A long time ago in a strange time from earlier times known as the 1970s, a young art student by the name of Tom Casmer traveled with his class from a small arts college in Minnesota to the urban nature of New York and the famous sculptor’s studio. Louise Nevelson. For Casmer, it was before women, before children, before 20 years of teaching at Ringling College of Art and Design, and before a trademark white beard that Rasputin’s own ghost would envy. But he planted a seed, which germinated a long time for almost 50 years, which finally bloomed last year in the shadow of a global pandemic.
At 70, Casmer is just getting started.
After successful cataract surgery, her vision is better than it has ever been. Retired from 20 years of teaching at Ringling College, he claims his days as an empty canvas for his creative impulses. And, after decades of sketching, painting, and printing, the budding sculptor finally realized that being limited to two dimensions is for birds. Or, at least, someone else. âI’m just finding out,â he laughed. âInteresting moments. “
Although he’s known for his intricate designs and engravings, he looks like everything from fantastic blueprints of Neo-Aztec ray guns to detailed blueprints of a next-gen combustion engine, or maybe even inked delusions. from the last disciple to a stone age robot. religion â this past year, Casmer has taken his art to the next level. Literally. Converting the family garage into a makeshift carpentry workshop, Casmer began bringing his designs to life, handcrafting nearly 30 of his important ârelief wall sculpturesâ in just over a year.
The transition was long in coming. And Casmer feels that the last 45 years of his life were, in one way or another, built so much into what he now sees as one great artistic conversation between himself and his work. It’s a conversation he has almost every day, with every new track, and he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going, but he knows those conversations are growing. And, like in any conversation, it starts with the first line.
Sitting at the desk of his home studio – a narrow covered passageway laid out with reed shades on the windows and walls covered with carved sculptures – Casmer takes a small piece of Bristol paper and a pencil and begins to make marks. He formulates forms. He doesn’t have a plan. He’s a researcher and if he knew his destination then the act wouldn’t be an act of exploration and Casmer doesn’t have time for such scripted conversations.
He has confidence in the line.
âThe color might fade,â Casmer says. “I don’t care, as long as I have the line.” Alone with his Bristol, Casmer lets his pencil curl and twirl, rush and divide, throwing shapes and catching them as they come, the many lines forming a small world seemingly of his own creation. It’s a remarkably organic approach to what will result in something distinctly mechanical and aggressively geometric, but the process – the conversation – serves its purpose and rewards the dedicated, the resulting image being as much of a revelation to the artist than for anyone else. âWho knows where it all comes from,â he said.
But, once discovered, the line must be preserved, and Casmer will therefore take care of his line twice, revisiting each mark with thick ink, reinforcing the graphite undertones with a black permanence to create an austere final image that will serve as a model for the next step. . âIt can be tedious, but it’s also meditative,â he says. âIt’s a conversation. And, in the inking process, I envision the construction and examine the relationship between the shapes and how it’s going to fit together. There’s also the beauty of the plan itself, which makes it more than just a step in the process. âI have always been fascinated by blueprints, schematics and circuit diagrams,â says Casmer. âI don’t understand them; I’m just fascinated by the line on the paper. It is a fascination that the boy who wished to have x-ray vision had since childhood. He now retains him as the man who enjoys walking on unfinished construction sites and can be seen at traffic lights with his phone turned off, taking pictures of the esoteric landscape of nozzles and knobs and dials and pipes at the back of the tar truck in front of him. âIt’s the infrastructure – what’s under my skin – that really interests me,â he says. “I am drawn to these shapes.”
As for what those lines and shapes represent – a map of hidden truths, the restrictions of an invisible order, or perhaps a hymn to the sublime beauty of the potential itself, frozen as in amber – Casmer offers no opinion.
He’s busy building. Previously, this was where the conversation ended, with the potential of the shot flattened on a print, colored on the computer, and brought to some sort of half-life on a hand-built box frame. These days, Casmer slaps the plan on his garage door and the conversation continues amid the roar of a myriad of saws and sanders.
Like a painter collecting paintbrushes, Casmer dove head first into the world of woodworking after first making a small totem pole for the Shopliftable show at GAZE Modern in 2019. He has since assembled a range of new toys, including a jigsaw, a circular saw, a table saw, a cutter. saw, miter saw (for delicate cuts), belt sander, nail gun, pin nailer, assorted drills, a whole host of mismatched pliers in different sizes and a shelf full of rulers, protractors and other aids to measure. And a pair of tweezers. âThe tools change,â he says. “But the work …” and he stops.
With the plan on the wall, Casmer begins to build. With the piece arranged in the center of the space like a patient on the operating table, he works with poplar and pine – nothing fancy – and leaves his mark on each piece before it becomes part of the sculpture. . âEverything you see is hand cut in one way or another,â he says. And although he follows the plan closely, including taking action for the ladder, the creative process never stops. The shapes still speak to him and he listens through the sound of their construction.
âI start to focus a little more on it when I start building,â Casmer says, and sometimes that means deviating from his plan. “It just lets you know when what you originally drew that you thought was OK needs to be rethought.” None of this points to any error in the creation of the plan, but simply acknowledges the fact that Casmer’s work has entered an uncharted dimension where his map is no longer useful. He has to think in terms of elevation and depth, weight and shadow. He returns to the conversation in faith that his relationship to the work will guide him. âAt one point you improvise,â he says. “He starts to educate himself and you react to what it is starting to become.”
The end result comes across as something liminal, occupying the space between print and sculpture and, at best, manifesting the strengths of both. The line took shape. This one looks like a giant circuit breaker; this one, a sort of Sisyphus pinball machine with no clear path to victory or defeat, but four strangely sperm-like shapes that could all too easily represent the artist’s four children. (A statement on parenting, maybe?)
And the sculpture on the table, awaiting the final finishing touches, Casmer named In Response to Leia, as his own tribute to the impact, albeit so long delayed, that Nevelson’s work had on his artistic journey. A nod to someone who left the light on to clear the way for travelers like him.
âDrawing and painting have always been a struggle for me,â he says. âIt’s a fight, but, for the first time, it feels like a real adjustment. I don’t question it. I don’t judge it like I did my drawing and my painting. It’s the right medium for me. SRQ