Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is owned and run by Ivan and Allison Barnett, an energetic and engaging couple. They chose to have a show called Overlay with Steve Ford and David Forlano through April 22, 2012, during the time of David Forlano’s painting exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Ford and Forlano are popular artists on the craft fair scene and innovative makers using polymer clay. But beyond that they have very active creative lives, as you will see.
Susan Cummins: I understand that you and Steve Ford met in Rome during a year of studying abroad through the Tyler School of Art. Can you retell the story of your meeting and explain why you became friends and working partners?
Steve Ford: David and I were assigned adjacent studio spaces at Tyler/Rome in 1984 and had similar work habits. We both liked to work until the building closed at midnight. We’d then walk back to our pensione, stopping at Giolliti’s near the Pantheon for a late night gelato. While our individual styles were very different, I think we were both intrigued by the other’s thinking about art and how to make a successful painting. Our first collaboration was in a figure drawing class there. Working next to each other, our two drawings of the same model had opposite problems. We spontaneously traded drawings and ‘corrected’ each other’s work.
David Forlano: I remember being interested in the way Steve thought about painting. We had studios directly next to each other, which allowed for constant dialogue about the process of making work. I was intrigued by Steve’s focus on the construction of paintings as an object.
How do you collaborate now as artists making jewelry?
Steve Ford: Dave and I worked side by side for so many years, that we developed a kind of private language; a short-hand to talk about what we wanted to make. He moved to Santa Fe in 2005 and frankly I couldn’t see how things could continue (I’m the cynic in our partnership). To my surprise, it’s survived, thrived and in some ways improved. There is more space for each of us to explore ideas before presenting it to the other for a reaction. On a personal level, I also noticed that I was much more dependent on David’s reaction to my work, than he was to mine. I now use my iphone to email pics of work in process to David if I feel that I’m stuck, or at a loss about what to do next. The physical separation means that the process has slowed down, which is also a good thing in some ways. That is, I think that I’m more thoughtful and less rushed to bring ideas to fruition.
David Forlano: After many years of working side by side in a studio with Steve I found we had established a strong enough vocabulary between us that no distance could interfere with. We share digital images quickly and easily making this process even more seamless. I see a benefit of having both private studio space and a stable base of understanding about our collaborative process. This has given us the best of both worlds and our work has grown from it.
What do you think are the appealing qualities of polymer clay? How is it to work with it as a material? What are its appealing qualities as a final product?
Steve Ford: I do find that polymer stands up to our curiosity about it, that there are endless things to do with it. I like its physical properties: it’s lightweight, strong, durable and stable. It doesn’t dry out while you’re working with it and doesn’t shrink or change color when baked. The color mixing seems infinite and we can manipulate it both before and after it’s been baked (cured), by sanding, polishing, carving, drilling, etc.
David Forlano: I like the versatility of the material. I like that I can think in color in the same way I do as a painter.
I know your work was in the Racine Art Museum exhibition called Terra Nova: Polymer Art at the Crossroads, which just ended in early February. Do you think this show established new thinking about polymer clay?
Steve Ford: I don’t know what to say about that as a maker. I don’t feel like promoting polymer clay as a material is my issue anymore – it used to be in the early years. Polymer enthusiasts now say that one should refer to the material as polymer, not polymer clay, but I can’t get too excited about that distinction. I’m happiest when someone, as an afterthought, asks what the materials are. To me, that means that the polymer has disappeared, or at least is a secondary consideration to the ideas that we’re expressing. It’s become a vehicle, boring in itself, as paint is to painting. That said, we did sell a major necklace to the Newark Museum as a result of the Terra Nova show, so I think it did have a positive influence on how museum curators see work done using polymer.
David Forlano: I think it is tremendously valuable and affirming to be recognized by a museum. I can only guess that time will tell how polymer is thought about in a larger craft and art world. It certainly places a validating marker, which asks both artists and collectors to consider polymer in a new light.
Steve, I understand that you were a print maker and that you also studied glass making at school. How did you end up making jewelry using polymer clay?
Steve Ford: I studied glass and printmaking, pre-Rome, at Washington University in St Louis. I liked the process-oriented nature of both media. Years later, I saw some simple work from California in polymer that reminded me of the glass techniques that I knew. Polymer seemed to bring together my interests in the plasticity of paint and glass, the planning process of printmaking and the possibility of complex color and surface of all three.
David, you trained as a painter and you are very invested as a musician. How did you end up making jewelry using polymer clay?
David Forlano: Jewelry was the last thing I ever thought I would be making in the studio. When we started working with polymer clay our intention was to build a business that could support our studio activities in fine art. We quickly became fascinated with the material and all of the potential it offered. My involvement in music and art continued off and on over the past 25 years, while simultaneously making jewelry.
David, your painting with a small nod to your jewelry is being featured in the New Mexico Museum of Art as part of an old museum tradition of featuring local artists. How were you chosen to be one of the inaugural artists for the reviving of this old practice?
David Forlano: In addition to my paintings there are three major Ford/Forlano necklaces on exhibit at the show. Like the other artists in the show my work has been part of the New Mexico art community for many years. Currently our jewelry is in Patina Gallery. I am aware that museum had a pool of thousands of artists to choose from. Though I am not privy to how they make their selection, I am greatly honored to be part of the inaugural show.
David, can you tell me what kind of music you play and do you have a group and play publicly? Do you think being a musician affects the jewelry you make in any way?
David Forlano: While I was in Philadelphia I was composing music for choreographers as well as playing free-improvised music with small ensembles of musicians. I studied guitar and classical Indian percussion during the 1990s in Philadelphia. Most of my compositions and stage work with dancers involved the use of electronics and found objects as instrumentation. I believe all of the creative activities I am involved with inform my process and vision. Playing live improvised music has been an important lesson to me in collaboration. This kind of music requires an extreme alertness and respect to the other musicians involved. The practice of listening and allowing space for others is what makes collaboration work best.
David, why did you move to Santa Fe from Philadelphia where you have lived for many years?
David Forlano: I moved to Santa Fe after most of my life in Philadelphia and the surrounding area in 2005. When I met my wife she had already been a long time resident of Santa Fe and I was overdue for a change of environment. I have found the easy pace of New Mexico a perfect match for my temperament.