We had the good fortune of connecting with Richard Wilks and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Richard, how do you think about risk?
Risk taking is critical to a creative career. I think of risks as taking “leaps of faith”. I have taken a few major leaps of faith at critical stages in my career, and I take mini leaps of faith nearly every day as I explore where my art leads me. My first major leap came in 1982 when I set my sites on attending Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I had just graduated from high school, had no money and my portfolio needed work. I decided to go to Palomar Community College in SD so I could develop my portfolio, and earn and save money. Three years later, my portfolio got me accepted into Art Center and I had saved enough money to get me started. Halfway through Art Center, I ran out of money and found myself at another “leap of faith” crossroads: Should I end my education now and find a job? After all, I had more than 5 years of college under my belt. Or should I apply for one of the few coveted full-ride scholarships? I took the leap, and two years later, I graduated from Art Center with honors! My most important leap of faith came early in my career. While working as an employee for a large theme park company, I realized a corporate design job was not as fulfilling as I had hoped and so my wife and I decided to strike out on our own and start our own design firm. It was a lot of hard work but became easier as I reached out for help and advice from trusted friends and colleagues. Leaps of faith can be scary, as you never know where you’ll land, but I owe a lot of my successful outcomes to my willingness to take those leaps. Leaps demand passion, and that you be all in. I cannot imagine living any other way!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started my professional career designing commercial graphics; specifically brand identities, environmental graphics and exhibit design for theme parts, cultural centers, sports venues and museums. But after attending Burning Man in 2007, it radically altered the course of my creative path as I pivoted toward a balance between my personal art and my commercial practice. To date, I’ve attended Burning Man 11 times and I continue to be profoundly influenced by it and its principles and my fellow burners! Burning Man is known as a catalyst for creative culture in the world and I have fully embraced this by experiencing Burning Man as a giant blank canvas where anything is possible —and encouraged. As a result, my art has gotten bigger over the years, mobile, and a lot more interactive! I was deeply honored when my piece called Evotrope was selected by the Smithsonian American Art Museum to be included in the “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” exhibition in Washington D.C., followed by a 2-year national tour. I mostly work with steel and aluminum, but for the past two years I’ve been exploring waste plastic as my primary material. Waste plastic is a massive health and environmental problem and I am dedicating my art practice to exploring all facets of this issue. I’ve built several machines that shred, melt, and fabricate the recycled plastic material I need to create my art. I also host plastic recycling meet-ups and workshops (Zoom meet-ups for now)at my studio where we discuss plastic processing efforts, personal projects, environmental activism and other interesting topics. I am very proud of my piece called Liquid Forest, an ambitious project made primarily from recycled plastic waste that I, along with a passionate team of volunteers, literally shredded, melted, and re-formed into a 15’ tall, interactive, radically illuminated and spinning sculpture, reminiscent of a bioluminescent jellyfish. Remember what I said earlier about leaps of faith? This project was my most ambitious leap yet! I was fully committed to using waste plastic, which meant I needed to do a massive amount of research, experimentation and, as I mentioned, build the machines before any art was produced! If that were not enough, I was taking this 15 foot recycled plastic sculpture to the desert and inviting 70,000 people to do whatever they wanted to it! In the end, it was really a thrill to watch people engage with it, spin it, and bask in its glow. Bringing total strangers together to play and feel free, unrestrained to experience shared moments is the greatest gift I can give to affirm our primal human interconnectedness.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If I had a friend visiting in town, I’d plan a day exploring downtown LA. We’d start our day with a great cuppa joe at Chimney Coffee House on Main Street and grab a couple of Uncle A.C.E breakfast sandwiches. We’d take our food and walk over to The Cornfield, which is part of the LA State Historic Park and has a beautiful view of downtown LA. Then we’d head over to The Brewery, a 16-acre campus with over 300 loft spaces where I have my art studio. We would wander around the complex and visit some of my artist friends and check out their live/work spaces. After that we’d have lunch at Zinc Cafe + Market in the DTLA arts district in their outdoor patio that is filled with stunning olive trees. Full from lunch, we’d walk over to the Hauser & Wirth Gallery nearby to check out whatever world-class show was on exhibit and maybe check out some of the local stores and galleries sprinkled around the area. We might stop for a scoop of delicious vegan ice cream from Van Leeuwen’s on the way. The visit would be timed to coincide with an event happening at The Rendon Galley, which is located in an old landmark hotel that has been re-purposed and curated with inventive site-specific art experiences. And it happens to be just down the block from Pizzanista, which boasts crazy good thin-crust pizza. We’d end the evening with cocktails in the steampunk basement of The Edison, located in a historic building that was LA’s first private power plant. If we had any energy left to burn, we’d go to Two Bit Circus, an indoor virtual theme park, for drinks and some games. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shout out goes to my wife, Teri. We met when she was an editor and interviewed me for the Art Director position at a startup magazine called ‘Scape. I was 25 years old and it was love at first sight! I knew I had to see her again. I was hoping to get hired but if I didn’t, I definitely planned to ask her out. As it happened, I was hired, and we have been together ever since! Thirty years later, we are still each other’s best friend and greatest sounding board. She is always available to bounce around ideas, get her hands dirty while helping me on my projects, or help set up my sculptures — even in the 100+ degree, dusty desert at Burning Man. I feel like a very lucky guy and could not imagine a more perfect life partner!
Scott Varley (image #1 & #5) Josh Reiss (image #4)