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December 19, 1955 |
Buffalo, New York
|Education||Alfred University (BFA), Illinois State University (MFA)|
|Known for||Artist, Educator, Curator, Gallery Director|
Neil Tetkowski (born 1955) is an artist, curator, educator, writer, philosopher and political activist. Born in Buffalo, New York, Tetkowski lives in New York City and is the Director of University Galleries at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.
Tetkowski’s introduction to art began at an early age, as his father was a college professor of design and his mother a high school teacher of art. As a young boy, he and his family lived in Siena, Italy, where he attended Italian public school. The environment of Tuscany, with its ancient terracotta architecture and varied landscape, made a lasting impression on him.
Tetkowski became seriously involved with art and music in the tenth grade. At the age of seventeen, he had already decide to be a potter and planned to live in a rural setting. But additional travel in the United States, Mexico and Europe broadened his teenage goals. He then graduated from Grand Island High School in 1973. Subsequent study at Alfred University challenged his notions of craft and fine art. Tetkowski said he has no intention of being “ a culturally displaced potter, making medieval ware for a twentieth century audience”.
By the time he received his BFA degree in 1977, Tetkowski was no longer interested in becoming a craftsman. Instead, he sought to express his own personal vision of modern culture, using the two and three-dimensional space of the vessel as his medium.
Tetkowski earned his MFA degree in 1980 from Illinois State University. From 1980 to 1983 he held the position of assistant professor at Denison University in central Ohio and in 1983, Tetkowski receives an Individual Artist Fellowship form the Ohio Arts Council. In 1984 he was a resident artist at Artpark in Lewiston, New York. From Ohio he returned to Buffalo, where he was an assistant professor at the State University College of New York at Buffalo, until 1987. He received a Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1986. During this time, the scale of his work became a significant concern for Tetkowski. He wanted to fill the viewer’s entire field of vision with an object, so that the viewer was forced to confront it on its own term and to grapple with the aesthetic issues Tetkowski was exploring, rather than respond to the work as a definable object, such as a vessel. This led to the three and four-foot disks the artist became known for.
During the 1980s Tetkowski was the subject of solo shows at Mogul Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Dolgenos, Bergen and Newman Gallery, New York; Akasaka Green Gallery, Tokyo; Nina Freudenheim Gallery, Buffalo; and Objects Gallery, Chicago. In 1988 he was also featured in a solo show at Gallery Ueda, Tokyo, in cooperation with the American Embassy there.
In 1987 the artwork changed as his studio was now in an old brick factory in upstate New York. Where the earlier work (made in the mid-west) was more serene, painterly and understated, his “American Iron and Steel Series” is bold and sculptural. Evidence of these changes is most apparent in the introduction of found objects, and in his more forceful physical attacks on the circular form – the gear imprints, railroad spikes, steel cables smashed through the rim, even altering the symmetry of the circle.
1990s - Performative works
In the 1990s, he began a landmark series of performance events using clay to express and record a personal choreography of art in action. Watching Tetkowski work is like watching an actor prepare for a performance. He builds himself up to a highly charged physical and emotional level until he is fully focused and ready to create. The artist’s energy, movement and gestures are recorded as ‘footprints’ in massive organic disks and wall-hung forms. Embedded in these lush naturalistic forms are fragments of industrial urban culture: iron spikes, screws and hooks. For artist Neil Tetkowski, clay is a metaphor for the Earth. His art consists of transforming raw material into another state, imbuing it with a sense of soul and identity. What emerges from the kiln are objects the artist calls “ diary notations of actions or events”. It is this pervasive and powerful sense of ‘process’ that engages the viewer of these energetic and muscular works.
On February 23, 1991 Tetkowski did a performance, titled “Ground War” with a video documented head-shaving. Having smeared himself with a blood-like substance, he worked at an oversized potter’s wheel surrounded by performing jazz musicians. A 3-foot “disk” was ceremoniously thrown, lowered to the floor. Marks and impressions were made by individual bullets, cartridge belts and full rifle clips being dragged across/ impressed in the clay. The work was later cast in bronze and is on public display in Hiroshima, Japan.
In 1993 Tetkowski conducted a commissioned performance work titled L’ador V’ador – (generation to generation), involving Jutta Lewkowic, a holocaust survivor, and her five year-old grandson.
2000s - The Common Ground World Project
Completed in 2002, the “Common Ground World Project” kept the artist busy for the better part of five years. His vision: collect earth samples from all United Nations countries, blend the samples into a common “world clay”, and sculpt a work of art symbolizing unity and our shared humanity. At the center of the ceramic eight-foot spiral is the handprint of Mary Livornese Cavalieri (1899–2008), a 100 year-old woman, and inside is the tiny print of Kelly Rose Tom, a new born baby. The World Mandala was created at the United Nations in New York City, April 10 – May 15, 2000. The completed work was shown at the United Nations January 28 – March 6, 2002. A touring exhibition including related objects and “Installation 188” has been to many venues including the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York and at the Ceramic Biennale, Icheon World Ceramic Center, Icheon, Korea.
The Kanazawa Project, 2002, titled “Generations in Time” was sponsored by the city government of Kanazawa, Japan to mark the 40th anniversary of its sister-city program with Buffalo, New York. Tetkowski organized one hundred people consecutively aged from one to one hundred, to place their handprint in a huge clay mandala. The hand prints move outward in a chronological spiral. The result is a portrait of a generation, and a celebration of not what makes us American or Japanese but what makes us human. “It is a metaphor for our experience in time” says Tetkowski.
New York City
Tetkowski has lived in New York City since 1993. From 1995 through 2005 his studio was in Chelsea at 432 West 19th Street in Manhattan. He installed a large gas kiln there. In 2009, Neil Tetkowski returned to Italy to create large-scale sculpture at the Ditta Cresti terracotta factory in the small Tuscan village of Petroio. These sculptures from the Terracotta Project were shown in the prestigious galleries of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy (2011). The show was entitled “Siena, New York”.
Tetkowski’s recent projects confirm his continued interest in art reflecting cultural, ecological and geo-political exploration. During the BP oil disaster of 2010, Tetkowski did an environmental installation at HPGRP Gallery in New York City, titled “Oil & Water”. Tetkowski has expanded his exploration of environmental issues with a new series of paintings by the same title. These works document the collision of two of the most sought after resources in the world: oil and water. Tetkowski has exhibited in Korea at the World Ceramic Biennale 2005 and in China at the Beijing Art Biennale 2005. He shows at HPGRP Gallery in New York City where he has had solo exhibitions in 2006, 2008, and 2010. He has received many awards including a Ford Foundation Grant. Tetkowski is an elected member of the International Academy of Ceramics.
Tetkowski's work is found in 45 museum collections around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art, Kogeikan in Tokyo; the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City; the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC; the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey, and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
In emphasizing aesthetic impact, Tetkowski has angered many in the ceramics world. Some of this anger can be explained by people’s misunderstanding of what they believe to be his cavalier attitude toward others working with clay. He has repeatedly voiced his reluctance to be viewed as a potter and many people see this as a condemnation of their work. But Neil is not trying to dissociate himself from others who work with clay. He is instead trying to encourage galleries, museums and collectors to see the fine arts aspect of ceramics. Neil is equally angry with the art world for its reluctance to accept ceramic work as anything but “minor art”.
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