Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Artist Interview - Keith Lo Bue!

Interview by Karen McGovern
All images courtesy and property of Keith Lo Bue
I am a geeked out fan of so many amazing artists and jewelry designers.  I follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and more.  One of my all-time top ten favorite jewelry designers/artists is Keith Lo Bue.  Keith is a master when it comes to combining unusual elements and materials to create stunning works of truly wearable art.  He is totally fearless when it comes to design, and I am thrilled and grateful he took time for us here at LMAJ to answer a few questions and share some insights. we go!
LMAJ:  For those that don’t know you, please tell us a little about yourself (where you live, how long you have been an artist, affiliations if you want, a bit about your home life)
KLB:  I've made my home in Sydney, Australia for 14 years now, but my creative journey began in Connecticut where I grew up. Ever since I was about nine years old I've known that I wanted to be an artist in some form or another, and I followed that path ever since then. Drawing was always my first love as a kid, and it eventually led to me becoming a freelance illustrator out of art school (SUNY Purchase in New York). Two summers as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York fed a love for art made from found materials, and in 1988 I started toying around by gathering junk and working with it. I immediately fell in love with it and as the years went by, left my illustration career behind to work in 3-D full-time.  
LMAJ:  How would you classify (if you can) your work?  Mixed media?  Assemblage?  What would you call it?

KLB:  I've always disliked the word assemblage. I think of what I make as objects, wearable and not. For many years it was a bit frustrating when someone asked me what I did for a living; I would fish around saying that I do jewelry - but it's like sculpture - and I don't use precious materials, blah blah blah blah. And then about 10 years ago I invented the perfect tongue-in-cheek word for what I do: "Stuffsmith". Whereas most jewelers classify themselves as metalsmiths because of the material they work with primarily, I realized that my palette is stuff anything and everything. The word stuck and I feel really comfortable with it now.

Just a few of Keith's stunnig works, including one of my personal favorites--
a ring made from the handle of a porcelain cup!

LMAJ: The elements you use in your designs are unusual to say the least.  How do you find them, and what would you say is one of the most unusual things you have incorporated into a jewelry design?
KLB: I like to think my materials find me! As I walk around out there in the world, things will fall into view that stop me, and there's a spark I can't explain that makes me take it back to the studio. It climbs into a box or a drawer or sits on the shelf and waits patiently - sometimes for 25 years - before it's called into action.  Of course I have 'junk angels' all over the world who like to send me things. Someone will spot an object that makes them think of me and they send it and it's always a delightful surprise. I've gotten a lot of exquisite objects that way over the years.  The question of the most unusual object I've used is a really difficult one, because so many of my pieces have very odd things in them. Many many pieces, for instance, use insect specimens in them some of them quite extraordinary insects. Some of the organic objects that I use people can find a bit disturbing, but nothing I use strikes me that way. For example, I've just finished creating a neckpiece for my daughter's 16th birthday that incorporates her baby teeth, so she can walk around with that history on her chest. People can be very funny about teeth in a piece of jewelry, and I get that, but I also think teeth are like little jewels they're even enameled! 

Keith's lovely daughter Mira wearing the amazing necklace he created for her.
LMAJ:  Can you give us a glimpse into your process?  When looking at a rusted spur or antique silver flatware, is there a process you go through to create a design?  Whats the spark?
KLB: The first object I pick up to use is the spark -  and I spend time with that object, holding it and studying it, until I'm ready to start bringing other objects to it, at which time it's a delightful process of mixing and matching until my first connection takes place. The piece then grows organically outward, completely intuitively, until the finish. One of the nicest things is that I'm always as surprised as anyone else by my pieces when they're done. I think I've established a way to work almost subconsciously, under the radar, so that my brain doesn't get in the way of what I'm making.
LMAJ:  I notice you often incorporate soil and organic materials into your design, which intrigues me.  Is there significance behind this? 

Detail of the neck piece "Endure"
KLB: Many of the materials around us that are of organic origin are so incredible and so texturally  fascinating that it seems the most natural thing in the world to use them. My use of soil has a different purpose, however. The soil is put into the cracks and crevices of the work, to visually tie the elements together and give it the appearance of having been that way for a very long time.
LMAJ:  You obviously have a deep love of antiquities.  Can you discuss why?  What does that mean in your jewelry creations?

KLB: I've been a museum junkie my whole life. I used to wonder the halls of Yale's Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut when I was a kid and I would never tire of the atmosphere in there. And it's not only the old objects that intrigue me it's man's compulsion to present these objects and harness their world that is the impulse that keeps me returning to old materials.

Another thing about using genuinely old objects is that these things have outlived mostly everyone who would have been around when it was new. This packs that object with a lifetime of history, but it also removes it from our present-day reality in a very potent way, and it enters the world of myth. It's in that world that my pieces can assume the dreamlikee quality that I'm after.

LMAJ: You travel the world teaching and offer some wonderful online resources.  What you do you enjoy most about teaching, and what do you enjoy least?

KLB: Whether I'm teaching in a classroom or online, it's a passion for me to share all of the things I'm so excited about in making art. I know that anyone who opens themselves to creating can do it and do it well. I feel that one of my gifts is to be able to lay things out in a very easy to understand and contextual way, so that people not only learn how to do something but why they're doing it.

I can't really name a single thing I don't like about teaching yes, it takes me out of the studio so I can't make work during that time. But what I get in that time out of the studio is a tremendous jolt of inspiration from my students, so that when I get back to Studio Stuffsmith I am raring to go and parlay that excitement into new work.

"Four, and What they Did"
This amazing design incorporates a 19th-century
emboridered Masonic ceremonial sash
LMAJ:  When I look at your work and website, I imagine a sort of mad scientist/genius type person behind the curtain.  Yet, when I see you online in videos (bear in mind, weve never met, so forgive any assumptions) I see you seem to have a really fun and goofy personality.  Is there an alter ego that creates the elaborate StuffSmith designs?
KLB:  This question may have been answered earlier, when I was talking about how intuitive the process of making is for me. I really give myself up to my creative process when I'm in the studio, and the result can sometimes surprise me, but the consistency over the years has shown me that this is a big side of my personality. Of course there's a tremendous amount of myself in this work, but it can't be all of what I am. I love living, I love being a dad and partner, I love to teach and to meet others with similar hopes and dreams.
LMAJ:  What artists out there influence you, are your favorites, and why?
KLB:  There have been many artists over the years that have been very influential: JosephCornell and Kurt Schwitters when I was starting out, the Brothers Quay also early on in my career, all for their very particular and subtle use of found objects in their work. More recently Alexander Calder and his mind blowing mobiles have captivated my brain and made me run off in that direction as well. I think it's telling that I'm not looking to other jewelers for inspiration per se, because I don't feel that what I make is jewelry in the traditional sense. 

On a day-to-day basis by far the most influential artists on my own work are musicians. I am a voracious music lover, and I practically never work without music playing. Whatever the music may be, it can't help but have an effect on what my hands and mind are doing and the decisions being made. The music of Steve Reich, for example, has actively been with me since way back in high school and has influenced my work immeasurably.

LMAJ:  You’ve had the wonderful experience of success as a (what I call) non-traditional jewelry designer.  What is your most treasured accomplishment to date?
KLB:  I can't think of anything more exciting then for my work to be held in an important museum collection. I am truly lucky to have work in many museums, particularly the Smithsonian in Washington, in the National Museum of American Art, and in the MADMuseum, which is the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City. The irony doesn't escape me that so many of my pieces mimic museum display, so to see those pieces displayed in museums is a little bit like a hall of mirrors, and a delightful reinforcement of my aesthetic interests. I also love the idea that people will be able to view my work publicly way after I'm gone. That's humbling.
LMAJ:  Okay, for something completely different, whats up with the vintage hat stuff?  I see you have recently begun a page dedicated to men's vintage caps.  Have you always been a fan of the vintage lid?  Do you collect?
KLB:  As my partner Irena will often say, I don't do hobbies halfway. I've worn hats continuously since 1990 when I shaved my head and never grew it back. Mostly fedoras, beanies and such. But about a year ago I discovered that there are rare surviving caps from the early 20th century and started collecting them to wear. As my collection grew bigger and bigger, I began to realize that I need to rotate them and that's how The Well-Dressed Head was born. I really find it amazing that 100 years ago - heck, 60 years ago - every single man and boy wore a hat or cap every single day, and yet there is very little information about these things now. And the style of these things is so much more beautiful than what you can buy new. They just look really cool and contemporary, and I just want more guys wearing them in the world.
LMAJ:  Finally, what words of advice do you have for struggling artists out there in the world?
KLB:  My biggest piece of advice to any artist who feels like they're struggling, trying to move forward: Show your work get it seen, on any wall, in any display case, blog, website, anywhere. The more eyes that are laid on it, the greater your opportunities will be. If it doesn't get seen, nothing can happen with it. If I hadn't shown a few little bits of jewelry in a local shop in southwestern Connecticut, I might still be an illustrator today. It was that black & white for me.

Our heartfelt thanks to Keith for letting us take a peek behind his creative curtain, so to speak.  For more images of Keith's work, his teaching schedule and more, please visit his amazing website and online shop, follow him on Facebook and read his insightful blog!  Now, go create some thing AMAZING!


stacilouise said...

Wow, just wow. Keith, thank you so much for doing this interview. It is wonderful to get a glimpse into your world, and how you have evolved as an artist. You are truly an inspiration!

Stacie said...

Fantastic interview...really enjoyed this!!! Especially the name of your studio, that! Really, so much great information to absorb regarding your creative process, and about getting to the place where you completely trust your creative process. That is such a joy! Thank you both for a great interview...really made my day and it is just getting started!

maryharding said...

Wonderful post!! I admire his work and so nice to get an in depth look at what he does and who he is. BTW he will be teaching two online courses this summer with Artful Gathering. You can find out more here

Marsha of Marsha Neal Studio said...

Great interview and insight into Keith's creative approach. I love that stuff finds him all across the globe and sometimes through other people - that is quite awesome if you think about how he has made a life impression on so many that objects know him through them… Wonderful!

PyxeeStyx said...

Great interview Karen. Thank you for this introduction. I was unfamiliar with Keith Lo Blue, but feel a kindred spirit. We have much in common, from the creative process, right down to the hat collection. I'll enjoy exploring his work further.

Lynn said...

I feel fortunate to have taken a class with Keith. My work truly evolved that summer. He helped me become intuitive in my process and not so perfect. Love him and if I ever get to Australia I will be stopping to see him

Jeanine said...

Great interview! I took one of Keith's classes and it was WONDERFUL! He is so talented, and also so warm and giving. I recommend his classes thoroughly!

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