Updated: Nov 10, 2020
*This interview was first published by Hilliard Gallery
Wise is a sculptor; sometimes in welded steel, sometimes in words. Educated at Westminster College, University of Arkansas, and the Kansas City Art Institute, Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculptures on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His
short story collection Night Train, Cold Beer won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. There have been five more books since. A five-time Pushcart nominee, his fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Southern Humanities Review, Rattle, and The American Journal of Poetry. The following poem appears in our newest release: The Very Edge: Poems. Tweet him @noirbut.
I remember the room
its criss-cross patterned wallpaper
crowded, cluttered with scarred furniture
trophies, a boy's room, two beds
brothers, I was ten
and I remember the flash
the impossibly loud crack
and gunsmoke or residue
and the boy holding the
Luger he'd pointed at my head
his older brother's pistol
and the hole in the
wall behind me
plaster, lath, torn
where the bullet
All was quiet
but a ringing
in my ears.
"I didn't know it was loaded,"
the kid said. I think his
brother beat him up
when he found out.
The bullet went next door.
past my head.
So far I've lived
Wise works mainly in steel and weldable materials and most everything happens in the process; by that, he means "I usually don't have a rigid direction. I get so interested in what happens when the material meets other material, new vs. old, or some other disparity, that I allow them to make something surprising. I don't mean to be enigmatic when I say the steel tells me what to do. It really does in most cases. I also like things that seem to have tension." For Wise, working from his sizable junkyard, often an oddly bent rail or a rusty transmission part beckons and helps a piece on the way. In the case of representational work, the materials work in tandem with the source of inspiration during the creative process. wisesculpture.com/
"If I can't weld it I bolt it. If I can't bolt it, I "trap" it somehow, as in the use of glass or other difficult materials that find their way into the pieces. Mainly I use a welder, grinder, and a plasma cutter. Sometimes an eight-pound maul hammer, or I shape things by running over them with my truck."
Being both a writer and a visual artist, how do the two forms of your art interact as far as the message or vernacular that you want to come across?
Actually, my first inclination is to say I find NO similarity in message/vernacular—that one discipline provides relief from the other, clears my mind of the other. For instance, when I experience sluggish times writing—I go weld. It clears my head. Vice versa...Then again, I see where your question is coming from, sort of a narrative feeling in the sculpture, if I’m interpreting it right—well, there is that, a story oftentimes, but I don’t think it comes from the same place as the writing does, it doesn’t feel the same. But I do like a story, a narrative, so maybe it does. How’s that for an elusive non-answer? I write poetry and there are often metaphors in the poems, as well as the sculpture.
I said to someone the other day that the sculpture is just an extension of what I made as a child—grownups didn’t understand the things then, and they still don’t–some grownups. The ones who’ve retained some childhood often do get it on some level.
Speaking of vernacular, which you mentioned, a curator once said that I understood and shared the vernacular of Marcel Duchamp perfectly. I had to think about that awhile but then agreed. Sharing vernacular is quite different from sharing the massive genius of another artist like Duchamp.
A Dallas art publication called me a cross between Rube Goldberg and John Chamberlain. I like that a lot. Take from it what you will. Rube Goldberg did these busy little drawings of how things worked in a bizarre world, and, of course, Chamberlain used distressed auto metals in sculptures of color and weight. Short answer, yes and no.
When contemplating a piece to construct, do you usually have an idea and then start constructing, or do the objects dictate to you what you are to do with them?
I do when I make a horse or a motorcycle or something people can recognize, but it loosens up from the get-go. However, when I do abstract pieces, yes, absolutely, the objects themselves demand a spatial treatment or relational treatment to something else, and these things are wild fun when they work.
A lot of your wall pieces resemble collage work; where does your interest in collage come from? How did you begin working with metal?
That collage work—that was such a joy, still is, but back in art school days it differed from the disciplines of, say, life drawing or painting, in that it seemed (to me anyway) to build upon itself in an unfettered fashion, one thing leading to another that changed the view, the area, by presenting other challenges, and I loved it, took to it. When doing welded metal art it came naturally as well. Sometimes you add a piece and it changes the whole structure—is it right? You don’t always know until the end. I do love collage though and I do apply the principles when I weld those kinds of pieces.
Do you view your visual art as another medium or way to express your ideas compared to writing? Do you think art is able to go further?
That makes perfect sense. I bring one view or narrative to the gallery when I present a piece and the viewer brings another—sometimes they merge, often they don’t. That person looking at the piece is a compilation of experiences and biases and formed values that makes him or her see things in it that I may not. But though our intake may be different, what helps give it a thread of communication is the way it’s put together, maybe some craftsmanship or colors or repetitive shapes, typography, or even humor.
The shared experience in the writing is perhaps narrower. Or maybe I express something familiar in an unfamiliar way and they respond to that. Ted Kooser’s poetry reveals things to me that come from mundane experiences, fresh ways of seeing. I hope to do that in the writing and in the art.
What made you look at or want to work with found objects?
Their texture, their interest like that old mic face on that crossroads piece—I started with that mic face. I used to see such things as a kid in the forties, ordered them from the Johnson/Smith catalog, hooked them up to old vacuum tube radios, and broadcast my voice from behind a couch in the living room announcing the family car had been stolen. That fooled no one, but my grandmother would say, “Oh my, what will we do for a car now?” That and whoopee cushions and a set of metal plates that, when dropped, would sound like breaking glass, weren’t well-received. Those branches on Talisman were such crazy shapes I had to save them, show them somehow—and the metal exhaust pipe echoed the shapes so I included that. Found stuff. Piles of it have taken over a fifty by a hundred-foot pile in my yard.
Knowing that your work incorporates both things, what if any becomes the priority in your work on a piece, the narrative of the design, and are you always able to find a happy medium between the two?
The priority is only that it fills space in a way totally unimagined before it existed. I brought this to exemplify that. It’s called Working Stiff, as it reminds me of various jobs I worked or jobs I’d heard of and people I’d known who worked hard. It may not ever appeal to anyone but it fills the space in a way totally unimagined before it existed. Before I made it, it was old leather, chrome, tools, a hoe that is so old it may disintegrate in a year. Is it art? Shoot, I can’t say. It’s not pretty.