A Tom Sachs Primer

Every once in a while you find an artist who makes you jump up and down with excitement. If you’re like me, you get obsessive– first you consume their art of course. All of it.

Then you read the Wikipedia page about the artist. Then the pages about all the things you consumed. You read the references. You watch 7 interviews with them. You google “[artist name] + reviews” to understand where they fit into their field. You see the reviewer mention some other artists as a point of comparison, and you do it all over again with that person.

When I go down the rabbit hole like this, I sometimes feel conflicted, like I’m wasting my time. It feels like procrastination, like I should be doing something with a more clearly defined purpose and endpoint. Reading about things that will be of no practical value to me.

But I’ve done this enough now to know that it’s just something to push through. A temporary flash of self-doubt that can be overcome with persistence. In the end, I always emerge at the other side with some new insight, some added depth to my experience and my worldview.

I did this most recently with sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist Tom Sachs, who. Here are my favorite pieces of his:

Scuplptor Tom Sachs believes in working to code. His studio is run with the meticulous intensity of a NASA training program, which makes sense given his obsession with the space program and his ongoing installations which combine sculpture and theater in a funny and inspirational way.

Here is where to start:

  • His film “Ten Bullets”, directed by Van Neistat (brother of YouTube star Casey Neistat), comes across as an instructive industrial or PSA film. Tom Sachs believes in “working to code”, and this film not only serves as training material for his studio assistants, but also lays out some findamentals about his attitude toward life and art.
  • Color is another employee training film-cum-manifesto which not only identifies the precise paint types and colors which are used in the studio, but really made me appreciate the range of subletly and expression that can be derived from paint color alone.
  • All of Tom Sach’s work is rooted in the concept of bricolage, which refersto the act of constructing something with whatever is at hand. This video shows his fully functional McDonald’s food cart made of plywood, complete with a deep fryer, tongue-in-cheek ripoff logos, and a shotgun defense system.
  • His space program, in which his team staged a manned mission to Mars, complete with full size lander, rover, and space suits, using nothing but household objects. The amazing thing about this project is that Tom and the staff never talk about it with any degree of humor or self-deprecation, and they never imply that they aren’t really going to Mars. They just call it “the space program” and are utterly sincere to the point that they are using NASA’s logo. “Everything is executed to such detail that it becomes real.
  • This interview with Adam Savage, where they talk about early careers, making stuff, bricolage, and why Tom always paints his plywood before he cuts it.

I hope you can take something from this and use it to improve your life, art, and understanding. Now I’m just wondering – which rabbit hole is next?