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.