Creating Selves
Category - Contemporary
Written by Kellie A. Hanna

Change, transformation, and interaction. These concepts, according to Richard Garriott-Stejskal, are the main focus of his art. "Very simply," he told me, " my work is about being human...I am concerned with the interaction of people and the world...I am fascinated by the concept[s] of change and transformation...."

It's little wonder, then, that he has preferred clay as his primary medium for the past twenty years. There was a time when he worked in welded steel, plastics, wood, "and a variety of mixed media;" but he turned to clay when, after leaving school, he had trouble being able to do sculpture. As a substitute he began to do pottery; clay became a vehicle for his own transformation, and he began to create sculpture in the medium: his pots "eventually transformed into vessels with sculptural additions then to sculptural pieces."

And clay, says Garriott-Stejskal, is perfect for his method of creating. "My ideas come faster than the pieces...I...[lose] the flow [if I can't] work them out three-dimensionally...." Clay, he says, "is immediate," and allows him to quickly process a lot of ideas for his pieces as they come. "I start by rolling and building with coils. That kind of...activity turns off all thought centers and the creative process just takes over."

As anyone who has ever worked with clay knows, the technical aspects of working in this medium are defined and exact. Specific rules need to be followed in order for a piece to turn out successfully; the steps of forming, firing, glazing, and refiring are unalterable. Still, Garriott-Stejskal says, "you are either busy learning new lessons or relearning old ones" with this process. "I am always learning about clay," he says...the material begins to take on...a teacher personality...."

Each of his pieces goes through its own transformation as it is shaped. Taking either the human figure or face as a starting point, he builds up the visual imagery for his ideas and pulls the form from the clay. While the human figure "gives a sense of reality to [the] work," the sculpture becomes the embodiment of a state of being and a representation of "the human condition."

According to Garriot-Stejskal, Boxman offers the best example of his definition of "the human condition." This sculpture is his interpretation of the main character in an Abe' novel of the same title. It is the story of "a guy who lives inside of a box...he can see out and has everything he needs inside the box. No one can see him...[it] had a kind of resonance for me," reveals the artist. While he says that his version of the character "differs a bit" from the one in the story, he believes that he has captured "some of the mystery, aloneness, comedy, [and] tragedy...that the story had."

Prone Figures With Fins, a series about racing-car drivers, expresses "similar concerns," but goes further to express the notion "of how something becomes something else..." and explores the interaction between humanity and environment. "Here I focused on the figure and transformed it into the vehicle, explains Garriott-Stejskal. "I was thinking about the immediacy of the experience that racing-car and motorcycle races have...I guess simplistically the person became what they do." These themes are further portrayed in Intel Inside, a kinetic sculpture that merges the head of a human figure with computer technology.

The multi-faceted nature of Garriott-Stejskal's work extends into his life; it is obvious that he enjoys "being connected with the world and the people in it." In addition to being a successful artist, he has worked as an art therapist, curator, gallery coordinator; has written for several arts publications, and teaches a class for artists called "How to Get Ready to Present Yourself." Further, he is President of the Albuquerque, NM, Art Business Association; and is on the Board of Directors of the New Mexico Potter's Association and the Visual Committee of Albuquerque’s Festival of the Arts, as well as the Visual Selection Committee for the Albuquerque Arts Alliance Bravos Awards.

His passionate involvement in the arts, he explains, is a result of his belief that artists need to make themselves a part of their community, and to make themselves "part of making things happen for the better." He feels that the art world is currently in trouble because of its tendency to disassociate with the general public. "In school I always had the sense that we were being encouraged to see ourselves as somehow better than the public because they couldn't see what it was we were doing...We haven't done a very good job of letting the world know why art is important."

To that end, he worked as a curator in 1997 for an exhibit that combined several community agencies and art programs, such as Very Special Arts, New Mexico, which supports artists with disabilities, ArtStreet, an art program for the homeless, and RHOC, "a day program for individuals with psychiatric problems." He will continue his work as curator this year for the Visionary Art of Albuquerque '98 show, sponsored by the Fisher Gallery.

Garriott-Stejskal's interest in the Visionary art movement came out of his experience working at the Veteran's Administration Medical Center. He believes that Visionary art is "an incredibly vital art." As a local "'expert'" on the movement, he has found that it was a major influence on artists such as Klee, Picasso, and Dubuffet; but he says his real interests lie in the artists and their work: "I love to see their efforts and to help them get the kind of attention I think their work deserves."

He says that being an art therapist has made him more sure about his own identity. "I almost went back to school to study medicine. But then I realized importance was in being an artist. I...could bring,share, and encourage the creative process."

He is a rare artist in that he has had experience on the business side of the fence, and uses that knowledge to relate to artists the necessity of "getting it together" before approaching a gallery. His advice is to "get your slides taken professionally, get a show record together, enter juried exhibits, look at a lot of galleries,[and] look to arts organizations for assistance." He further relates that it is important for artists "to be more in touch with the technology of their time."

How does Garriott-Stejskal wish to grow as an artist? He relates that while he has "a vague idea" of the direction of his work with the next few pieces, he hasn't "any real notion" where he might be next year at this time. But he is confident that each piece will give rise to another; it is part of his process. While he is "never sure [that he] will know the difference," he realizes that with the good pieces will come the bad. Still, he will be happy to be able "to just keep on working...and growing."

Richard Garriott-Stejskal was born in Annicortes, Washington, in 1944, but grew up in Omaha Nebraska, where his father moved the family after returning from World War II. After receiving his BFA in Sculpture from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he worked for a short time in a media center for the Omaha public schools, and then briefly with an Architectural sculptor. Later, while in graduate school at the University of New Mexico, he worked at a local Veteran's medical center; he decided to finish his MA, feeling "that the only thing [an] MFA...was good for was teaching in a university...." It was 1970,and Garriott-Stejskal says that at the time there were no programs or organizations for art therapy, "so I invented my own version of it." He became the first registered art therapist in New Mexico and worked at the Veteran's Administration for 25 years, all the while pursuing and exhibiting his artwork. After taking early retirement in 1995, he began working part-time as Gallery Director for Very Special Arts Gallery and was the staff trainer for the Enabled Arts Center for Very Special Arts New Mexico. He has been "rearranging" his life since last May, he says, so that he can focus on creating artwork. Garriott-Stejskal is currently preparing for a two person show at Fisher Gallery in Albuquerque, scheduled for May of this year.

You can view more of the artist's works in the gallery; he is featured this month in the Hot Art review

Intel Inside
Photo by Kirk Giddings

Editor's Note:
Thanks to Richard Garriott-Stejskal for interview


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