Artist Tom Sachs and poet Tom Healy are back at Anderson Ranch |

Artist Tom Sachs and poet Tom Healy are back at Anderson Ranch

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Tom Sachs in front of his monster stereo on display at a Baldwin Gallery "Boombox" show in 2004. Sachs is back in town this week, opening a new sculpture show at the Baldwin on Friday and speaking at Anderson Ranch on Thursday.
Aspen Times file |

If You Go …

What: ‘Ritual, Making and Spirituality in Art’ with Tom Sachs and Tom Healy

Where: Schermer Meeting Hall, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village

When: Thursday, June 22, 7 p.m.

How much: Free (registration required)

Registration and more info:

What: ‘Bronze’ by Tom Sachs

Where: Baldwin Gallery, Aspen

When: June 23 through July 23; opening reception Friday, June 23, 6-8 p.m.

More info:

When artist Tom Sachs and poet Tom Healy teamed up for a two-day workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center last July, they had one simple criterion for students to get in: give your entire life to your art.

“You don’t have to be a world-famous artist, you just have to make the commitment that it’s more important than your family,” Sachs deadpanned last summer. “That was the prerequisite.”

Sachs and Healy are back on the Ranch this week, giving a two-hour talk on spirituality and art-making Thursday evening. (This time, the only prerequisite for entry is online registration). Sachs is also opening “Bronze,” a new show at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen, on Friday night.

Sachs is arguably the most prominent artist of his generation, best known for his bricolage sculptures and “Space Program” installations. Last spring, Sachs opened the immersive environment “Tea Ceremony” at the Noguchi Museum and a retrospective of his “Boombox” sculptures and sound systems at the Brooklyn Museum. In the fall he opened a new space installation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

The commitment he demands of artists who work for him was memorably detailed in “10 Bullets,” a cheeky short film and written guide that outlines his code of artistic discipline and the rigor he expects from assistants (“follow this guide carefully and you probably won’t be fired”). Though it’s couched in irony, “10 Bullets” is deadly serious in its demands and about Sachs’ philosophy of artistic practice. It’s rooted in the power of routine and in practices, like being on time and cleaning your workspace at the end of the day.

Sachs and Healy have bonded over how a daily rigor and ritual informs the work of an artist.

“We’re looking at trying to understand how ritual plays a big part — whether it’s the ritual of showing up and working every day or drinking a cup of coffee in your favorite cup or making that cup or the ritual of preparing a ground before painting it: how routine is important to developing authentic gestures, marks and activities that are not just made up of a capricious creativity but are integrated into your life,” Sachs said. “That’s where religion and art and athletics all come together, through repetition.”

Of course, there are many ways of being an artist, Sachs added, and his way may not work for everyone. But that’s his way and the only way he can teach. It’s a method he’s developed over the decades of trial and error and a collection, as he put it, of “tricks I’ve developed over the years to survive.”

For example, Sachs recalled a piece of advice from his mentor Edward Tufte, the statistician and data visualization pioneer, that has become a central part of his personal practice. Tufte, he said, advises students to begin their day — before reading the paper or checking email — by doing the thing they are most passionate about.

“To write in your journal or draw a picture or handle clay – whatever it is you do, do that first,” Sachs said. “Use our waking hours to engage in what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.”

In doing that, he said, the subconscious mind that’s been at work during sleep immediately gets to work on the thing that’s most important to him.

Sachs has a long-standing relationship with Aspen, Snowmass Village and Anderson Ranch, which have provided a regular escape for him from the New York art world. He’s worked and taught at Anderson Ranch often, he’s shown regularly at the Baldwin Gallery and, through the Aspen Art Museum, he installed the large-scale sculptures “Miffy Fountain” and “My Melody” on the Snowmass Village pedestrian mall in 2014.

“It’s always been a place with super nice people that has always been very welcoming to me personally,” he said. “But then when I started to look at the history of Aspen, I realized I shouldn’t be taking it personally, that there’s a great tradition of people being into art and thinking — it’s in so many things, from the Aspen Institute to Hunter Thompson and Gay Ski Week, the food and, of course, more than anything, the beauty and the natural landscape.”

The ranch, he said, has become a destination for him to experiment with different media and approaches — most often working outside of his sculpture and metalworking wheelhouse, instead spending time on ceramics and throwing pots.

“The ranch is this amazing place where I can kind of f-k around a little bit and not worry about getting it right,” he said, “because it’s very important to take risks and fail often and fail hard because it’s only through those failures that you learn and improve.”

Some years ago, he recalled, he was working in a metal studio on the ranch when a visiting teacher showed him a small technique that’s since saved him countless hours of time.

“I’m sure there are other moves like that, where I’ve just been doing it the wrong way for 30 years,” he said with a laugh. “The most gratifying feeling is being a novice again or feeling like one.”