I’ve been familiar with Dave Rollins’ small-scale sculpture and metalsmithing work for years, so seeing his recent series of large pedestal sculptures that he presented for his MFA thesis “Fully Saturated” at Cranbrook Academy, I was surprised at what seemed to be a significant departure in his work. However one thing that has always seemed central to Dave’s pieces is his passion for the process and materials involved. His attention to construction and finish in “Fully Saturated,” as well as space, both positive and negative, interior and exterior, is a vital part of the finished product, and I was excited to speak to him further about what went into creating this series.
InDigest: Are these pieces meant to be viewed alone, or is their relationship to one another in their space vital to the experience?
Dave Rollins: These works can function on their own but I think they become more powerful when they inhabit a space together. I saw them creating a colored cityscape and I wanted people to move among them and explore the relationships between the different forms, textures, and color combinations.
ID: Being that you’re working with the box as sculpture, have you heard comparisons to the early minimalists such as Donald Judd a lot? If so, is that something that you find fitting and welcome, or is that something that you reject?
DR: Sure. There have been a lot of comparisons to early minimalist sculpture and Judd’s work in particular and it’s fitting and welcome. Sometimes when somebody mentions an artist’s name while looking at my work, particularly my silversmithing, it’s great and I know I’m pressing the right buttons. That being said, I never set out to make minimalist sculptures. This all started with a single pedestal that I started to question as an object used to present art. I was curious why placing work on a white box made it art. I started to modify pedestals. My early pedestals had multiple parts, colors, textures and were used to present objects — silver objects — after all, I am a metalsmith. Through a number of different iterations the pedestals became “naked” as I referred to them. There was nothing on them except a coat of paint and they became minimalist sculptures. I wanted to further reduce the form by removing material so I started to make the pedestals look like they had large circular sections removed from them. These negative spaces then became the perfect space for me to reintroduce the texture and color that I still desired from earlier on in the project.
ID: How much of your final product is based on the materials and process, versus a specific artistic message that you are trying to communicate?
DR: Fully Saturated was completely based on my investigation with the pedestal as an object. The final desired outcome was smooth, slick, glossy outer surfaces with highly textured colored interiors. The processes and materials were selected for the end result. I taught myself all the skills necessary to make the work two months before it was done. Even though I am a metalsmith I chose to use MDF because it’s stable and smooth.
I used PVC pipes and large plastic Easter eggs for the holes and concavities in the surfaces. Other than that I used lots of glue and nails, paints, powder coating powders, wood filler, spray adhesive, and so on. I built a spray booth outside for painting and plagued the blacksmithing shop with wood dust. The materials were chosen because of the similarities to those used in making pedestals and because I did not have time to fabricate them out of metal. I have just recently started fabricating some out of sheet metal but they don’t have the finesse of the work in MDF although in 24 gauge metal they are nice and light.
ID: The color and finish of these pieces obviously have an incredibly strong impact on the viewer. Can you give me a better idea of your materials and process behind making these? And was there any reason for choosing such a bright palette?
DR: To make these was a relatively simple but time consuming process. MDF sheets were cut down into panels with 45 degree beveled edges. PVC pipes were cut down to fit inside the unconstructed box. MDF was also cut into pieces to secure the pipes. Then the pipes were glued in place while the boxes were being glued together and secured with multiple ratchet straps until they dried. A drill, jig saw, and ultimately router were then used to open up clean the holes exposing the pipes inside the forms. The forms were then nailed and wood filler applied following sanding and priming. Once the pedestals were painted multiple times, including the insides of the pipes, they were masked off and layers of spray adhesive and colored sand was applied to the interiors of the PVC pipes using a tool I made. The final coating of color and texture was colored powder coating adhered with spray adhesive. I made two-to-three times more pedestals than I had in my thesis show. Some of the difficulties of making this work was the sheer size and weight. Moving them around without bumping them or hurting myself became a big challenge. A huge amount of dust was also created making the work, which irritated my colleges, but the woodshop wasn’t open until 2 am.
The colors for Fully Saturated were selected to be playful and yet serious. I really enjoy bright, contrasting colors. I imagined the show as a colorful cityscape of buildings made up of oversized pedestal-like objects. Even though I was in the metalsmithing program at Cranbrook I spent a lot of time investigating color and paint. Ultimately I chose combinations of colors that created, as you said, a strong impact on the viewer. People usually have a pretty intense reaction to one combination or another. The plastic powder coating materials were some of the most vividly colors I could find so they were perfect.
ID: Knowing that you also have a lot of experience working small scale, what do you enjoy about creating large works.
DR: I love to work large and small. In fact, I spent quite a while at grad school making sculptures with 1/87th scale model people – about and inch tall in real life. One of these little people makes a pedestal become a skyscraper. Playing with scales like this really interests me. Thinking about this, when we as humans walk among these colored blocks, we can perhaps imagine ourselves as giants roaming the city. Working on a larger scale is rewarding but also incredibly time consuming. Just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean I pay any less attention to detail and surface quality so sometimes it gets to be a bit much. Ultimately, I want to see these objects even bigger and in steel.