Known for his use of humble materials, Richard Tuttle is interested in the spaces between. In his use of material this occurs between the conventional and the everyday. In his art practice and process he hovers between expectation and intuition.
New Mexico, New York, D, #13, 1998, Synthetic polymer paint on plywood
Born in New Jersey, Tuttle works between New York and New Mexico. He received a BA from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Although he commonly refers to most of his work as drawings, his eclectic array of materials include cardboard, wire, paint, rope, foam, wood, fabric, nails, and on. The forms vary from sculptures, prints, handmade paper, dyed textiles, assemblages, artist books, fabric objects, and on. Tuttle has exhibited in major museums throughout the world and received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
The Critical Edge III, 2015, fabric, wood, nails, hand-sewn brown thread; five black MDF panels and five fabric elements, 39-1/8″ x 15′ 1/2″ x 6-3/4″
“I love materials on the one hand and I’m not interested in materials on the other. How is it possible to love them to the degree I do and be absolutely not interested in materials.”
Richard Tuttle: 26, 2016
He is at once more interested in the properties of the materials and their accessibility than the craftsmanship in assembling them. Audiences have described his materials as poor, democratic, and waste. He accepts this reclamation as a solution for sustaining. “Because yeah I love a piece of tissue paper and I know the world doesn’t.”
Sand Tree, Paper, cardboard, plastic, collage and wire, 1988
In an article on The Art Markets, Tuttle states, “to make something which looks like itself is, therefore, the problem, the solution. To make something which is unraveling, its own justification is something like a dream. There is no paradox, for that is only a separation from reality. We have no mind, only its dream of being, a dream of substance when there is one.”
The series, The Place in the Window, II, specifically investigates material use with dyed cotton pulp draped and squished through simple mesh wire forms hung on the wall.
In an interview on Art21 titled, Reality and Illusion, Tuttle describes a process of laying down string on the floor during an exhibition install as the space between these polarities. He mentions that if he were a better artist he’d have done this hundreds of times in different situations with different materials. He trails off, almost whispering, “I didn’t want to know them too well.” This piece with string on the floor he deems most successful in attempting illusion and calls it “yuck, yuck, fun.” He explains by saying the real looks like an illusion, this childlike quality is the fun.
The Place In The Window, II, #4, 2013, wire, mesh wall sculpture, 13 x 13 3/4 x 9 1/2 in
Tuttle’s philosophy of life intersects with that of his art practice. In the Staying Contemporary interview on Art21, he describes his experience as a student remembering the herding of artists to define their noticeable style. He felt as if that was training to find the end of something, when he was and remains interested in finding the beginnings. Later in the interview he speaks to the hypothetical student about reflecting on process as much as the final piece. This back and forth between art and life is repeated throughout the years of him describing his work.
“Making pictures is a tool for life. Life is so much more important than art, but than art’s importance comes when it’s a tool for life, makes life more available for us.”
Installation View of What's the Wind, 2010-11
In the Art21 video, Art and Life, Tuttle further describes this relationship by mentioning Plato’s potential perspective of the artist as true philosopher, his theory being based on the artist research as limitless in discipline or resource. He believes that there is not enough time in one life to use all the doors. In another interview he describes this practice of blending art and life as harmonious. He declares that it is not so much living in the beauty as looking for it.
These perceived polarities intrigue Tuttle in his own practice and his understanding of the pedagogy of art and its market. Also in the above-mentioned video, he talks of his sublimation of being characterized as an artist that works from personal expression or outside of it. He expresses the difference between realism and idealism respectively as everything outside yourself and everything that happens inside of you. He uses the example of an absence filling a solid and a solid filling an absence as a space to examine the disparity in these solutions. He then proposes this philosophy as a potential tool in defining or negotiating the space between opposites.
This space between connects Tuttle’s material use, concepts, and philosophies. It often becomes apparent in the formal arrangement of pieces in exhibitions and installations. Work frequently gets hung at varied heights or placed off the wall in ways that force the viewer to navigate the space in subtly confrontational ways. He considers the object’s presence in space and the intersections around it.
Installation view at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, of Both/And Richard Tuttle Print and Cloth, 2014
In the Art21 segment on Tuttle in Structures, he shares, “sometimes I look and say I didn’t make [that], but know I did, it’s beyond a barrier. Art needs a heightening of reality. I want to sustain the polarity where you can be the paintbrush of society and make society your paintbrush.”
Tuttle’s relevance of material use in contemporary art is recognizable and at times confrontational. Sculptures and Installations bounce between playful and provocative. His use of handmade paper fuses traditional techniques with unconventional combinations. Artist books and prints in a variety of techniques stand alone in exhibitions and collections. Other mundane materials are elevated in their simple arrangements through scale, formal qualities, and their juxtapositions. Tuttle aspires to maintain his place among these undefined spaces 4 decades later.
The Triumph of Night, 2009, hand-cast cotton pulp, wood, wire, 14 x 32 x 6 1/4 inches (in box)