Jeremy Mayer is a California sculptor who makes assemblages of living things exclusively from the components of carefully disassembled typewriters. In his time-intensive studio practice Mayer uses no glue, solder, welds, wire, or anything outside of a collection of all vintages of typewriter, using only the screws, nuts, springs, and pins to assemble his mostly life-scale sculptures of living things.
I've written many artist statements over the years, and I've come to realize that the work itself is the statement. I hope that in viewing my work that people will consider the process and practice first, then imagine why it is relevant to our time. To my mind, the act of making art is analogous to the way an individual lives and sees the world. Making art and living are inseparable. My work is a representation of my best and worst self; it's what I know and feel right now, this very second.
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I grew up in Northern Minnesota. My early sculpture influences were: trees, big plastic roadside attractions all over the Midwestern United States, roadside political statements scrawled on car hoods next to some animal made from farm equipment, science fiction books and films, DaVinci's impossible but prescient sketches of inventions, and the design of the typewriter itself. My art education is informal but based in traditional sculpture methods. Instead of going to art school right out of high school, I worked for sculptors. This education involved: making molds of ancient architectural adornments, casting sculptures of Hindu deities, casting anatomical medical models.
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Artist, Jeremy Mayer, builds fabulous sculptures both large and small from typewriter parts. He started his career in 1994, and has been singularly focused using a medium all his own. He has shared his work in Ted Talks, in the acclaimed California Typewriter movie and has been interviewed by Wired Magazine among others. We had the opportunity to share our own set of questions with him recently.
Throughout your career a number of articles have been written about you and your work. Is there one question you ever wished you'd been asked?
There isn't one question that I felt hadn't been asked, but when answering the most popular questions like "How did you start doing this?", or "Why typewriters?", I find that a simple explanation usually comes up short. It seems that a lot of people believe that artists are swept up in a profound moment of inspiration-- an epiphany, a vision, a dream that spurs a flurry of passionate output. That sometimes does happen, but most days, inspiration is a little more boring. It's just work. I followed my interests, and made my interests my life's work. I didn't concoct a strategy or gimmick to make some kind of art that no one had made before. I was just being me. Thinking, playing, reading, living, making art.
What were you doing before typewriters and what has changed for you the most as you continue to work with this medium?
Instead of going to art school after high school, I went to work for established sculptors as well as doing simple labor jobs, all while making my own sculpture and drawings on the side. After a couple of years of that, I got married and became a dad, so I had to have gainful employment.
I sought out work that was interesting. In doing all of this work, from an early age, I understood that those skills would become fodder for the experiences and process that coalesced into my artistic practice. Labor jobs included window washing, general remodeling and home repair, auto detailing, house cleaning, shoveling huge blocks of snow off of buildings in the mountains, chandelier cleaning, house painting, and property maintenance, to name a few. I also did some semi-skilled and skilled labor and was a stained glass restorer and designer, package designer, mechanic and operator of heavy equipment (very valuable for learning mechanical processes), graphic designer, mold-maker, and more.
Like every artist I had hoped that someday I could make my sculpture for a living, but I never felt like working at a day-job was keeping me from that. Everything I did while working at a job was leading up to the art I would make. I'm immensely grateful for the long hours doing tedious, seemingly menial work; every hour of it gave me the skills I would later apply to art making, and would allow me to cultivate the patience to follow my interests.
The thing that has changed the most about the work is that more people see it and are aware of it. Hardly anything has changed regarding the subject matter or studio practice.
Which pieces are the most satisfying to complete and why?
The bigger the better.The large-scale pieces are my preferred challenge. The more difficult the work, the more interesting it is to me. I like to tell people that when I eat a fortune cookie, I don’t read the fortune until I eat the entire cookie. It’s a delicious little moment of anticipation. When I start a sculpture that may take a year or more, I apply that same anticipation, imagining the work standing before me, done, along with my longing to complete the work and all of the hours of tedium behind me. When it’s finished, I go back to beginning of another sculpture. It’s a perfect balance of frustration and satisfaction, just how I feel life should be.
Is there a story behind any of your work?
This one requires a very lengthy response. I'll have to write a book someday. It's my story as a person.The work is the framework that I apply to my life. There's an analog to my entire existence and experience in every connection of every component of every sculpture.
Which sculptures do you consider your most successful and why?
People seem to be most taken by the small birds. The wings are an excellent example of how the makers of the typewriter were inspired by nature. The parts for the wings come right out the machine, in numerical order, graduated in size, with elegant forms, and are held together by just a couple of screws. To me the birds show how the people who built machines were inspired by the forms and processes that are embedded in all living things.
Has the year 2020 with all of its various challenges had any impact on your studio practice, approach to your work, and/or the pieces you are creating?
My latest sculptures are circular, wall-hanging reliefs that have been described as "virus-y", which is a coincidence. The virus and subsequent lockdowns haven't influenced the look of my work directly, but the first finished work and the virus arrived at the same time. Much of my practice has always required very long hours of uninterrupted solitude, so the lockdown measures implemented since COVID spread didn't change my life much. In fact, my studio setup and studio practice are the most stable, engaging, and satisfying that they have ever been for me. My daughter, a recent college graduate, has been living with me and working with me in the shop, which is a dream come true: having fun making art with my family! However, the volatile state of the world right now creates an anxiety that's difficult to drown out. It becomes difficult to stay focused on the work. I don't want to ignore what's happening, but at the same time, I have to temporarily mute the outside world just to be able to sweep the floor. These days, concentrating on the work requires much more focus and discipline thanI've ever had to muster. The solution to every problem I've ever faced is, quite simply: keep making art.