The Forsberg Art Gallery virtually presents Slake Thy Thirst by regional artist Austin Turley. Slake Thy Thirst is a narrative of fleeting moments that address rhythmic discovery through labor, material, and community. Each piece is composed of a distinctive strategy to reveal the unique characteristics of kiln formed glass.
Over the summer Austin Turley participated in a short interview with Forsberg Art Gallery Director Jennie Castle (see below). Turley will speak about the work in the exhibition and his artistic practice via Zoom January 19 at 1:00 PM PST. The event is free and open to all.
Jennie Castle: First, can you talk a little bit about your background and your path to becoming an artist. What are some important milestones that lead you to being a maker?
Austin Turley: I’ll narrow some important milestones down to three and hopefully they will provide a little background.
One. When I was 23 I was working full time as a barista and split my extra time and energy into music and painting. I had a consistent DJ gig once a week and was on the verge of putting out my first record. It’s important to note that painting back then for me was mostly illegal. I was painting on freight trains and throughout the city. I did little studio work. There came a point where I felt like I could not put all my enthusiasm into either discipline. Frustrated, I made myself decide between the two. Not just decide, but fully commit. It took about three months, and for better or worse, I decided to focus on visual art. I sold most of my records and music equipment and dedicated myself to an idea. This might not seem too significant, but that day when I acted on this choice it sent me on a trajectory to where I am now. I had no idea and no example of what being a professional artist meant, but I was willing to do the work to find out what it looked like for me.
Two. When I was 27 I became an apprentice to Robert Winslow. By chance I met Robert in front of an art supply store in Dallas, Texas. He was the first artist I had met that solely made a living from his work. He is an accomplished stone carver and painter. He was in his early 50’s when I met him and his portfolio was impressive and convincing, including multiple large public sculptures (mostly in Chicago). A month after I met him, he asked me if I would be interested in traveling with him to Guatemala to visit the quarries and assist him in bringing back some jade. This venture turned into almost two years of working and traveling with him. I had no prior tool knowledge or experience but I had the desire to learn and he was willing to teach me. In hindsight, this exposure was invaluable. His hands were bad so he would draw on the stones and I would cut, grind, and polish until he deemed it to be compete. This was probably the first time I had any insight on what a professional artist looked like or what it took to keep it up. There were lots of firsts with this experience. First time working with stone, first time installing large sculptures, first time realizing that someone can fabricate or ‘make’ your art and it still be your art, first time to travel outside the US or Mexico for an extensive period, first time I was included in a proper gallery (Ooglvie/Pertl, Chicago, IL), and first time I was exposed to a daiy routine that I could see my future self continuing.
Three. I received my BFA when I was 34. I had always made work and was dedicated to it, but I realized where I wanted to be, I could not attain from where I stood. I didn’t have the credentials. There were only a couple of galleries that would work with me because I did not have the formal merit of a degree. No real resume or paper trail. I had gone to school off and on throughout adulthood and ended up along the way with an Associate Degree in Art and Science. Basically, that didn’t amount to anything except a reason to continue. I moved to Portland, Oregon to attend Pacific Northwest College of Art. Yeah, I was ‘old’ and going back to school. Probably one of the more humbling experiences. Despite the ridiculous nature of art school, it exposed me to artists, literature, theories, concepts, and people I would not of otherwise have found on my own. I knew why I was there and I treated it like a job. It provided me with more of the conceptual insight and awareness that I lacked. I learned and tried out ways of making that were new and uncomfortable. I learned new techniques, tools, and how to curate my own work better. School taught me how to see better.
Castle: Life responsibilities can be daunting, and finding time for an art practice can be challenging. How do you stay motivated to make work? Where do you find inspiration?
Turley: For me, the work is perpetual, feeding and informing the next idea. Sometimes it might only be a slight shift. Other times it can look like a complete change of direction. Because I work in different formats, I don’t rely on a medium, (although I do have my favorites). I also work on several projects at once. If I am at a stopping place with one, I’ll move over to the next. I try to keep it fresh by experimenting and granting those urges of ‘what if’. I find it easiest to think through making.
Castle: What other artists who have influenced you and how you work? Why are these artists important to you?
Turley: I will share one particular project that still resonates with me today. I discovered Yo Akiama at the Portland Art Museum in 2012 or 2013. His ceramic sculpture was one of the more impactful works I had seen there, despite the bad lighting and poor presentation. I was so intrigue by his technique and sensitivity to form I wanted to see and know more about his work. I went down the rabbit hole of the internet and finally bought the one book I could afford from Japan. When it arrived, I didn’t have any expectation other than adding it to my book collection. It must have sat there a month before I took the time to really examine the entirety of the book. As expected some fantastic sculptures I had not seen before and there was even an English translation. In the middle of the book was a series of 2-dimensional works on paper. Essentially they were monotypes. He used spider webs that he collected from his garden and iron oxide pigment, a finishing he often would apply on his ceramic works. He used the resources around him. This correspondence with the environment is very relatable. The series is intimate, powerful, familiar yet new. All of these qualities I strive for in my own work. Most importantly, he extended outside the familiarity of his sculptural world into something unrehearsed and intuitive.
Castle: What advice can you offer young artists and students who want art making to be a part of their life?
Turley: Look at more art. Experience more art. Make yourself available to it. Be an active participant. Make more art. Keep experimenting. Do the work. Learn new skills and find jobs that will help you progress as an artist. Trust your gut.