Architerior talked to 75 year old Richard Arfsten who has Flash Gordon and a depression to thank for his long art career starting off. Let’s take a journey into his mind and learn about his creative process and fun approach to art.
Where do you live and work?
I live in rural Wisconsin, USA. Burlington is a small town where art is a deer, a duck or a raccoon. I am the crazy artist with a giant steel horse in the driveway. I am kind of a fish out of water so to speak. I have a giant sculpture depicting that too. Presently I have been trying to make my 20 acre woodlands into a small sculpture park with giant 20 foot flowers, space aliens, monumental abstract sculptures and life size figurative sculptures.
What makes you excited about art?
I guess I am a fan of “big”. That is why I like monumental sculpture. I want to walk up to it and touch it and be immersed in it. I want it to take me on a journey in my imagination. When I was young I would dream I was traveling to distant parts of the universe with my hero, Flash Gordon, to experience their culture and architecture. Today that is not as farfetched as it was 70 years ago. I get that feeling when I look at the work of Edwardo Chillada and Henry Moore. I also get that feeling when I look at monumental ruins from ancient civilizations that we cannot comprehend how or why they were built.
Tell us about your creating process.
I have no idea what I am going to build or create when I start building my abstract maquettes. I have a table full of odd shaped pieces of styrofoam that I choose from and then glue together. It is sort of like playing with building blocks when you were a small child. I play in the beginning and eventually a theme or story or composition starts to form and I try to define the concept to my satisfaction. After that I bury the design in dry loose sand and pour hot molten metal into it and it turns into a solid piece of metal. If I am lucky it looks like the foam design. This is now the 3D blueprint used to create the patterns to build the enlarged piece from welded sheet metal. This working style is relatively fast which is important to me.
As I am working lots of new ideas come up and I need to act on them before I lose the idea. This way I can record the idea. I can build an inventory of foam designs so I have many to draw on when it is time to cast at the foundry. Ideas are everywhere. I try to record as many as I can on my cell phone camera. Every time I go to an art museum I get all fired up with how another artist solved a composition problem that I will use to improve my work
I also love to make monoprints because the outcome is mostly out of my control since only a portion of the ink transfers to the paper. It is like another power is working with or against me and I have to deal with the result in some way. It is either “whoopie, nice surprise” or I’ve got to “fix that”. I like to combine these images with other images and make digital collages. The end result is fun fun fun. For me art has to be fun. I need a daily fix of fun that is exciting to me. To me art means life.
How did your art career start?
My art career started when I was 9 or 10. The walls of my bedroom were filled with new and improved rocket ships for Flash Gordon. That toy rocket ship on the wire at the beginning of the show was so hoakey. I knew I could do better even at that age.
My art career started seriously when I went bankrupt in my business and my wife signed me up for a sculpture class at the local art museum because I was driving her nuts with my depression. I was hooked from then on.
What is the hardest and the best part of being an artist?
The hardest part of being an artist is rejection of your work and having to sell your soul to try to make a sale. I did art fairs for many years and discovered that if you want to sell anything you wind up creating what sells so you can eat instead of what you love that feeds your soul. The best part of making art is creating something that is ground breaking for you, so much so that you are so happy you want to show your mommy and get a pat on the head and a few kind words. The very best part is being recognized by other artists who like your work and question you about the how and why.
Can you tell us a bit about where you have exhibited and if there are any special exhibitions you remember.
Over the years I have owned 3 small art galleries and exhibited in many other small galleries. I am 75 now. After a while you really get tired of jumping through the hoops and realize that the Internet is the only venue that makes any real sense. How many people go through an art gallery in a year?
Do you have any preferences when it comes to art?
I have made every kind of art I could think of over the years. Something that I get a good deal of satisfaction from is metal flowers. They are something that makes most people smile. Mine are kind of “other worldly”. They are made from repurposed metal from old paint barrels that I collected from my profession of 50 years of painting barns. They are little abstract paintings and sculpture ranging from 2 inches to 6 feet wide and 6 inches to 23 feet tall. Everyone can understand what they are and most people like them. I am also making android-like statues that I tell people I bring back from other planets on my dream time adventures with Flash Gordon. Who says you have to grow up when you get old?
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