Welcome to the first issue of Generosity as Medium. This time we are joined by Cole Sternberg, who works primarily out of Los Angeles. In this edition, Cole brings us into his world, talking about how and why he creates are, as well as engaging with two pressing issues in the global political climate: The coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just as his works move us to contemplation, his words have the same affect.
We hope that you will enjoy the above shots of the artist in action in his gorgeous Los Angeles studio as well as the following interview!
(Image: Escape Route in Studio, 2019)
I understand that you mostly live and work in Los Angeles, are you currently there or have you relocated?
I’m currently back and forth between Los Angeles and the farmlands about two hours from the city. The city draws me socially and politically, while being on the farm allows me more flexibility in my creative process and much more exposure to nature.
You create work in painting, installation, video, and text, do you have a preferred medium?
No, my preference is to jump around, beholden to the curiosity, anger or deadline of the moment.
(Image: the sky was leaden, 2018)
What do you hope to achieve or communicate through your art? Do you face any challenges with respect to communicating an intended meaning and the viewer’s reception of it?
There are many intertwined motivations of my practice. On a general communicative level, I hope to adjust perspectives, decrease irrational human hubris and provide a view of something beyond…something more sustainable and communal. There are many challenges in such vague and grandiose motivations, so I also try to draw the viewer into dialogue with visuals that, when unburdened by concept, still create intrigue for further inspection.
(Images: the right was missing the bird, 2015)
I notice you create what seem like ephemeral moments within a single work, can you talk a little about your creative process and how an idea becomes a fully fleshed out piece? Do you set out knowing what you want the piece to look like?
My creative process is layered and chaotic, which is ironic considering the peaceful culmination of the works. With paintings, process plays a large and unpredictable role, as those works are often exposed to environmental elements, leaving them to the whim of the rain, the sun, the wind, the ocean. Whereas, my sculptural practice tends to be assemblage or bronze, in which I find objects and collage them together in a much more planned and structured manner. Film and writing require a more significant amount of pre-visualization in order to conceptually mirror the other components of my practice.
I notice that many of the titles for your pieces are poetic one-liners, are they meant to encapsulate the piece’s meaning or push the viewer to find new meanings within a piece?
The titles are meant to be a light tap in the right direction, but no more than one piece in a large puzzle.
(Image: a boisterous stream in a boulder- choked channel, 2019)
Can you tell us about your most recent projects and what ideas are on your horizons right now?
My main focus of recent months is my project ‘The Free Republic of California’ where I’m attempting to envision what a more enlightened country could look like, through the guise of California becoming its own country. I’m hoping to address flawed American concepts of democracy, fairness, and human rights.
It’s a multi-faceted endeavor, some of the components include: the re-visualization of John Muir’s ‘My First Summer in the Sierra,’ a political website replete with policy papers, a clothing line, a functional new constitution and budget for the State, and large sculptures addressing the concept of freedom. It is an idea a decade in the making. It will be shown as a six-month solo museum exhibition at ESMoA and digitally via its website with further programming to come.
(Images: details of 'a caged bird meant to fly', 2020)
Regarding your most recent assemblage, ‘a caged bird meant to fly’ which speaks to a freeing of existence, was that a response to the current condition of many people who are encouraged or, in some cases, forced to stay home? And if not, has the piece taken on a new meaning in light of the current covid situation?
‘A caged bird meant to fly’ is directly about the concept of freedom. But, it is about the concept of freedom within California itself and was conceptualized prior to the coronavirus outbreak. I find it crazy how closely it relates to the situation we find ourselves in now. This happens a lot with my work, because I try to address issues on a level untethered to any individual moment, but relatable to many.
(Images: new growth, 2020)
How does the current coronavirus situation affect your creative process? Are you having to find different ways to engage with art and do you feel constricted or do you feel like it is an opportune moment for further exploration?
I feel as though the work is more necessary than ever and that ideas I’m working on need to get into the world as quickly as possible. For instance, in the Free Republic of California project, while the U.S. continues to epically fail in its treatment of the virus, I’ve begun planning a functional strategy for universal healthcare for California. The U.S. spends more than any country per capita on healthcare and yet its life expectancy ranks forty-sixth in the world; quite a bad return as far as I see it.
The physicality of being quarantined has also led to my exploration of certain environmental elements via film. I’ve captured the swallows build their nests and the wind blowing a painting of mine as it hangs for weeks from an ancient oak tree. These quiet ideas only took form because of being ‘stuck’ on the farm for a longer period of time than normal.
What sorts of natural scenes inspire your work and has your method of gaining inspiration changed in that aspect?
It is tough, as my inspiration is all over the place. I find the patterning of the earth interesting…the patterns of trees, rocks, snakes, spiders, soil, all of which overlapping visually. I also find it heartwarming that all humans are inherently drawn to certain elegant natural views, like staring at the horizon.
(Image: a most impressive manifestation of world building, 2019)
In light of the recent black lives matter protests and police brutality instances in America, activism has become more media-centric, how do you feel about these developments and its effects with respect to content consumption?
There’s a lot to unpack in this question. America needs to face its history head-on and find a path to a more enlightened future. Our abilities technologically have opened up a world of content to the masses that has always been there but was never entirely seen. The systematic nature of racism and police abuse used to operate with impunity due to a collective blindness of a large percentage of the population. My hope is that this time is over. My hope is that Americans can process this content and force widespread and dramatic change. I’m not sure it will happen though, America is a country lacking a pure democracy and one riddled by a counter-media missioned to promote violence, fear and racism. There are people here who think they are watching the news, when they are not. There are people here that believe breaking a store window on their street is worse than a cop murdering someone in another city. There are neo-nazis echoing the chants written by Goebbels and phony militias stock piling guns for their day of reckoning; ‘good people’ as one powerful reality star called them.
(Image: owls stirred here and there, 2020)