I recently interviewed artist Thomas Ostenberg. Mr. Ostenberg is a sculptor who works primarily in bronze. He is known for his fluid and intuitive work. His sculptures reflect his search for emotional and spiritual equilibrium. Discovery, balance, movement, security and harmony are recurring themes in his work.
When observing his work the viewer is allowed to build his or her own narrative surrounding the meaning of the piece. Mr. Ostenberg works in a manner that permits onlookers to ponder their own personal experience and imagination upon viewing his art. He creates an atmosphere that allows his audience to self-reflect upon their own lives while sharing a glimpse of his inner realm.
I'd like to thank Fraser Kee Scott, director of Agallery, for introducing me to Mr. Ostenberg.
You can buy Thomas's art here:
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?
A. "I decided to try to become an artist at the age of 40. I had been captivated by art since my 20s, visiting galleries and museums as often as possible. After becoming disillusioned with a career in finance, I felt compelled to pursue a career as an artist although I had no experience of any kind in making art."
Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?
A. "Professionally it has freed me from a corporate structure which has given me a great sense of freedom and self-reliance. It has also made my life more edgy. I can no longer count on a steady income stream. Furthermore, when things are financially tight, I cannot make more money by working overtime. To the contrary, as a creator of bronze sculpture, the more I work and produce, the greater are my costs of production. With energy and bronze prices increasing dramatically, this is no little consideration. This can be frustrating in times of a slow art market as I am willing (love to) work long hours. At those times, there is nothing to be done except believe strongly in oneself and expect to make enough to survive.
Personally, making art has filled my life with a true sense of well being and love of my profession. While I am rarely fully satisfied with what I create, I know that it is my creation - and I constantly have the opportunity to improve, learn and grow in my understanding of myself and my art."
Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?
A. "The stimulus/motivation that moves me to use the imagery I employ (whether it comes across to the viewer...who knows?) is a repulsion of consumerism and money based status as well as an aversion to imposed values by groups that feel they have a lock on "THE TRUTH".
I am expressing a search for a moral/spiritual sense of equilibrium that seems right for me. I am personally trying to achieve an inner sense of peace and balance in a precarious and materialistic society.
I also feel a great deal of joy and freedom in the creative process and in my belief that one cannot buy (or generally even see) the most important things in life."
Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?
A. "Honesty, sincerity and a simple search for self understanding move me. Isamu Noguchi, Mattisse and the early Etruscans are strong influences. I admire their simplicity and sincerity.
Spanish artists, especially Velazquez and Goya, but right up to contemporary artists are very appealing to me as are some surrealists. Sculpture of all sorts can make me think."
Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?
A. "See my bio at www.thomasostenberg.com. Much of my work is autobiographical to some degree. I grew up around animals on a ranch. I have evolved from an economically secure but spiritually challenged individual to one who is at least searching for a true moral compass but is economically not so secure. As such, I feel securely in balance, with a strong sense of positive motion, although the world around me seems at time chaotic and even surreal."
Q. How long have you been a working artist?
A. "About 12 years. I was supporting myself through sales of my work while still a student at the Royal College of Art in London."
Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?
A. "I have been fortunate to sell to very serious collectors that include a number of major museum trustees and directors. I think that what appeals to them is the seriousness with which I create and execute the work, yet there is an upbeat playfulness and sometimes quirkiness to the imagery I present."
Q. Discuss one of your pieces.What were you thinking when you created it?
A. "I Feel Fine (image above.) As stated above, this is semi-autobiographical. Here you find a horse perched atop a set of wheels that could run out from under it at any time, especially since it is on the brink of a slope. Yet atop this precarious structure is a human figure serenely balanced on one hand doing a handstand on the horse's back.
While this guy might be insecure in his physical surroundings, not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from or how he'll pay the rent, he knows that in his mind and in the essence of his being, he is in a state of balance and harmony with life. He knows and trusts that with this understanding he will be able to face and conquer uncertainties and his material needs will be provided for."
Q. On average, how many hours do you spend working in your studio? Do you have any 'studio rituals'?
A. "I try to spend 10 hours a day in the studio. I'd like to spend more. I listen to NPR and classical music generally. I also listen to Brazilian music & Rock n Roll."
Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?
A. "I have 4 degrees. One in languages, an MBA, and 2 art degrees a US BFA and an MA from the UK.
All of my degrees have been helpful. Languages have helped in my travels, enabling me to be more than a tourist. This has had a major impact on who I am and thus what I have to say.
The MBA is invaluable in attending to the least interesting but essential side of being an artist: The Business of Art.
The BFA was essential in learning and developing artistic skills, although I had to fight to get the most out of the program. The tendency to treat students as artists rather than students who need to learn was frustrating. That professors would encourage students to create what they "FEEL" rather than teach basic skills was a hurdle that needed to be jumped over. At music school no professor tells a student not to bother with practicing their scales but just sit at a piano and feel and express the music that is inside.
Still, I was able to get a decent grounding in basic skills of drawing, painting, wood & metal work and the entire bronze casting process. I am particularly grateful for learning and understanding what it means to see.
The MA was like a half way house, where I put together my first body of work but was surrounded by an ART COCOON with many people committed to "ART." (An added bonus was the seriousness with which the graduates of the program were taken by the gallery owners, collectors and critics in the UK. One could get one's portfolio reviewed simply by having the degree and university initials after one's name.) Once one is out in the REAL WORLD it is amazing how hard it is to meet friends who give a damn about art.
Before attending the MA program I was told by a gallery owner to forget the graduate art degree route, take the $40,000 or so that the degree would cost, rent a studio and work a minimum of 8 hours a day making work. I think that may have been good advice."
Q. Where can we see more of your art?
A. "1) visit www.thomasostenberg.com
2) Google Thomas Ostenberg
3) visit the websites of the galleries listed on my website.
4) Visit the Palm Beach Art Fair in January.
Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?
A. "Trends are trendy and often not enduring. I suspect that many of today's hottest artists will be little more than footnotes in the future and only that because of all the money that museums and the art establishment have thrown at dubious art.
What to look for in any form of artistic expression with the hope of it being long lasting is a frank honesty of expression (which does not mean clever or ironic but a DEEP sincerity). This means that the artist is being true to himself and is NOT interested in trends nor in what the public wants"
Q. Any tips for emerging artists?
A. "1) create a 'voice' that is your own. Have something to say that means something TO YOU and is not just cool or fashionable. Even war which is such an important issue can become a cliché unless you are deeply obsessed. The greatest anti-war paintings such as Picasso's Guernica or Goya's 3 de Mayo, were basically one off's. Sure Goya did his etchings but neither dedicated their artistic careers to one theme. Tom Otterness does goofy figures, but he does them well and his "voice" is unmistakable.
2) execute your art with skill and pride. Love your own work and make others marvel at your execution as well as your content. Bad craftsmanship may seem hip to some but it is really just sloppy and will eventually be called for what it is.
3) be confident in your work if you really love it. If you are not confident and do not think your art is the best thing going, why would anyone else?
4) learn to self promote. Build mailing lists of collectors, galleries of interest, museums etc. Have professional quality photos taken of your best work. Have postcards made of your best work using your professional photos. Every 3 - 6 months send a different postcard to your mailing list (after a year or two you should begin to be recognized by your work)
5) Have a good website so those who receive your cards can view more work, learn more about you and hopefully contact you. THIS IS JUST A FIRST APPROACH BUT CAN BE EFFECTIVE.
6) Do not set your prices too low."
Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?
A. "2000 - 2002 when the art market died. I could not sell enough work to survive at a time when I got married and had 2 new sons. I am a hard worker but unlike a regular job could not work overtime. The more I worked the greater my expenses as I make bronze sculpture. I was asked to have over 6 solo shows during this period and had to beg and borrow to make the work and then, although successful when compared to other gallery shows, I did not even cover my costs. Since then the work has been moving well. 'Have you ever hit rock-bottom?' YES."
Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?
A. "I cannot not make art."
Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?
A. "Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA They say it is the second or third or fourth art market in the USA, depending on who is talking. It has been a wonderful eclectic tourist destination with more art galleries per capita than any other city (certainly in the USA and maybe the world). There is a Native American Indian culture, a Spanish culture with roots directly to the conquistadors of Spain and there are cowboys and a rodeo...but there is also a world class opera, chamber and chorale music, the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet and all this in a high plains desert nestled against the Rocky Mountains with all the sports that implies, as well as the world's largest hot air balloon festival a few miles down the road.
There are many artists of all kinds. Visual artists doing anything that is being done anywhere else in the world as well as musicians and authors of myriad themes and styles. Georgia O'Keefe and D H Lawrence both lived here as does Terry Allen, Bruce Naumann and Susan Rothenberg.
Site Santa Fe is one of the worlds great forums for "cutting edge" contemporary art. They have a widely visited Biennial program. There is also a fledgling art fair and as mentioned above, hundreds of galleries, some of which are world class in their different areas. "
Q. Has politics ever entered your art?
A. "I have a large piece called "The Politician" and am working on a second version. It is not meant to be flattering."
Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?
A. "Faith and the lack thereof as well as my own internal searching motivate me to make my sculpture, BUT they are not meant to be themes or messages I want to transmit. The result however tends to have a rather upbeat impact on the work and this is generally well received by even the most contemporary of critics."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Thomas Ostenberg. Feel free to critique or discuss his art.
Take care, Stay true,