When Joe Riche hit Denver as a University of Denver MFA candidate in the late '90s, he was an inventive kid with big ideas, interested in building kinetic and robotic machine-dream sculptures and unwilling to to let the size of those creative visualizations slow him down. He went on to play out those ideas, etched in fire, with the Motoman Project, which perfected a form of flame-throwing machine performance throughout the last decade.
That grew into a more refined kind of sculptural production, and the Demiurge fabrication studio was born: Demiurge works with large-scale sculptors to realize their monumental public-art pieces. And while running that, Riche has also fabricated a few sculptures of his own, including the familiar work, Trade Deficit, a jumble of shipping container parts rising out of the concrete at the intersection of Broadway and Blake Street. Now he's set to install a new sculpture of polygonal shapes in Republic Plaza at the end of this month. Demiurge has also instigated a residency program for young artists who, like Riche himself, have big ideas; recent Colorado Creative subject Amber Cobb was the first to complete the program. And because we think big ideas are what being a Colorado Creative is really all about, we asked Riche to answer our 100CC questionnaire. Read on to see the results.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Joe Riche: Marcel Duchamp and Jean Tinguely: Duchamp for his concept that he is an artist because of his mind, not because of the objects he creates. That was a day the universe changed for me. His machine assemblages inspired my early sculpture, and his cubist paintings are now informing my new work. Tinguely, because I think it would be a blast to create sculpture as freely as he does. The rigidity of his found object materials doesn't slow down his assembly process. The baggage that a found object has doesn't affect him. They are just forms, and he places them where they make the best formal contribution to the sculpture.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Their work in generative design and parametrics is really exciting to me right now. 3D digital design tools are finally being used to create more than presentation materials -- they are now able to directly interface with CNC production equipment to become an integral part of the fabrications process. We at the Demiurge shop are further working towards a seamless integration between the digital aspects of the design studio to the analog format of the fabrication shop. That's still the weak link in the process, but it's achievable with an open mind to letting the design tech infiltrate and inform the production methods of the shop.
Continue reading for more from Joe Riche. What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Tired public complaints about the public art system. Those who complain with generic talking points -- such as "Wasting how much money on that?," "Why not a local artist?," "I could have done that," "What about using that money to fix the roads?," "That's not art..." -- are the ones who need art to infiltrate their lives the most. The long-term investment of public art will always outlast one's weekly paycheck woes. Public art contributes to the local economy far more than fixing a pothole. Granted, we need a solid infrastructure, but we must subscribe to a way to achieve both simultaneously, which is exactly what the nation's public art programs are doing. Affluent societies are always marked by their integration of art into daily life. If we had no creativity and everything constructed was strictly utilitarian, our cities would have the aesthetic of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Public art programs do infinitely more good for their city than most are generally aware of. It's extremely viable for any city to project itself as welcoming to modern and contemporary ideas in order to attract modern and contemporary people and businesses. The price that a city pays for this service in the form of Public Art is a great investment when considering how much an equal impact would cost if acquired through other means. We all contribute to art, and we all benefit from art.
What's your day job?
I'm the owner of Demiurge LLC, a high-end custom sculpture production studio in Denver. We produce and install large-scale sculpture across North America, along with some international venues.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Build a studio that can offer equipment and support to the artists that I think are doing exciting work and also make it available to emerging artists, so their ideas are not restricted by facilities and capabilities -- basically, the mission we are already striving for at Demiurge. It will just take far longer to achieve since I haven't yet received that call from the mystery patron. If you're out there, my phone number is 303-292-1011...
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
I think Denver is doing great, but could always be better. Starting with the mindset that creative industries attract more industry and revenue to an area is an imperative beginning, which Denver has done a good job of. Demiurge probably could not have grown in the organic manner it has in any other city that wasn't on one of the coasts. Denver's strong public art program was integral to our growth, especially in 2008 when the bubble burst, and we all really saw the economic downturn affecting us on the street level. Fabrication shops were dropping like flies. In an odd way, I think it made us all stronger in the arts community by cleaning out the gene pool. Creatives had to actually really get creative to survive. It wasn't just a title or lifestyle anymore.
Continue reading for more from Joe Riche.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Can't really name just one. I have been a big fan of Chuck Parson since I moved to Denver from New Orleans in 1999. I've said many times that if I wasn't making the sculpture that I make, I would be making the sculpture he makes. I'm really stoked on your #65 Creative, Amber Cobb. I think she, along with her partner, Jason Below, are making the right strides to develop a strong career. Same with Conor Hollis and Amorette Lana of Hollis+Lana. I've been a superfan of their collaborative work from the beginning. It's inspiring that together they have found a tight groove with their art.
What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
Aside from a few large-scale public art pieces of my own, I took about eight years off from making my art to concentrate on building Demiurge and spending what time I had left from that with my two boys, six-year-old Malek and four-year-old Lucas. So I'm excited to get some momentum back in my own career. Eight years ago, I felt my work needed to evolve but had a difficult time knowing what direction to take. During that period, I wasn't making my own art, but was certainly still breathing it, so that time wasn't wasted. I'm now confident in my direction and methods, and I want to see where it takes my work. The Republic Plaza sculptures, which are to be installed June 28, are the first batch from this new format.
For the rest of 2013, Demiurge is taking us to San Jose, Salt Lake City, Miami (twice) and a great piece for the Denver Museum of Natural History, in addition to tooling up for more generative and parametric design methods. We are presently in the R&D phase of a reappropriated assembly-line robot arm. The plug-ins and drivers that can speak to our existing software are just about developed. Now comes the hardware acquisition and assembly phase. Check out our website and Facebook page to keep up on what we're working on.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts this year?
The last crop of grads from the CU MFA program are looking real solid. Amber Cobb, Abby Bennett, Tobias Fike, Adan De La Garza, Xi Zhang and Matt Harris all hit the ground running, whereas most kids fall off the planet after grad school. We worked with many of them through Demiurge, and I have been very impressed with their maturity of concept in their artistic development. They have the tools -- let's see what they make of it.
Mai Wyn Schantz: She was in Denver, then moved away for many years, and is now back and just opened a new gallery and studio space on Santa Fe in the Arts District. I think she will get re-discovered and recognized as the solid painter she is.
And anyone who Ivar Zeile from Plus Gallery gets excited about. He's got a good eye for future talent.
Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.
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