Ask the Artist
Where do you get the ideas for your work?
- I have never dreamt about the work at night. It causes restlessness. The inspiration comes from legendary places throughout the world which existed, exist or only in the mind. Think of a place you have never been to and that may be it.
Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
- It is not work or toil, perhaps some sweat; most of it fun. My wife, Poh Suan and I are at home or in the studio, set at the end of the garden surrounded by a crowd of flowers and trees in Southern California.
Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
- The last time I taught was at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. The art takes up 100% of our time, no room for others.
What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
- The anticipation of starting a new project and of completing it electrifies the atmosphere in between. Not knowing what the finished object will become rather than look can be fearfully exciting.
What's the most difficult part of creating your works?
- Difficult is not an expression in my vocabulary. The challenge is highly motivating. It tends to compress time.
What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
- The principal ways of making the objects are by machine. The only hand tool I have is a hammer for use just in case the material has misbehaved. Over the past century we have transferred much use of our muscle power to electric tools which in my case has enabled the artwork to be completed in a very short time. Technology has been a miracle for people with creative and prolific ideas. They can do more in their lifetime.
Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
- Be completely at EASE in making MISTAKES. They are good learning tools.
Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
- Have a vision of where you want to go and a nebulous idea what it may look like. Do not regret "wasted effort". Put that down on your mental CV of achievements. Now and again or perhaps all the time if you are really brave, make that piece of art designed not to please anybody else or even to sell. The most often asked question is "How long did it take?" Well, they are really asking the wrong question. If you tell them the correct answer, it will not be believed. The correct answer for the object I made for the White House Craft Collection is three days, technically. It was not 54 years of wasted effort.
What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
- In all the art shows where I am present showing the carved pieces, there are small labels on the pedestals saying "You may touch the objects." I allow everybody including children to play and experience the sculptures. It intensifies the meaning and educates the public. Nothing has ever been damaged. Why do Robin Williams, Steve Martin and John Cleese have my art works? It is because they touch us.