Learning Library Segments
Hank WaddellPrimary Use of Medium: Sculpture With Wood and Foam
Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove
Interview Location:This interview takes place in the rather large studio of Hank Waddell surrounded by many tools, sawdust, and sculptures of wood and foam in various stages of completion.
Interview Date: 9.23.2008
Writer: Dawn Winter
What Type Of Artist Do You See Yourself As?
When beginning his career as a sculptor, Hank felt as if he was an "outsider, a non-academic and as a folk artist". However, as time progresses, he feels he has "gained acceptance, even though the source (himself) of his art is the same". He believes his "end product is different and more sophisticated" and attributes this to continuing his education and maturing with time as an artist.
How Did You Get Here?
Growing up, Hank surrounded himself with tools spending time outdoors continually building tree houses in the woods behind his home. As a child, he was not allowed to attend art classes and was encouraged towards other more stable sources of income. Eventually, he owned his own construction company for 34 years. Ironically, Hank said while reflecting back to this time period, employees within the construction company saw his artistic talent and potential, however he did not. There came a day when he attended a meeting on behalf of his business partner. It was at this meeting when he met Tom Wheeler (an artist) and eventually Hank came to be his associate. In 2001, on the day after his daughter's college graduation, he said he "went to art time". Now, when examining his career, he asks himself questions such as "how did I get here" and recognizes that "now that I am here I sees its (the making of sculptures) not a choice, but it's who I am."
Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
Hank's inspiration "comes from a time when he never thought about art". He grew up "in an out of control city" (Houston) that was growing very quickly. During this time, the land behind his home was clear cut. The land "was my hiding place, my escape." He learned the construction trade because of this forest. Hank learned to listen to the trees because of this forest. Regarding his work as a sculptor he feels he "resurrects dead trees to a new life and gives them a new life." Hank commented that occasionally when viewing Hank's work, "people don't realize it's a painted tree." Hank's hope is for people "to be pulled in and to ask questions" such as "What have we done to nature? Why was this done? What does this mean?"
"The trees give me the answers. Some pieces are simple. Some take 2 or 3 years."
"Oh man, that's a hard one" laughed Hank when asked to describe his work. "I can talk about the process.. but describing his work is easier by explaining what it means to Hank. He explains that his "work is something to do with man's connection to nature, his existence, the unforeseen, the unpredictability and the ramifications of the need for more. More from the planet, to destroy and to gain what he thinks is important." He would like for people to stop and ask themselves "what is important? What will I leave?" He continues with "our wanting more and more, consuming and the cutting down of trees is disturbing to me." "I saw 120 feet trees that were cut down for the sake of making money. I would have left the trees. They took 40 acres out."
Why Do You Like The Medium?
"It's what I know. I grew up with and lived in the trees. I had 25 tree houses all at different levels. I talked to the trees and even made holes under the trees." Hank has recently begun exploring the use of foam as a medium and sees a connection between the two materials. He sees "a willingness not to be stuck." Hank feels it necessary to make sculptures using wood and/or form and to do installation work.
What Brings Your Medium To Life?
In context to working with trees Hank says that "its death is my finding it" and he's come to accepting this by knowing "that what it was is over and what I think it should be will be its new life."
Does The Material Dictate The Design, Or Does Your Design Idea Dictate How The Material/Medium Is Used?
In sculpting individual pieces, it's the material or the "piece (of wood) dictates what it will be. The trees give me the answers. Some pieces are simple. Some take 2 or 3 years." Referring to a piece that he currently is working on, he said "the alligator piece has taken 5 years. I've been looking at it for 5 years and I listen now to what the tree wants to say."
What Tools Are Required In Your Process?
The sander is Hank's primary tool when sculpting with wood. Given his familiarity with woodworking many tools are used, but it's with sanding that he becomes connected with each piece of work. Some pieces of art will take 70 hours of sanding, although with one sculpture, Hank spent 6000 hours sanding!
When using foam, tools are not used and the process is its reaction to the air and Hank's "try to control it". Hank says this it is his cynical way of trying "to control the environment" and that this process is a "whole different process" than working with wood.
Do You Consider It Functional Art?
Hank does not see his work as functional art, nor does he see it as decoration. He hopes that people will see his art as fitting into their environment for reasons other than "it matches the sofa". He understands that his sculptures may function within a space because of its "color, size and shape", but his hope is that it's valued for its spiritual and environmental senses.
Please Speak About The Connections In Your Work.
Hank feels a connection to the piece (of wood) and used to think he could control each piece. "Then I realized it wasn't in my control." He feels there are two connections with each piece of art. "The first connection is finding wood to work with." He recalls a two-year period of time when he felt a certain area of the woods calling out to him as he continually walked by. "One day, I stopped and listened to the woods. Then I walked 200 yards and found an incredible piece. It had been talking to me for years." The second connection is "listening to what it says" and letting the wood determine what it wants.
Please Summarize Your Entire Process.
He feels his job is "to listen." I never think about it. I just do it. It's not my process".
Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? Why?
In speaking to what he would recommend to young people, Hank said, "I do recommend you have a second idea of what you want to do. The reality is it's about the art and it's not the money. Try to think of the medium and what you want to say in the long term. And select a second learning program that coordinates with that. Try and see what you want to say now, realize that and have two things going side-by-side and at some point, jump off one boat and jump onto another."
What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? How Best To Develop Their Interest?
Hank feels being a sculptor is taking a "more difficult path" because of the needed space, tools and materials. Additionally, he feels that "it's a lot more fun than painting!"
Please Point Out Any "Green" Aspects Of Your Process And Your Medium.
"My work, while not being green, is all about being motivated by the idea of being green." He considers himself an environmentalist and says his art "is a cynical statement about being green" and sometimes uses "super toxic materials to say something green".
Please Talk About Making Multiples Of A Creative Effort As A Part Of Your Business.
Hank noted he is not really into the idea of creating multiples of his art. "I don't see casting as a piece of art, unless it is changed" and he sees "multiples as replicas of art. Somehow it (the sculpture) has to be manipulated to be (considered) art."
Where Do You See Your Creativity Evolving?
Hank's wish is "being able to survive and make art. All I want to do is make art each day" and desires to "do whatever it takes as long as I don't change the truth to get there."
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