Monday, December 17, 2007
Walter Kravitz--Commissioned Artist at New Nationals Park (Part Two)
"After I taught at a professional school in Florida for a couple of years, I saw that the classical way of teaching art—the professional school—was not something I felt good about. I needed to experiment more with materials and leave--and I needed my students to do that.”
At that point in his life, This Newly Commissioned Artist at New Nationals Park was looking for a change in his career path. Eventually, Walter Kravitz ended up at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “I heard about George Mason, why back when," said Kravitz. "As you know, George Mason was created as an alternative education to UVA (University of Virginia). It’s the only reason Mason got its original plot (in Falls Church). The school was all technology. And when they came to Fairfax, they were all about technology and new materials. My teaching is always about new invention and new materials. Public Art came with that. Part of my teaching is to invent new ways to solve old problems. So, that’s the reason I came to George Mason to start teaching here."
Today, as we continue with Part Two of My Conversation with Walter Kravitz--Walter talks about his brother's passion for The Brooklyn Dodgers and his frustration with The New York Yankees, growing up in Chicago.
"My Brother was a CRAZY Brooklyn Dodgers Fan!! Absolute die hard. Everybody in his neighborhood of Brooklyn was just super depressed when The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. None (of his friends) ever got over it. They never connected with any other team, not even The Mets. They just gave up on baseball after the move from Brooklyn. As for me, I always rooted against the Yankees. (Yogi) Berra, Mickey Mantle, (Bill) Skowron, (Gil)McDougald--one of them, somehow--when we played The Yankees--would find a way to beat us in the last couple of innings. The Yankees always found a way. They were The Yankees. (you could just hear the frustration in his voice as he described his childhood watching his Chicago White Sox)”
Having grown up with The Expansion Senators--I always felt the same way about The New York Yankees as a child. Walter's childhood recollections brought back all those memories of The Yankees of my youth.
From there--it was time to move on with our discussion about his artwork.
What scale is this particular model? (SBF)
“One inch equals one foot—approximately. The top of the art work is 23 feet high—width is maybe 20 feet or so. Its cubic in nature. The depth is about 38 feet. Its not a huge space. Therefore, the interesting thing for me is that the action is more focused. The smaller, more compressed space helps—which is one thing I like. I do a lot of commissions, such as The Reeves Center (DC Central Government Office). The work there is five stories high, the figures—even though they are 24 feet high—are kind of lost in the space. I think they are a little lost.”
“I am interested in this space (at New Nationals Park) because it is so compressed.”
How far along in the process are you? Is it really just beginning? (SBF)
“Well, I haven’t begun because I haven’t received the contract yet. Public Art is all based on contracts. I am ready to go. I have an engineer working with me, who is doing both the lighting and the mechanical aspects. In fact, we have collaborated before on The Reeves Center (Project) and The DC Convention Center (Project). He is on board. I also have a contemporary composer who is going to produce ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ and do all the recordings for me. And, I think I am going to use My Daughter for the soprano. She ‘s a voice person. She gave up softball to study musical theatre (both of us chuckling). Her main focus is voice. So, in a way, too bad I am not using Fast Signs for the fabrication. But, I am doing the entire project here in the studio.”
Doing this piece by yourself—has to give you more personal joy. (SBF)
“True. There is something to be said for doing Public Work in your own studio. However, if one is going to do this stuff seriously, then its best to be able to farm out certain parts. In other words, if an artist is going to make a living doing Public Projects, which is rare, you need to be able to do some of the work yourself, and farm out the major technical work. I work by collaboration a lot. I work with architects and engineers and musicians.”
Once you do get that official contract, what’s the time frame for completion? (SBF)
“That answer is on The Commission, to some degree. I was hoping to be able to get this done by Opening Day. The first meeting (on this project) was in July (2007) and I was announced as the winner about a month later—in August. However, finalizing and reviewing this package by The Commission takes another two months. I did not present this work directly to The Commission The Artists chose me, along with Mark Lerner and a few others. But, The Commission had to approve it—which took some time. I don’t know why, which brings the time frame to July/August (2008) for completion.”
“Ideally, I would have liked to had this work done by Opening Day. But, apparently, none of the work is going to be done by Opening Day.”
Yes, Tony Gittens (Executive Director of The DC Arts & Humanities Commission) told me the exact same thing.(SBF)
“Well, since I am doing most all the work in my studio—instead of using Fast Signs—I will need an additional two months to complete the work. Fortunately, I have two really good assistants who are excellent at cutting out the shapes—and making sure the stenciling is correct.”
Was being a baseball fan your impedance to get involved? (SBF)
“Originally, I was trying to be the consultant for this job, because I thought I would be inside the operation of baseball. Then, I could concentrate and have fun on that aspect and not do the artwork. Lo and behold, someone else was chosen as consultant and I decided to attempt the work myself (bemused over the irony). Actually, I was competing with some people I knew—artists whom I have competed against before on various works. This time—I won. But, strategy is to get in done and to install sometime in July when The Nationals have a 10 Game Road Trip. Hopefully, we can get it done—during that time.”
“If the installation runs any later, I would rather hold off and put it up for Opening Day of the following year. No one would be seeing it over the winter after just a few short weeks of the artwork being on display. But, I think I can do it by July—no problem. I have other work to do—but July is reasonable."
What feelings do you get out of your works on display? (SBF)
“A feeling of celebration going on a scale you could only suggest in studio work. When I go to see a work that I have done—in public—I participate much more in that work than I would if I saw one of my own paintings. The involvement in a public work is something I really enjoy. And, I hope that folks who pass under those works and in the ballpark, since my work is suspended, will feel that same interaction with the work.”
Will this particular artwork have the chance of being seen by the most people at one time? (SBF)
“My pieces are really meant to be seen in a dramatic way. I am not interested in subtlety. Even though my first connection to Public Art was as a kid in Lincoln Park in Chicago—climbing up on the statue of Charles Dickens. My Mother would kind of put me on Charles Dickens knee. On the other side was his daughter—Nell. But, I respond when I walk through airports or train stations, transportation centers or universities—where there is public art. I am always drawn to something that is very immediate, very emotional and very bright—which is the nature of a lot of my paintings. Public Art allows me to celebrate brightness and activity. That’s what I see with this work, generating celebration of the game and exaggeration. My first three years after art school, I worked as a traditional animator, not computerized. This gave me the opportunity to draw these very exaggerated figures as cartoons. That has gone into a lot of my work.”
If I am walking somewhere and a piece of artwork is striking and bold—I will stop. Rarely, do I pay attention to work that blends into the background. Final Thoughts? (SBF)
“What I hope to see—is a person coming in and seeing the action, the movement—everything going on—hearing the music. And then, rather than walking through it, which is what happens with most public projects—they will stop and look at the figure. Hopefully, the fans will relate in some way.”
That concludes My Conversation with Walter Kravitz. He was fun to chat with--our mutual enjoyment of baseball--made our talk even better. Walter did tell me: “Whenever I go to another city to work on a piece of artwork—-I always make the effort to attend ballgames in that part of the country. Whether its Major League or Minor League—does not matter. And, I have seen some pretty good baseball in AAA Cities.”
Hopefully, Walter, along with many fans of Our Washington Nationals will not only view some Good Baseball in The Nation's Capital in 2008 and beyond, but also a very fine piece of artwork representing The Game--on display--at New Nationals Park in the very near future.