Jeff Scholfield artist in residence at Main Street Arts during the month of November 2019, is working in one of our two studio spaces on our second floor. We asked Jeff some questions about his work and studio practice:
Q: To start off, please tell us about your background.
I grew up as an American expatriate in Europe, where I lived with my family for decades. I studied architecture at Columbia University and pursued a career in New York, Paris and Dubai designing sustainable buildings and urban masterplans. Along the way I began making art, also expressing sustainable themes, which gradually developed into a full-time occupation. For the past ten years I’ve devoted myself to artistic pursuits, which includes curatorial work in galleries and art fairs. I studied sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, Michigan, where I am currently based as an emerging artist.
Q: How would you describe your work?
I am an installation artist working with sustainable themes. I upcycle found objects, such as beach litter, salvaged wood, newspapers, car parts and everyday detritus, into irreverent art installations. My material choices involve discarded items with their own life cycles, containing stories of human use, interaction and ultimately disposal. I experiment with this detritus through processes of collecting and cataloging to create large scale artworks examining critical narratives that question the sustainability of post-industrial society.
Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
I use two complimentary approaches to investigate the landscape as a source of artistic expression. One, I explore outdoors to document specific sites of human trespassing in nature, which I try to interpret through in-situ installations. Two, I install artworks indoors using discarded materials found in the field. I conceive this artwork in the open air, through walks, hikes and forms of wandering, as methods for collecting and documenting the land. Landscape interventions are expressed through photography to highlight aspects of human agency, and through collection to understand natural sites as retainers of those agencies. I explore notions of “making do,” material life cycles, overproduction and accumulation.
Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?
I use the camera a lot while developing a large-scale art installation, especially regarding an outdoor piece. There are two main reasons for employing this technique. One, the siting and lighting are crucial for the public to view a piece properly, and photos provide me insight on how to do this comprehensively right from the start of a project. Second, many of my outdoor pieces are intended to decay over time, and photos allow me to record this process visually, so viewers can see the progression and understand the underlying concept as a narrative.
Q: Do you collect anything?
Collection is a cornerstone of my art practice. I accumulate many things found in nature, in the city, in my kitchen, among my friends, almost anywhere. Found objects constitute my art palette, including plastic, metal, glass, ropes, newspapers, salvaged wood, burnt wood, beach litter, forest litter, sidewalk litter, old toys, broken toys, broken tools, rusty tools, rusty nails, hair, hats, shoes, belts, wheels, tires, car parts, almost anything non-perishable. Storage is a big part of my art practice, and I manage this constraint as well as I can.
Q: Who is your favorite artist and why?
My ultimate reference is Marcel Duchamp, who pioneered “ready-made” artwork a century ago. My upcycling artworks derive from this, though they are many generations removed. Contemporary artists I look at include Andy Goldsworthy, Lauren Bon, Mona Hatoum, Mary Mattingly and many others too numerous to mention.
Q: Who inspires you and why?
Hemingway, whose deceptively simple writing style expresses vivid emotions.
Philip Glass, whose whimsical compositions exude deeply emotional sounds.
Greta Thunberg, whose simple message on climate change is universally powerful.
What was your experience like at art school?
Cranbrook’s multi-disciplinary pedagogy provided me a chance to delve into the complex inter-related realms of art and design. Most striking was the sheer diversity of the student body; everyone was unique in character and talent. I learned how to search for artistic freedom, and this creative journey will continue for a lifetime. Preparing a master’s thesis forced me to build bridges between visual thinking and conceptual writing. I adopted collaboration with fellow students as a working method to develop sustainable ideas more broadly. Sharing these events with others, including the successes and failures, helped me build a permanent network of professional colleagues.
Q: What are your goals for this residency?
I aim to continue building the body of work I am currently developing with plastic and metal found objects. I will work with discarded materials that can be found in Ontario County public parklands in order to explore human transgressions of natural sites. I will make day trips to local parks, trails, lakes and rivers to collect thrown-away plastic, metal, glass and other inorganic waste. The landscape offers unexpected sources of inspiration and materials, in this case discarded junk. Using everyday items such as string, wire, paper, scrap fabric, etc, I will transform ordinary items into extraordinary artwork. My purpose is to interrogate received notions of recycling and repair. I aim to explore wacky and nonfunctional art forms by converting trash into treasure.
q: What’s next for you?
As an ongoing program, I plan to visit other natural sites around the country and examine discarded refuse as materials to create art expressing sustainability issues specific to each locality. I am scheduled for an Artist-in-Residence program at PlySpace in Muncie, Indiana, in the spring of 2020. Just before then I will have a solo exhibition at Hatch Art Gallery in Detroit, Michigan. I will also participate in a group exhibition at the Sculpture Center in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 2020.