Steven Montgomery, New York, New York

Montgomery pictured with one of his large-scale pieces. Photo: Khrystyna Chekhlata

Montgomery pictured with one of his large-scale pieces. Photo: Khrystyna Chekhlata

An intense and unwavering commitment to my work preceded any idea of generating income from art. Any idea, or body of work, worthy of the honor of being purchased by a collector or museum is usually made presuming it will not generate a dime, but must be made nonetheless.

Living in New York City has allowed me access to a large community of potential patrons, but I will admit that income from art, though steady, has fluctuated wildly. Over the thirty years that I have lived and worked here, I have had to supplement my art income with a variety of “creative” means including bike messenger, pool-hustler, construction worker, basketball coach, television actor, and itinerant art instructor.
Fortunately, my darkest days are in the past and I now live via a combination of art sales, grants, lectures, and sporadic teaching.

I would love to suggest that the sculptor’s life in New York is full of glamour and endless exotica, but in truth, for me, it is a “lunch pail” blue-collar endeavor. It entails getting up and going to work every day, six days a week, and working much harder than I ever thought would be necessary or possible. During brief moments of lucidity, I regard all of it as an extraordinary privilege.

Vector 426R, 34 in. (86 cm) in height, glazed, painted ceramic, 2009. Photo: Noel Allum

Vector 426R, 34 in. (86 cm) in height, glazed, painted ceramic, 2009. Photo: Noel Allum

This article appeared in the January 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!

The most difficult decision I had to make over the course of my career came early upon moving to New York City. I had the good fortune of receiving some immediate interest and success from work that was directly linked to, and included, what I had been making as a graduate student. I, however, felt the work was unacceptable to my rapidly evolving standards. I made the decision to radically reverse course and abandon clay completely, knowing that doing so would alienate the small circle of collectors who were supporting me and upend the potential for more immediate success. I spent about five years deeply immersed in experimentation, largely working with metal, found objects, and a great deal of drawing and painting. Very little of the work from that period was exhibited and, in fact, a series of enormous structures made out of electrical conduit still lie in quiet repose at the bottom of the Hudson River. After a gratifying exhibition of oversized drawings at the Drawing Center, located in Soho, I made the decision to “go home,” creatively speaking, by returning to clay with an entirely fresh perspective.

Detail of Vector 426R. Photo: Noel Allum

Detail of Vector 426R. Photo: Noel Allum

I have one paid studio assistant and an ensemble of interns coming and going, all of whom keep me on my toes. Other aspects of the business can be legitimately compelling and seem to require constant maintenance: website upkeep, photography, graphic design, editing, crating and shipping, and accounting. I regard the individuals I hire for these tasks as collaborators in my creative process. Their input is highly valued and can frequently be quite informative. One high-end “master” crate builder arrived to pack up a large ceramic work with a film crew from CNN. They were there to film his expertise, not mine.

Anyone considering pursuing fine art as a career would be well advised to go elsewhere and locate safer ground. If such a pursuit becomes a necessity and not an option, fasten your seat belt and good luck!

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