.” It was frustrating that we couldn’t include all these other incredible pieces that are equally amazing, but in a way that’s a wonderful problem to have. We need to do part 2 next!

KALX interviewer: Looking at your process and all the levels of detail that you finesse yourself—like creating your own hinges, you go well beyond what I thought someone would do to create a piece of art. That was eye opening.

David Beck: I remember having a show of the piece “Bandshell for a Myopic Orchestra” and I was approached by this woman and she asked me “Where do you buy all those little people?” (laughs)

Olympia Stone: One of the things I think people don’t understand it’s the stamina and what goes into each of these pieces. It’s totally mind-blowing. He made these incredible doors in The Elephant he is working on right now and it’s been taking months of experimentation. And the result is amazing.

KALX interviewer: The idea that everything is either bought of pre-fabricated… it seems more and more that people are "procuring" other than "making"…

David Beck: That’s OK. Appropriating images, or things like that, is a way of working. I "make" things because I enjoy it.

Olympia Stone: But then I would also say that the things you can do… that’s pretty rare. The fact that you really do make everything yourself, and you know all these kinds of different techniques that go into anyone project…

David Beck:  I taught myself or learned through various means just when I saw something that I couldn’t find at the hardware store… that… It would be better if I made it. I used to have these things like: “Oh, I remember seeing it at the hardware store. And I go to the hardware store and spend an hour and then realize it was a dream! And that I have to make it myself! (laughs)I used to go to this place in New York, a sort of a job lot, where they had everything—little springs, motors—and I was looking for this tiny motor and the guy goes: “What are you looking for?” I say, “I need a little motor”.  “What do you want it for?” I say, “I am making a piece of sculpture”. And he goes: “Oh, OK. I think I got a little motor. Right this way, Rembrandt!” (laughs)

KALX interviewer: Now you got to the end of the film. What are your feelings about it?

David Beck:  Do you remember the first time you heard your voice recorded? It’s jarring. Who is that guy? There is a disconnect. I kind of agreed to make the movie because I wanted to see some of my old pieces. (…) Especially “The Cow” (“Kowtowed in Bovineville”, see pics below). I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. It’s carved out of wood, it’s a little cow—it’s about 18” by 13” high—and there are different spaces that you can see into the interior of the cow itself through windows. The outside is elaborately carved and it’s also covered in clothes that are glued in—so when it was first made, boy that thing smelled great! But there is a texture there, I think a beautiful texture that has a sort of fetish look about it. It’s kind of about magic. In one side of the cow there is a round window and when you look inside it there is the parlor of magicians. They are all very, very tiny—maybe 3/4 of an inch tall—and they are all performing every trick I could imagine, levitation, sawing a guy in half… there is a guy hanging upside-down in a straight jacket… on the wall are portraits of Houdini. Then on the other side of the cow is actually a magic show where you push a button and there is a hand that’s holding a curtain, and when it rises up there is a little tiny magician who’s wearing a black tuxedo tie and tails, and then the hand comes back down to hide him, and when the hand comes back up again it’s turned into a skeleton. And then he goes back to a human —cheap stuff (laughs)





Cowtowed(skeleton)_Resized.jpegCowetowed (Mouth)_Resized.jpeg


Full interview: David&OlympiaInterviewKALX.m4a