Universal Statuary is a new body of work by the Chicago based artist and educator. Collectively, these figurative ceramic sculptures bear witness to Groves artistic journey. Singularly, they do not represent or illustrate any one particular moment or event, rather they interweave many significant milieus, associations and obsessions. The product of a deep personal exploration and commitment to his medium, the work is visually dynamic, technically innovative and unique in concept, demonstrating extremes of effort and engagement with ceramics. Groves brings to his process a broad knowledge of historical art forms, such as Japanese Kamakura sculpture, and whilst the work incorporates recognizable components which have universal appeal, the title of the exhibition “Universal Statuary” is more a direct reference to the Chicago based corporation of the same name, where Groves worked as a commercial sculptor in the Product Research and Design department in the in the late 1990’s. Groves hopes his sculptures can never be described or interpreted in any strict or absolute terms. It is Groves’ intention that the meaning of the work should be dependent upon the viewers own poetic imaginings, and the experience of viewing and interpreting the work should factor into the larger creative experience of a viewers life.
What motivated you to create the work for your most recent exhibition?
I make art in order to reevaluate everything I think I know about myself and my relationship to the world. As an immigrant, I ask, “Why am I here? How should I live? What is my purpose?” My life and my art are informed by these kinds of deep personal inquiries and without any opportunity to make art, I have felt a strong loss of direction. I am inspired by, and seek to create, work which exhibits both great skill and great imagination. I am particularly interested in art which transcend its materiality, in objects which aspire to the creation of some sort of accord between the human spirit and our terrestrial existence.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of creating new work?
On the down side, overcoming the fear of failure and the possibility of rejection. Failure to meet my own expectations in terms of advancing my technique and my personal vision, that the work will be unrecognizable and derivative, that I am wasting my time and energy on something of no value to others. The contradictory fear that someone or something might come along and take away the hard won opportunity, and an apprehension that I am sacrificing close personal relationships in order to create time in the studio.
On the up side, I am fulfilling a childhood dream of moving towards the creation of original and unique objects which are recognizable (i.e. part of a larger continuum of objects made and being made), closing the gap between myself and artists whose work I have admired since childhood. Another rewarding aspect is the pleasure of the act of making, the intimate knowledge of the process gained, and the insights it gives into understanding and interpreting cultural artifacts, their use and their manufacture. Also, setting an example for my son to follow his heart and his passion.
How does your creative approach differ in putting together a solo exhibition rather than a collaborative exhibition?
My creative approach is always the same because I see all visual arts exhibitions requiring a number of people pulling together behind the scenes. It is also my experience that, very often, visual arts exhibitions are “themed,”, putting forward a position or point of view, and I apply to group exhibitions whose topic is sympathetic to my own thinking and process. I don’t change my creative approach to match the theme in other words.
When creating solo exhibitions, I choose titles and write statements which relate to some common aspect of my work, usually something which I am preoccupied with or which is particularly appropriate to the venue space and the audience, and regardless of the venue or the type of exhibition, I always submit work which is new to me or my audience. I try to exhibit my best, most accomplished work to date, which offers a new perspective on my thinking and process, and which hopefully asks new questions and raises fresh perspectives on the medium.
How does your recent work in the studio intersect with your career as a fine arts instructor?
I welcome this opportunity for my students to see my work in a professional cultural context, and to engage me in the same sorts of external, objective, and positive critical dialogue which I subject them to at Loyola University Chicago every day. Hopefully, the exhibition will reinforce in the minds of our student body, and in the eyes of our administration, that I am engaged in living research and beneficial personal growth. It will help confound my least favorite idiom (composed by George Bernard Shaw in his play ‘Man and Superman’); “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” It will demonstrate my expertise, my commitment to deepening personal understanding of the value and meaning of art, and I sincerely hope it will inspire our students to continue to want to engage in the artistic process.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of teaching?
Figuring out who my audience is, what they need from the experience, and what is most essential for them to understand, from my perspective, given the time and resources available. It is very difficult deciding what are the best methods to present and measure artistic knowledge, but I am fortunate to have at least one willing partner, in the form of clay. Humans have been shaping it into all sorts of things, utilitarian, symbolic, ritualistic and artistic for over 30,000 years, and there are countless entry points into the medium, regardless of an audience’s interest, experience, or level of engagement. Most people are more connected to ceramics that they know and it is wonderful to be able to demonstrate how.