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American Craft Magazine June/July 2011

Gary S. Griffin: Lifelong Learner

Periodic Gaze (detail)
Periodic Gaze, 2007; ductile cast iron; 4 x 8 ft.
Periodic Gaze (detail)
Photo gallery (2 images)

Gary S. Griffin is a self-professed bibliophile. Of late, the metalsmith has been voraciously reading up on geometry, tessellations, 3D design, and the work of graphic artists in a variety of mediums. Studying these things is fueling a resurgence of abstraction in Griffin's own work.

It's a shift from his extensive focus on more representational imagery, which produced the remarkably sophisticated yet utilitarian steel gates featured in our October/November 2000 issue. "I guess that's what happens as one evolves," Griffin says. "You become interested in different things, and then you execute or act on that observation."

In his northern New Mexico studio, the driven 65-year-old has been building tables and benches, designing a home to be constructed using his own structural steel elements, and experimenting with sheet metal. He's determined to incorporate all his newfound knowledge of shape and pattern - to make sense of it and stretch beyond it. "I want to move from whatever degree of uncertainty I have now toward more certainty," Griffin says.

The idea that a maker's life is a constant shift from the un­familiar to the familiar has been of great interest to Griffin ever since writer and critic Akiko Busch asked him to speak to the topic for her essay "The Ecology of Uncertainty," published in The Haystack Reader (2010). Busch anticipated that someone working in metal must necessarily be attuned to decisiveness, but Griffin surprised her, saying that uncertainty is an ally, not an adversary. Uncertainty, he points out, is not the same as not knowing - it's not being sure yet. It is a state of pure possibility, a chance to think, process, and decide.

Named to the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 2005, Griffin is a renowned artist with many awards to his credit; but despite his years of experience and accomplishments, venturing back to uncertainty - so that he might emerge from it once again - sustains his intrinsic desire to learn and grow as a craftsperson.

Griffin, who retired in 2006 after teaching for 22 years at Cranbrook Academy of Art, has this advice for aspiring makers today: "It's not just the subject matter, because it's always necessary to look for new ideas and become interested in what you want to say; but how you say it is really critical and helpful along the way."

For a young metalsmith, that means knowing the fundamentals of the material, keeping up with new technology, and, like a writer, understanding what compositions and structures are available. In Griffin's case, it's a self-propelled process of building on what he's mastered through lectures, travel, and experimentation in the studio. And, of course, countless trips to his local library.

 

Jessica Shaykett is the American Craft Council librarian.

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