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Blades that draw on the wind

Today The Home Forum presents the conclusion of an interview with George Rickey, who has earned an international reputation for his kinetic sculpture. Working with a small staff at his complex in rural New York, Rickey uses the most basic of geometrical forms in his large, impeccably balanced sculptures. Their irony is seen in a great gentleness of movement, after the manner of the willow tree, but in the form of steel. The artist has been making double- and triple-jointed sculpture since 1984. Once having solved the problem of hanging a moving part on a moving part rather than next to it, he turned to the challenge of hanging three moving parts on one another.

How did you start working with movement?

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I wanted to make art in which movement was a component. I had been a painter for 20 years. I wasn't after movement and turned it into an art. We're all involved with movement, concerned with it, able to perceive it ... and not just humans, but animals also. Art had been without it except for the dance.

I'm working with nature all the time. Just a few of the fundamental laws. I'm interested in arranging movement so there are near-misses. Where there are near-misses, there's an element of anxiety - will they hit or not? I know from reading novels that this has been a part of storytelling. Without anxiety you wouldn't have the novel.

So movement creates interest and suspense?

Yes, but if you overdo it, it's a bore. Part of it is to have the performance contrary to expectation. Yet it is all completely logical, it is not just a game.

One thing I'm interested in is what happens when parts of the sculpture overlap. For instance, the triangles can make a square, for a completely new configuration. There are open and closed triangles, full of what is random and indeterminate. The space I'm enclosing can open and escape, can be squeezed.

One trouble with motor-driven pieces is that with very few exceptions they repeat. And once it repeats, you've read it. It's like yesterday's newspaper. So long as it is random, one cannot tell just what is coming up. And so there is expectancy, which I think is very important in art. And certainly in human response on the part of the viewer.

What about the surfaces of your sculptures? They're burnished.

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Yes, I work the surface in order to make it visible. If a surface is moving, its relationship to a light source is constantly shifting. So there's a certain dynamism on the surface. I've learned about the angle of incidence and angle of reflection on mirrors. A little movement reflects a lot. I'm not trying to make an abstract painting. I just want it to react.

Your work has been described as honest.

I hope it's honest. I don't want to do anything for effect, or just to engage attention. It's not theater here.

It gets back to the idea of feasibility. Can one do something that seems to be visually worth doing? And get the materials organized to permit it to happen? That's my occupation.

Is there humor in your work, as in the work of Alexander Calder?

I'm rather square compared to Calder. There's a great deal of humor in his work, wit, and playfulness. I'm really much more serious. I'm concerned with a certain lyricism, but not with anything jokey. Calder often did things quite jokey.

How does time play a part in your work?

The component of time is in music always, but in the visual arts it's really been bypassed. It's in dance, of course, but in drawing, painting, and design the concept of time is absent. Also the time to be given by the observer/viewer, that is absent, and part of my interest is to slow it all down.

If you've watched [a sculpture] for 10 seconds, you haven't yet seen it. It is self-renewing. It is random. So the component of time becomes quite extensive. The viewer has to give it time, otherwise he gets nothing. If he gives it time, the time is unrolling, and what is happening? Well, he doesn't know what is happening except what has already gone before. But what is coming he does not know, and that is a certain dynamic that occurs only with time and motion.

Movement is of constant interest, like sitting on a beach and watching the waves come in. Perceiving movement requires no training ... With a great deal of modern art you have to have a good deal of preparation for it. You have to discover what the idiom is. What are the agreed-on rules of the game? Movement is the most universal of experiences, yet little exploited as a means.

Would you describe your observations of the current art scene?

In the last generation ... ``fashion'' in art has increased enormously and possibly has become dominant. It imitates the fashion in clothing; it's virtually seasonal now. If you go down to SoHo or West Broadway, in New York, there will be discussion there and in the press - What's art doing this year? What's it going to be this fall? It keeps the journals going. I think what's new is irrelevant. I think art is good in spite of being new sometimes.

Some artists are just out to capture attention for themselves. The Latin words ad captandum mean to capture. This is how I would describe some of the art being produced today. If a writer was writing ad captandum it was impure. It was not just what he had to say, but a trap. To trap attention. What's lyrical is not to attract attention, it hopes to be seen and heard, but it is not done for effect.

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote of acts of will without motive or any attempt to manipulate. Just action of itself. Will had a special meaning for him. It related to purpose. ... I think in this way, too, and found in Schopenhauer a sort of echo. The idea is that something can want to become, to be born, just of itself. Not because something else requires it. That's why it's without motive.

According to Schopenhauer the concern of art is with contemplation, or will-less perception. The aesthetic frame of mind is characterized by a complete absence of desire or practical interest. And that's very close to what I was thinking. So you asked what was behind [the idea of movement]. It has to do with motivation, with what kind of motivation.

In connection with that, the Greek word for poet, poietes, means maker. My work is very much something that is just made. The making is all of it.

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