Artist Snapshot: Rand Hardy

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions.

by Stephanie Cassidy | January 18, 2022

rand hardy interview[1]
Rand Hardy in his studio. Photo: Zia O’Hara

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

At the age of twenty in my junior year in college when I enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute.

After growing up and graduating from high school in West Virginia, I attended a small religious college in Idaho for one year. That summer I enrolled in several classes at the Otis Art Institute (renamed the Otis College Art and Design[2]) in downtown Los Angeles, and became friends with the artist Richard Mock[3]. The school hosted a traveling show of New York artists which included Frank Stella’s early black paintings—what a revelation! The next year I went to Penn State University to study architecture. While there, I would make trips into New York to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Seeing the four bronze reliefs by Matisse installed along the wall of the sculpture garden[4] made a huge impression on me. Later, in San Francisco, I would make a series of drawings of objects mounted on the backs of torsos somewhat reminiscent of the Matisse reliefs.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

After a few of my forays off the beaten path, my parents were basically supportive. My mother was a ceramist who drew frequently in a sketch book.

Katharine Baird Shaffer, my great aunt, was the first wife of the great American Precisionist artist Charles Sheeler[5]. Rightly so, he was held in the highest regard in my family, and this probably helped my parents accept my pursuit of being an artist. They paid for my schooling.

Who are your favorite artists?

My first revelatory discovery was the art of Georges Seurat[6]. Not so much because of his magical approach to generating light, but rather because of the way in which he synthesized forms with such absolute clarity.

On the other end of the aesthetic spectrum I’ve long been compelled by the art of H.C. Westermann[7]. His rebellious wit, laced with irony and a sense of tragedy, charged his art with an urgency found in few others. These qualities coupled with his high standards of craft for object making opened my appreciation for what might be considered a kind of obsessive outsider art.

Another sculptor whose work I admire is John Chamberlain[8]. His use of crushed car parts touches a nerve in the American psyche, which is deeply embedded our landscape of highways and driving. And yet for me his work has an almost European quality of figuration. Just as important, his unique way of working presented a new way of incorporating color into sculpture.

Arshile Gorky[9] is another favorite of mine. The beauty of line and the imaginative forms he invented generated a sense of “form analogy” which is of primary interest to me.

Speaking of line, at an early age I became aware of the caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. My parents received the Sunday New York Times in the mail, and I was always entertained and amazed by his remarkable work. I discovered the hidden “Nina’s” on my own.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

Roy Lichtenstein[10]. I deeply admire his work although I do not seem to be able to codify a position as an artist as succinctly as he did. He is so assured, and his ability to set an agenda for his work is extremely impressive. In 1964, a friend and I drove from San Francisco to Los Angles to see his first exhibit at the Ferus Gallery[11], operated by Irving Blum. There I purchased a signed silkscreen print of his for thirty-five dollars!

Art book you cannot live without?

I used to assign William Tucker’s The Language of Sculpture[12] for the Intro to Sculpture course I taught at NYU. Tucker has a deep appreciation for modern sculpture, but he was a bit dismissive of Giacometti’s work. Some of my students took issue with that, and I can’t say they were wrong.

I have three volumes of art criticism by Adrian Stokes[13] in my library. His insights are salient and some of his writing is beautifully descriptive in an almost poetic way.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?

I think it is invention coupled with an idiosyncratic vision. Two of my favorite artists, Christina Ramberg[14] of the Chicago school, and the sculptor Lee Bontecou[15], truly exemplify this.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Yes, I use a 5½ x 8½ in. hardbound book and draw with a fountain pen using permanent India ink.

Most of the sketches are thoughts, some fleeting, about how to resolve a sculpture I’m working on. Occasionally I will draw from life, but usually the sketches are about what’s going on in the studio.

I put a date on the cover of the book when I begin and then a date when the book is filled up, so they function almost like diaries.

Also, and just as important, every morning when I wake up I record my nocturnal dreams by writing them down. I don’t save these, but the process seems to help me be in touch with my unconscious.

What is your favorite museum in the world?

I’ve visited the major museums in Britain, France, Italy, as well as the Hermitage in Russia[16], and find it impossible to pick a favorite. That being said, here in New York, for me it is The Met[17]. Seeing the special exhibits and then being able to delve into the antique cultures from all around the world is very special.

What the best exhibition you have ever attended?

There were several Henri Matisse retrospectives that were absolutely enthralling.

If you were not and artist, what would you be?

My doppelganger is an architect, just like George Costanza!

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

When I enrolled at the Art Institute of San Francisco[18] in 1964, I met Gary Stephan[19] who had just come out from New York. The paintings he was doing at that time were very psychologically charged. He had an intensely serious mindset about art, and he and I, as well as a few other friends, would critique each other’s work and have deep discussions to probe what was going on.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

A tutorial about how to apply for grants, how to pursue an internship, or otherwise how to navigate the economic challenges of being an artist may have been helpful.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?

Greek art captivates me because of its remarkable visual language that communicates the profundity of its myths and culture. Whether it be red or black figure kraters or marble sculptures in the round, I find it all compelling.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

As a city dweller who grew up in Appalachia, I am enthralled, never bored, to look at nature. It’s good to get out of the urban, man-made environment to look at trees, clouds, streams, the ocean, rivers, and wild life. It is most restorative.

Do you listen to music in the studio?

Absolutely, unless I am at a critical point in the development of something and do not want to be distracted.

My radio is locked on WKCR 89.9 FM[20]. The music is incredibly diverse, and I enjoy the personalities and insights of the presenters. WKCR’s Phil Schapp passed away this year. He was a very humanistic and learned historian of jazz and our culture.

What is the last gallery you visited?

56 Henry[21]. Ellie Rhines has put together an interesting roster of young artists. The recent Cynthia Talmadge painting installation was remarkable.

Who is an underrated artist people should look at?

John Mendelsohn[22] and Matt Kenny[23] are both excellent painters who bring interesting concepts to their art. I think the are both deserving of wider recognition.

What materials can you not live without?

Aqua Resin is the material I use to make my sculptures. It has become an essential element in my exploration of making sculpture.

Do you sculpt everyday? Rand Hardy interview

Yes, or at least whenever I can.

For me to complete a sculpture, it is usually a four-phase process beginning with pattern-making to mold-making, casting of a mold, and ultimately the combining of various forms into a whole. As such I work in a very deliberate way that necessitates many incremental procedures.

Years ago, I recall a conversation with Ron Gorchov who shared an anecdote from Ad Reinhardt who told him, “You only have to work three hours a day, but you must do it every day.” The three hour rule doesn’t work for me, but the emphasis on consistency certainly does.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?

Probably for about ten months years ago when I was very depressed. Artists are vulnerable to depression, and it can be a serious issue, which each person must learn to deal with.

What do you do when you are felling uninspired?

Perseverance seems to be the key, but sometimes a change of pace can unlock a sense of having hit the wall. Go out to see some shows. What are other people up to? That helps.

What are the questions that drive your work?

It’s not always clear, but I think it is the tactile nature of sculpture that compels me. Something like that is what I experienced looking at Brancusi’s carved wooden King and Queen sculptures shown at the Guggenheim Museum in the early 70s.

Probing around his sculptures, almost like a boxer looking for an opening, was an engagement of perception that was most rewarding. Art frequently triggers associations or recollections that resonate well beyond themselves. A sense of this can be transformative in a way that expands our experience beyond the norm and leads to renewal.

What is the most important quality of an artist? Rand Hardy interview

Ultimately, it is communication. Jacob Lawrence made the most astonishing forms and compositions while addressing grave social concerns of migration and injustice effecting minority people.

What is something you haven’t achieved in art?

I am still searching for a definitive statement.

This is in part why I don’t embrace the common term often used today by many artists to describe what they are doing as in “my practice.”

To say, “my practice” implies a continuum that may be of an ordinary routine. For me, art is not that. It is not a day job. It goes beyond that, and the art produced should, too.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media? Rand Hardy intervi

I follow numerous artists on Instagram and occasionally will post something myself. It can be an interesting form of language in a visual sense.

Also, remember when slides were the primary means of representing one’s work? A clear plastic page of slides was expensive to make, and you didn’t always get them back. Today the use of digital transmission (enabled with Photoshop) is a real boon. How lucky we are!

RAND HARDY (@rand.hardy[24]) will be teaching a two-day workshop “Aqua Resin: Casting and Building[25]” at the Art Students League in February 2022.

  1. [Image]:
  2. Otis College Art and Design:
  3. Richard Mock:
  4. four bronze reliefs by Matisse installed along the wall of the sculpture garden:
  5. Charles Sheeler:
  6. Georges Seurat:
  7. H.C. Westermann:
  8. John Chamberlain:
  9. Arshile Gorky:
  10. Roy Lichtenstein:
  11. Ferus Gallery:
  12. The Language of Sculpture:
  13. Adrian Stokes:
  14. Christina Ramberg:
  15. Lee Bontecou:
  16. Hermitage in Russia:
  17. The Met:
  18. Art Institute of San Francisco:
  19. Gary Stephan:
  20. WKCR 89.9 FM:
  21. 56 Henry:
  22. John Mendelsohn:
  23. Matt Kenny:
  24. @rand.hardy:
  25. Aqua Resin: Casting and Building: