Bio and images
Mark Zirpel, a spring 2004 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, is articulate about why his work is intuitive and nature-based and NOT about language. “As an artist I’m on the side of pre-verbal activity. In my work I’ve addressed the [distinction between] words and ideas—the sort of split psyche: counting, writing, spelling, punctuation: all the rules and syntax of consciousness—all this stands in opposition to listening to your heartbeat, tasting, feeling the wind, and all [the rest of] that unquantifiable consciousness.” Zirpel counters over-verbalized aspects of contemporary life by not answering the telephone, “not doing anything, not e-mailing or any kind of mail” in favor of paying attention to “the earth, the tides, the relationship of the moon to water.” Living 20 years in Alaska and spending much time kayaking and in places “where nature dwarfs people, helped form my ideas. I’m comforted by the immensity of the universe. It doesn’t matter if I owe on my VISA card, I’m just a speck of dust.”
Zirpel is no northwestern-style beach bum, but a demon worker who puts in many hard physical hours in the studio and also enjoys teaching, though he abhors lazy students. He cast a section of the beach a couple of miles north of Sea Isle City while at Wheaton Village and plans to do a wall of positive and negative images. The cast was made right after a heavy rain storm and contains a record of that as well as a footprint which Zirpel did not see until he had completed the mold. “I usually don’t use the human element in my work because it’s untrustworthy,” but he likes this sample.
In the last couple of years. Zirpel’s work relating to “optical things, rocking things, and celestial imagery” has attracted considerable interest. For years, he says, “I had a sense of working in a vacuum. I never sold anything.” He came to 3-D work and glass from the area of printmaking, though he feels, “The ‘media’ distinction means nothing to me at this point. The idea is what matters. It is almost always posed to myself in the form of a query.”
He believes art making has three parts: (1) The artist with an idea (2)the artist with an object and (3) the viewer. “If the viewer gets the idea of what the artist intended the circuit is complete.” Zirpel measures the quality of the work by “how long it looked at.” Ten thousand ten second viewings would be a success.
The body has become dominant a theme in Zirpel’s recent work. The idea of respiration in the lungs relates to phenomena like the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange of plants, cycles of growth, the motion of the planets. It also is essential to human life. But even in the human body, respiration takes place in organs other than the lungs, for example, in the heart as blood is pumped in and out.
“Usually I work on ten things at once which can be a little frustrating,” he says but his obvious enthusiasm belies any sense of negativity. On a visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of antique musical instruments, Zirpel was attracted to an example of ancient bagpipes. “It was a dead goat with a reed up its butt. You blow it up with air and put it under your arm and it goes, ‘Honk. Honk. Honk.’” Zirpel imagines making bagpipes out of his own body, by casting it in rubber. He brought an accordion bellows with him to Wheaton Village (He connected one in an earlier work to glass-enclosed “lungs”) and began constructing various kinetic apparatuses—some Rube Goldberg-like; most inspired by the human body—in a large shed. Some incorporate sound-making devices like horns or the mouthpiece of a saxophone. Simultaneously, Zirpel explored elements relating to visual cognition. One of his axioms is that the tendency of kinetic sculpture to wear out or break down and need repair is “part of the meaning of work about the body.”
But Zirpel is leery of over-analyzing his work and his plans: “Too much explanation minimizes the mystery and sense of discovery.”