Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ted Larsen Interview: Santa Fe, NM

Lynette Haggard's Weekly Artist Interview

Photos: James Hart Photography, Santa Fe

Lynette Haggard (LH): Can you share with my readers a little about yourself?

Ted Larsen: I was born in South Haven, Michigan which is 90 miles from Chicago. My parents are both artists and they moved to Santa Fe when I was 16, 1979. I went to high school at Santa Fe Prep, then to Whittier College in LA. I didn’t like the city, LA was just too much for me and too polluted. I transferred to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. At both schools, I was in programs that allowed me to write my own curriculum and study what interested me.

After graduating, I moved back to Taos for a number of years. My sister died 1989, and I decided to move back to Santa Fe to be closer to my parents. It was around then that I met my “to-be” wife Carolyn, who had moved from Paris and owned a business in Santa Fe. We have 3 children, twins age 14 and a 24 year old.

I travel a lot, been to Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, Africa, Ireland. I like to understand other people, how they think helps me understand my own ideas of the world. By seeing things that are so utterly foreign I see different ways that people take their ideas and manifest them. This helps my work.

Poetry of Form 

LH: Did you receive any formal art training?

Ted: Yes, at school. I was fascinated with geological process and the rawness of the landscape in NM. I was also interested in the Humanities. Science and the Humanities don’t always fit together well. First I studied art history, then some studio art, and philosophy. This self-created curriculum allowed me to mold the program to my interests. After school, I took other independent classes with Wolf Kahn, Richard Diebenkorn and some others. Also, because my parents were artists, that influenced me. I believe that a formal education is only a starting point. Nobody will ever teach you as well as you teach yourself. You need to assimilate and not regurgitate. The process in my studio is 2 fold, what happens both outside and inside.

Walk Through
19 x 19"

LH: Can you describe a bit about your studio practice?

Ted: In my studio practice, I set up a very thoughtfully structured system.  I exactly define the rules!  This is done before I begin any work on any specific project.  While I am in the studio, because the structure I have set in place defines the parameters of what and how I am to work, I am free to work intuitively in the specific work.  That means, if I am exploring something very formal, like the intersection of spacial form (under the sectioned titled "Wall Flowers" on my site), I set up the exact structure of how this work is to be defined-materials, process, scale, etc-that leaves me free to explore (without thinking critically) the actual act of making the work.  Exact shapes, color choices, or other concerns are made more or less automatically.

I may have an idea and structure that I’ve envisioned but then I don’t over think it. In a recent show—it was a 2.5 year project and it took a long time to create it. Sculptural space and illusionary space meet, that’s what I wanted to describe. Sometimes I make rules for myself, for example, in this one I decided I wouldn’t repeat myself more than 4 times. 

Pretty Ugly

LH: At what point in your life did you become interested in making art?

Ted: I’ve always made things. I’m now coming to accept a core aspect of myself. I have a really good relationship with my mother. We speak honestly with each other. Recently she made a reference to my work that it’s beginning to “feel like me (Ted)”.  We thought this was funny because when I was young, I would take things apart to see how they worked. Once I disassembled her entire sewing machine. Played with Lego’s a lot. Always drawing and building things. When I was in my 20s-30s I raced motorcycles I would take the engines apart and put them together.

LH: Was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

Ted: Because my parents are both artists, it wasn’t a “thing” you decided. I have always been an artist. At one point, in my mid-twenties, I was deathly afraid of becoming an artist. I think the fear was of being compared to my artist parents. Now, at age 46, I’m in a totally different place.

Hierarchical Stature


LH:  Can you describe bit about your work in general?

Ted: As I mentioned, my studio practice takes place both outside and inside the studio. I don’t think that people challenge themselves a lot and there are lots of reasons why that happens. Sometimes I think artists find a formula that is comfortable and they continue repeating it. If you’re interested in advanced critical thinking, you need to be open to interpreting thought in new ways. If you’re an artist making the same thing, you might be making money, but you’re not advancing as an artist. You need to be willing to walk away and risk the financial aspect to have the most rewarding practice. It’s about the making of the thing, not the money. What you make is the physical result of the flow going into the piece. It’s a dead end to get hooked up on the result. You must keep the process of making the work tertiary to the result. Art—the thing that we make, is not really art. The viewer brings the stimulus and the history of their life to the art. There is something that happens there.
Really good art transcends the personal and something really distilling happens. It can be confrontational. Something can come out of a piece of art that can go straight to the heart. I tend to work with reductive, most basic elements of formal things.

For me, that is the most challenging. It’s the most fundamental formal shapes are all ends to themselves. When you put them together in an organization it can give the appearance of on thing or another.  We have been doing this since e the beginning of human existence.
There can be cultural influences. Every thing representational comes back to abstraction. How our eye works that is part of how we organize the world visually. That’s what drives my work. That kind of spatial relationship is what interests me.

Sepped Structure
14 x 15"

LH:  What kind of painting did you do?
Ted: Landscape painting.

LH:  Ah, that’s what I used to do. Now that I have become involved with non-representational work, most of my former clients don’t “get it” or appreciate it.

Ted: Ivan Karp (of OK Harris gallery) and I had a conversation years ago. He is a true gem of the world. The reason why I really like him is that he’s been around; he’s met all the people that I admire. He believes in great things, and concepts, but not the specifics. Ivan told me that you know that you’re really on to something when 90% of the people that look at your work just fu**ing don’t get it—but, the other 10% that look at your work are transformed by it.

He is a smart man, and also a business man. Think about it like this: for example, if you work with 5 galleries and 100,000 people go through each of them every year, then you are getting exposed to 500,000 people a year. If 10% of those viewers are interested, then its 50,000 people who appreciate you work. If you can then find at least 10% of those who have the means to buy, then 5000 people who may buy your work.

Air Time
60 x 18"
LH: Ha, you just made my day!
Ted: Ivan Karp is wonderful.


LH: Did you ever seek out gallery representation?

Ted: Yes—early on, in my 20s, I was painting and sought out galleries. Now, they approach me. This is an avocation and a vocation. You have to be willing to put your ego aside and be willing to talk with people with no agenda and find out if you like them. You need to work with people you enjoy to have them represent you.

Hobby Pop

LH: What is your current work about?

Ted: I tend to work with classic reductive post-modernist concepts. The things that interest me reference the world around me in some way. For me, art is the physical manifestation of philosophy. The things that I make are reflective of my personal belief system. This is extremely complex.

I care that the viewer is concerned with my work, what a piece is made of, or how they’re made. The very physicality of the work is very important. I want to subvert some of the high art practice and bring art back to earth. The eye reads it other than being purely concrete. I don’t really believe in heroic things. I don’t want my work to be very didactic. I work with reclaimed materials because they have an incredible history. The term assemblage is a very specific thing. I try to resist this. I use the raw materials as a starting point. When I studied art, I was trained as painter. I’m 6’7” tall, and strong. I have the physical ability to pick up big things that are heavy etc. When I was a painter, my sculptor friends used to say to me, you should be a sculptor, you are made for it!

Ted Larsen at work

LH: What is your workspace like?

Ted: I recently moved my studio. I had a beautiful space in eastern Santa Fe next to the river and it was peaceful. But the space I worked in was dark and small with low ceilings. Then the landlord raised the rent so I looked around. I moved back to a space I was in 12 years ago; it’s off of Second Street used to be a wood making facility. Its good clean space and workable. I’m happy to be here.

LH: Are you involved with any arts groups or communities?

Ted: YES there’s not for profit SITE Santa Fe and I’m a member. I participate with lots of things that are going on there. I lecture at the University of Arts and Design (formerly the College of Santa Fe). I also talk to college kids and high school kids, sometimes at the Art Institute. I get a lot from living in this area.

Color Chart
25 x  24"

LH: How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

Ted: This is the hard question, this is a very difficult town to mix with other artists.
Santa Fe is a retail arts community. It’s the 5th largest art community it’s the same size as NY LA Dallas. It’s a fiercely competitive environment. Artists tend to be competitive and not so willing to help young artists. We have Richard Tuttle, Susan Rothenberg and others. Getting access to these folks is almost impossible. I go to other artists openings and be supportive of friends whenever I can. There’s sort of a core group of people in this town that share similar philosophies.

LH: What are you reading right now?

Ted: At the moment just finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it was very depressing. The style and syntax is interesting, but not if you’re feeling blue!

LH: Do you have other jobs other than making art?
Ted: No, I’ve been a full-time artist for 23 yrs.

LH: Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?
Ted: I hope I never know.

LH: Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention?
Ted: Yes

Building Beauty at the Lesley Heller Workspace
November 3 - December 19, 2010
54 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002

Special Shapes Rodeo at Clark Gallery
Reception: November 6, 4-6pm
November 2, 2010 through November 27, 2010
145 Lincoln Road, Lincoln, MA 01773

I will also have a show at OK Harris in NY in winter 2011-12 and Conduit in Dallas

You can see more of Ted’s work at

Thank you Ted!


Nancy Natale said...

I am a real fan of Ted Larsen and it's great to know more about his history and his philosophy of making art. Thanks to both of you for this. He is a true inspiration in his work and in his thought.

Ted Larsen said...

This really cool! Thank you for the interview, Lynette. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you and continue to marvel at how you made the process (which can be uncomfortable) a lot of fun.

Ian MacLeod said...

Lynette, thanks for posting this interview. I love Ted's work and really appreciate his comment "...bring art back to earth.".

lisa said...

Great interview. I find Ted's work interesting, exciting and inspiring. Thanks

Unknown said...

Thank you Ted for talking about how few people are actually going to look at your work and be willing and able to buy. I think it's tremendously empowering to know that the more you put yourself out there, the greater likelihood there will be of people buying, even if your work will only be understood by 10% of the people.

It's about resonating with people's vibrations, I think.

What do you think?