In 1973 I spent a winter as Brower Hatcher’s sculpture assistant, when he was teaching at Bennington College. Today, 27 years later Brower dropped by to catch up. It seems that our ideas are more in alignment now than they were then, even though we haven’t seen each other in the intervening years. It is not that our artistic ideas are so aligned, although one could find some interesting parallels in our interest in light and the desire to envelop the viewer with our artwork, but our ideas about community and how to be an artist in the world are.
We both came out of the tradition of object based art with the artist as the maestro — remember Picasso was still alive in 1973. The way to your public was through the dealers, and in those days they served as gatekeepers determining who was in and who was out. There were two prevailing views of what art was — what Clement Greenberg said it was and everything else. Bennington was ground zero for Greenberg’s view. Both Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock had significant exhibitions at Bennington. Although I think Tony Smith organized the exhibitions, Greenberg was somehow at the center of all that.
When Brower came to Bennington, sculpture seemed to have a linear progression from David Smith to Tony Caro to Isaac Witkin. Caro and Witkin were connected through Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Brower was recruited from St. Martins. But he arrived on campus as the anti-structuralist. His work at the time were fields of color made from wire. It was as though someone captured the skeins of lines from a Pollock painting and colored them with Jules Olitski‘s spray paint.
I came to work for Brower just when he was transitioning to pieces that remained open and expansive, but for which there were points of connection and the beginning of an internal structure. Looking back on the work now it was an obvious move. Being in the middle of the process the move was not remotely evident.
I spent my days bending metal fencing in the sub-zero weather of Vermont. Then I welded pieces together with a Mig welder, which instead of welding rods had an automatically fed wire that was charged at the tip. If I missed my mark, which was easy to do when aiming at the joint between two wires, the feed wire would shoot out about a foot and have to be cut off to start again. One time the lead wire shot up my welding gloves into an artery in my wrist. Blood spurt from my wrist about a foot into the air. If you could have seen this fountain of blood and some of Brower’s subsequent sculptures, you might see a correlation.
When I recently came across Brower’s work on the internet it was thrilling to see how the work had progressed. Following his own visual logic he was able to expand the field’s of color and turn them into complex structures that span huge areas of space. These huge webs of interconnectedness is the paradigm that we live in now. But it was not something that we envisioned at the time I worked with Brower. It was a very monolithic world back then. And that was reflected in everything, including how art made its way into the world.
Brower was not comfortable in that monolithic world and found that through public art projects he could bring his vision to the public directly — a way that was more inclusive of community. He is very interested in how art intersects with community both in the process of making it and in how the community interacts with it once it is made. His public pieces tend to become the center points of the communities in which they are built. Just as the Eiffel Tower or the Fountains in Rome become a symbolic center in their respective cities, so do Brower’s sculptures in his. It becomes a place of interaction, and the surrounding areas become vital commercial centers. A sense of place, an identity, and a corridor for interconnection is born.
You may wonder how this relates to me and my work. I am still pretty stuck in the object oriented art world. For me the shift is in my sense of community. I have believed for a long time that there is a fundamental shift in how the world operates. The old paradigm is the “dog eat dog world”, “survival of the fittest”, “what is mine is mine” . The new paradigm is all about connectedness, mutuality, sharing and enhancing one another’s lives. One does not win now by cornering the market, one wins by expanding the market to include like minded people.
So the next time Brower and I work together, it will be in the spirit of mutuality and I will not be the art slave out in the frozen tundra shooting welding rods into my arteries.
Artist biography: Brower Hatcher was born in Atlanta. He attended the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering and received his degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York. He studied sculpture at Saint Martins College of Art in London with Sir Anthony Caro and William Tucker. He was on the faculty at Saint Martins for several years and returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Bennington College where he taught for 13 years. Hatcher left teaching in 1986 and has since has built more than 35 public art projects throughout the U.S. Hatcher is a recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship and an honorary Ph.D. from the State University of New York. He works at the historic Steel Yard in Providence, R.I., as the artistic director of Mid-Ocean Studio, Inc.
Brower Hatcher’s artist statement: My goal, and that of Mid-Ocean Studio, is to create culturally relevant 21st century public art projects. Mid-Ocean is a collaborative group of artists, scientists, fabricators and technical personnel. Our work reflects an ongoing interest in the underlying geometry of organisms and living systems. Our works are typically powder-coated stainless steel ‘cellular matrixes’ built from computer-designed, multi-layered geometric frameworks. Our works often contain various combinations of relevant embedded objects, in this case glass and LED lights. Nature is a strong inspiration in Mid-Ocean’s work and we continually strive to find new ways to incorporate aspects of the natural environment into the work itself.