Indianapolis-based sculptor and fabricator Brian McCutcheon, originally from Traverse City, Michigan, is one of the most heralded artists in Indianapolis. As proof, he just received a prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation award for 2010-11. He's preparing two Indianapolis Museum of Art solo exhibitions opening April 2011, and his new fabrication business, Indianapolis Fabrications, or iFab (with Randy Domeck), recently installed Type A's "Align" with the IMA at their 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park.
Two of his sculptures are on view in Indy: the Caterpillar-yellow, oversized Tonka toy-like "Loader," a hit at the White River State Park; and at the Indianapolis International Airport, "Towards Flight", a fabricated lawn chair with balloons, which, McCutcheon says, "is about finding poetic resonances in everyday things."
Inspired by ideas of play, building, boyhood and masculinity, McCutcheon is known for impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail that extends to his business of helping other artists complete processes in their work to the art of custom-car building. His 1950s Broad Ripple home, where NUVO conversed with him, was totally rehabbed five years ago with the same amount of thought, competency and clean contemporary design as his art.
McCutcheon graciously showed NUVO his studio and models for his IMA shows, plus his prized 1963 Ford Ranchero along with a classic Dodge A100 pickup truck fresh from California that he's refurbishing as iFab's business vehicle.
NUVO: Tell me about the "Loader" at White River State Park.
McCutcheon: That came out of photographing ground sites and the idea of building, labor and expanding. My son was five when I built it. I was thinking about boys – outward protection, boyhood and masculinity. Since I've had my son (Angus, now 7), my viewpoint of masculinity involves thinking about being a boy, being a man, liking toys...and Angus has grown up liking space... so the work really is about play.
NUVO: You have an interesting way of joining materials.
McCutcheon: I put disparate things together to make a single unified object. In a lot of ways, it is in the joint where content exists. It may happen conceptually as well as in the material.
NUVO: You studied architecture before art. Why the change?
McCutcheon: I went to University of Michigan to study architecture, but didn't finish. I had Kent Hubble briefly as a teacher and was under the impression that because he'd studied art, his work was better. His structures didn't look like buildings.
My father was killed and I was unhappy. Anyhow... I dropped out of undergraduate school several times... then finally terminated after Dad died. He was hit by a snowplow in northern Michigan. Those were rough times.
I packed my truck and started heading to California and got as far as Colorado. I enrolled at Colorado State and studied landscape architecture for a semester, but the idea of working for a client wasn't as appealing as making my own work. Then I met Richard DeVore (the late ceramicist), my mentor, at Colorado's Art Department. He'd gone to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and taught there. He totally opened my eyes – and that's why I have a BFA in pottery. After Colorado, I moved to Portland, Oregon and did odd jobs while preparing to go to grad school. I went to Cranbrook for my MFA, and the only fellowship available was as a technician.
NUVO: Is that how you became such a skilled fabricator?
McCutcheon: The reason I chose to go to Cranbrook was I wanted to find a way to live my life as an artist... to be contemplative... to be aware. I was learning about stuff that would enrich my life. I'm interested in following an idea, and as a consequence of following an idea, I learn new techniques. After college, I learned all the skills I would have if I hadn't gone to college.
From Cranbrook, I went to Philadelphia and took a job at the University of the Arts, teaching sculpture and supervising seven shops. As a tech, everyday you're helping students solve problems. I really put it to trial in Philadelphia. I left the university to work at a custom car shop, where I was hired mostly for office work, but began to build stuff. Really, I just like to make stuff. I can now go into industry to do that sort of thing.
Here in Indy, I worked in an auto shop in Broad Ripple – Passwater's — for a year. I'm a self-taught auto body worker. I'm interested in surface.
NUVO: So after Philly you moved to Indianapolis. What brought you here?
McCutcheon: My wife moved here for her work. She's an architect with MW Harris. Never in a million years did I think I'd live in Indiana. We agreed to stay for ten years – it's been five.
Around then, "Cardinals" (2006) appeared on the east end of Mass. Ave. The cardinal is the state bird of Indiana, and we'd just moved here...moving from inner city Philadelphia to this city, with nature in our backyard. Male cardinals would've never congregated as they did in that work. I was thinking about masculine traits and bringing about oddness in that funky green space. It felt odd being in Indiana.
When I was in Philly, I had twelve to fourteen exhibitions a year. My exhibitions record has tanked here, but I've gotten a lot of opportunities I didn't expect. [McCutcheon was a 2007 Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellow, for instance.] Richard DeVore always said, "just follow the work and the rest will come." Now, I think that is a little naÃ�'Æ'Ã�� â ™Ã�'â šÃ'Â¯ve. There are so many variables to being an artist that are out of your control.
NUVO: You mentioned your father's death right before you started pursuing artmaking. Do you think there's a connection to that event and the ideas and imagery in your art?
McCutcheon: My father had this masculinity about him. A Midwest work ethic is ingrained in me. There's a parallel between making art and being a fabricator, to being competent. It's very Midwestern. I grew up blue collar, but I've got this education.
There are other artists who deal with masculinity, such as Matthew Barney. A curator in Chicago said I was perhaps the only person who wasn't doing it ironically. I try to show the positive and the joy.
NUVO: What are you planning for your solo exhibitions at the IMA?
McCutcheon: I have almost 5,000 square feet in the Forefront Galleries. The exhibition is based on boyhood and space, and the transformation of artist to boy. It's temporarily titled Out of This World. First, I thought of emergence, then flight and gravity. I actually kind of look at this as an emerging artist exhibition... a next step. And down in the Efroymson Pavilion, I'll build a garage and a racecar. I'll be artist-in-residence. The exhibition coincides with the 100th running for the Indy 500.
NUVO: You were just offered a one year, full-time visiting teacher contract at Herron School of Art and Design. What advice do you give your students or other artists?
McCutcheon: You always have to have a place to work – even if it's your bathtub. You gotta just do the work. You gotta make your work, make your money, promote work... be a teacher. I tell students I have four almost full-time jobs.
NUVO: Artist, teacher, fabricator and family?