As Gallery Director of the Jewett Art Gallery at Wellesley College, I’m constantly looking around for potential artists, themes, and ideas that can be assembled and brought together to form future exhibitions and events at the gallery. I look specifically for artists who I think would be a good fit for the intellect, diversity, and range of ideas in the Wellesley College community. One of the most exciting and stimulating parts of this process is doing studio visits with artists. Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to visit John Udvardy’s studio in Warren, RI. Udvardy taught Three-dimensional Design in the Division of Foundation Studies at RISD for 34 years, and retired from teaching in 2008. Since then, he’s been working steadily on his sculptures in a space that used to be an auto repair shop that he’s converted into his studio space.
Put simply, Udvardy’s studio represented a lifetime of collecting objects: Udvardy explained that he’s on a constant search to find and collect objects for his “palette”. What astounded me was the incredible range and quantity of objects in his studio, and his choices and selections. Many of the objects were clearly recognizable: a gourd, a spoon, the leg of an old table, a piece of scrap wood, part of a fence, a branch, etc. What especially intrigued me were the objects that were not instantly recognizable, that ask you to question what their original purpose was and what kind of history they visually demonstrated. At several points during the visit, I would pick out an object and ask Udvardy what it was, to which he would reply that he had no idea. As diverse as all of the objects were, it was clear that they all demonstrated a passion for surface, texture, and form which was beautiful, subtle, and bold. I was amazed at what Udvary saw in each object, that in a piece of old broken rusted metal that most of us would toss into the trash, Udvardy saw a form ripe for placement in one of his sculptures.
Seeing Udvardy’s tools was a wonderful way to get insight into his work process, which is driven almost entirely by the use of manual tools. Looking at his collection of tools, it seemed that every possible tool or adhesive that one could possibly harness was available to him. The enormous range of materials and objects that he works with requires him to be very innovative and creative in terms of the putting the sculptures together. In his tools and sculpture, it was clear the profound understanding and sensitivity to materials and tools Udvardy commands in creating his work.
One room was entirely dedicated to cast iron objects that Udvardy has collected over the years. The cast iron works are done separately from the other objects because they have to be welded together. Udvardy has welding equipment that he uses outdoors to create cast iron sculptures.
Cast iron objects, waiting to be assembled into a sculpture.