Czappa’s Studio

About the Artist, Bill Czappa


 

History-The Beginning

I was born July 22, 1947 in Hawthorne, California to Alex Czappa, my Polish father, and Amy Sorro, my Italian mother with one sibling, Joanne, who was two years older then me.

My family moved to the Venice and Culver City area of L.A. about 1950 where I gained an early influence from the remains of the Venice canals (then inundated with oil derricks), making the old bridges and canals even more interesting and mysterious.

My father was a tailor working for Western Sportswear in downtown L.A. for many years, where I went on occasion and saw all those old, equally mysterious buildings in the downtown area.  In 1955 my father changed professions and became a machinist, working for a sub-contractor (Hydro Mill) who built parts for, among other things, the first satellites and moon trips.

My father was very much an early influence on my work.  I learned building skills as he would whip together small buildings and additions on our property and was quite inventive himself.  One Christmas, he took an old tricycle and created a train engine around it that I could pedal down the sidewalk.  Whenever I took it for a ride people would stop their cars, get out and ask me where I got it.

My wood-working skills developed further in Junior High School where they had wood-working and metal-working shops, not to mention electronics.  Then, about 1962,  I saw some work by Edward Kienholz and began making sculpture from found objects.  Objects that my father would bring home from his work at the machine shop.

Also about this time I became interested in surfing and began building skateboards and surfboards, honing my skills working with fiberglass.

There I found myself in the 60’s, with the free use of the garage, full of my father's power tools, plenty of odd parts that he had brought home and plenty of influence from Kienholz and the strange neighborhood I found myself in.  Also, being somewhat of a loner, plenty of time to spend on art. 
 

History-The First Works

In this environment I created my first major work, "The Frodis."  It was a sculpture that came to me one night after remembering the many trips to go fishing with my father passing the Venice Canals and all the oil derricks that lined it, near Marina Del Ray. I would go fishing with my father off the Ballona Creek jetty.

"The Frodis" a black painted sculpture made with the parts my father had brought home and other things I found.  The sculpture had an eye and when activated, this eye would open and the sculpture would look back out at you, the viewer.

I continued making sculpture and painting, not really considering that I was an artist at all.  I finished High School and continued my education at Santa Monica College majoring in engineering, considering becoming an architect.

Before finishing college, though, I built a cabin cruiser and lived on it in Marina Del Ray while finishing school.  Building this boat and living on it gave me a firm footing with the rest of my later work. 
 

History-Schooling

After wandering through the art department and seeing what was being done at that time, with three dimensional art, I decided to take some art classes too and soon after changed my major to art.

Once in the art department I began amazing my classmates and teachers with my ability to build three-dimensional art works. After building the boat and surfboards and all my earlier training gave me quite an edge over the other students, some who had never seen a table saw.  Studying under one teacher in particular, Don Emery, who believed in letting his students take an idea an run with it (as long as they accepted the consequences if they failed) I began to push things to the limit and it was at this point I started looking for the "Classic Work of Art."

This is where this idea came from, which would later be a major part of my work.  The art teacher would give an assignment such as, "make an art piece that is a child’s toy," and I would show up with a bucket of mud, with instructions neatly typed on the side of the pale with a recipe for mud pies.

"Make a kite," and I would show up with a gallon of Red Mountain wine with a ball of string attached and a tail.  The instructions on the bottle would indicate that after you drank the content, you would go flying, not the kit.

In another class the assignment was to make a clock.  Most students would show up with a clock that had been painted or covered with some material.  But I attempted to reinvent time utilizing my electronic skills.  On critique day I showed up with a "Chess Clock" consisting of twenty-four clear chessmen in a beautiful Plexiglas case. Each piece had a light installed and as time progressed more and more pieces would light indicating the time in an intricate pattern. 
 

History-World Experiences

After college, I honed my skills in electronics working as a color TV technician for RCA Service Company.  This job gave me a look at the real world.  I had the opportunity to travel all over L.A. far and wide and meet lots of interesting people.  One day I would be in Dean Martin's home fixing his TV and the next in the worst part of L.A. in some old hotel lobby noting the chain that held the TV to the floor.

This also gave me a chance to experience a great deal of architecture and art around the city.  I found it curious how different the art was from house to house and what some people considered art.

It was then that I decided to some day curate a show where people would be picked at random from the phone book and invited to show what art they owned and considered fine art.  This would then be shown at a major gallery. 
 

History-The First Studio 
  
  
 

In 1976 I seriously opened a studio in North Hollywood, California and began exploring art and what I wanted to do. Not having much money then I started by using what was at hand. Walking by the train tracks near my studio I would pick up old pieces of metal and wood and weathered objects of all sorts. Lots of railroad stuff.

I also found a business near by (R&R supply) that dismantled houses and sold their parts: old windows, plumbing and wood of all sorts.  I began making wall hanging and free standing sculptures with these objects.

Later as I had more funding I incorporated things found at antique stores.  Usually things that no one else would buy, old rusty things of all sorts, hardware or old hand tools. 
 

 

About this time things began to flow a little better, I kept a notebook filled with each new idea and would sometimes get the title to a piece first.  Such as an idiom like, "The Long Way Home," or sometimes I would find an object first, which I would then have to find out how to use in a piece. 
  

History-Writing

After getting my first computer in 1987, I began writing short stories.  This writing influence also began showing up in my work. "Carpenter's Lament" contained one of my poems and other works contained short sayings.  One piece, "Redundant" was made of the word redundant repeated over fifty times.

My short stories continued and were picked up by the Burbank Leader and then the Tolucan which currently has printed another eight so far. After putting 36 of these stories in a booklet we sold out the first edition and are now on the second edition. 
 

Selling

From 1976 to 1990, I spent little time promoting my work, instead concentrating on the work itself.  Even so, I did show a few pieces here and there to get some public response, which was always positive.

I was a contender for, but did not win, the young talent award from L.A.C.M.A., when I was thirty-five.  In Expo 1998 I was chosen as one of the cutting edge artists at the L.A. convention center. And in January of 1990 I had a commissioned installation with two other artists (Edward Goldstien and Lauralee Coles) at the Union Gallery at the University of Arizona.

After that I had numerous shows around LA throughout the nineties. 
 

Unsolicited Art

In 1983 I began a special series of art that was later dubbed "Unsolicited Art" by an independent community art organization, L.A.I.C.A.  I had observed the commercialism of art in LA and the difficulty new artists had in getting their work shown, and yet, the dismay at seeing the large quantity of poor quality and uninspired work that was being shown.

So, in 1982 I began a nine-year series of work, which consisted of giving a specially made work of art to a non-selling gallery,  with the instructions that, "It required them to make some decision or perform some action." The purpose of this series was to test these organizations as to their reaction to art that they were forced to deal with and did not come from a recognized source.

One work, "Stolen Purse," consisted of a woman's purse mounted on a piece of oak, that contained everything one would find in a woman’s purse, including a current drivers license and a social security card.  This work was sent to L.A.I.C.A. who thought it was really stolen and sent the contents, but not the purse, back to my secretary (Who the purse belonged to and who had willingly contributed to the piece). 
  
 

Another work was a piece sent to M.O.C.A., "In Case of Emergency", which contained a one hundred-dollar bill behind a piece of glass in a picture frame. Attached to the frame was a hammer. After M.O.C.A.’s frantic attempts to get me to pick up the piece immediately because "they could not accept art donations unless they first went through a committee process," I sent a note saying I did not want it back and they could dispose of it as they saw fit.

The director of M.O.C.A. (Richard Koshlack) and five staff decided that this was not art and proceeded to break the glass and divide up the hundred dollars amongst themselves.  Twenty bucks apiece.  They threw out the rest of the piece but kept the hammer. They failed to read my note carefully as I sometimes purchased these pieces back and they did not know what I might pay for one of my own pieces. 
 


 
The last piece of the nine-year series also went to M.O.C.A. and was a freestanding sculpture called "The Hitchhiker."  It was a little man made up of found objects with a very large pink thumb. He was holding a sign that read, "I am the Hitchhiker, you can take me for a ride but I can’t be owned by anyone."  The idea being that no one could own this work and if you had it in your possession any one could just take him away.

They received this piece with the instruction to leave it somewhere creative or if they didn’t feel creative, leave it at the nearest curb.

M.O.C.A. did much better with this one by shipping it in a sea container, to Germany, with Rebecca Horn's work, that had been shown that month at M.O.C.A.

 

 

Basic Goals in Art

One thing was for sure early on, I could not stand to make twenty of the same piece.  Each work would be different and unique. This, if anything, would separate me from most other artists.  After all, since many of my works had to do with short sayings, how many short saying would I find? You could only make one "Brush with Death" or one "Electronic Music."

I would only be in search of the best of a series, not twenty variations of a single idea. But all along I would be in search of what I would call the "classic piece."  Classic pieces in history would be "The Last Supper" or perhaps Picaso’s "Bull" (bicycle seat and handle bars). Or in painting, Van Gogh's, "Starry Night."

I believe that the classic is the only thing worth making and all the rest just filler, although necessary filler, as classic pieces have a limit and there are an awful lot of walls that need something hung on them.

I feel that it is for others to determine what a classic piece is, although I have my own opinions too. But I consider several of my current works strong contenders such as, "Please Stand By" (A TV set with the words please stand by engraved in a screen that is cast cement) or "Pressed Duck," (Donald Duck's head squashed in a press).  Or certainly, "Spaghetti Flag," (The US flag made from spaghetti and meatballs).

As of late I have also started making my version of other artist’s classic works, such as my version of "Starry Night."  In my version, the starry night is a piece of sand paper covered with resin, which makes the silicon sanding particles, twinkle just like a starry night. And this is in keeping with my bent on using tools in my work. 
 

Philosophy

Where I fit in the scheme of things is of no consequence to me.  You do what you have to do and let others deal or not deal with it as they see fit. Only historians care what classification things fit into.  The only rule that I feel really matters is if the work has an emotional impact and communicates with the viewer. If it does that, to the degree it does that, it will be inspirational. And that I believe is the reward for making art, to inspire others, and make them feel better and make them feel like doing something themselves.

I feel that for a work to be great art it must have an emotional impact and communicate something to the viewer. The more people it communicates with and for the greatest period of time is a measure of the greatness of the work of art.

This is why I feel that minimalism is like a disease that won’t die. Since the work is minimal, there is little emotional impact and by its nature little communicated and thus little inspiration.

I find it interesting that the average person will have little to do with minimalism.  As it does not communicate anything to them, they accept the idea that they must be too uneducated to "get it."

If one were to carry this forward into other arts, music for example, you would have a song played with just one note and although that might be interesting, for a moment anyway, it certainly would not go gold.

Therefore, I strive to make art that the average person can relate to and understand. And it is not that I feel some areas are off limits. Every avenue should be explored. It just seems to me that some types of work, like minimalism, have been overly promoted and put on a plane that is not deserved.

I occasionally poke fun at other artists, especially the minimalist, as I find humor to be a great take-off point for art. Although many would not agree, I feel that art should not be put on too high a pedestal as regular people can’t or may not want to reach it. Of course, the regular people might think big-eyed cats on black velvet is great art too. That's the other extreme, isn’t it?

It is always amusing to me that the elite want this great work that only they can understand, there it is. Out there for only our eyes, only we can under stand or appreciate it!  Yet no work will ever be considered really great without the agreement of the masses.  Can you imagine if Van Gogh had painted plain white or black canvases and the elite proclaimed them to be great works! It should be obvious that for a work to be considered great it has to be considered so by the masses too. Otherwise you end up with a small group of people slapping themselves on their backs saying how great it all is and every one else yawning.

And that is my humor is certainly a huge part of my work for that very reason. Humor is uplifting and certainly a pleasant emotion and thus I seek it. Do we always have to be dramatic, let's leave that for the Academy awards people, who by the way can never give the big one to a comedy. Oh, let me be dramatic now, oh the pain of it all (my hand held over my forehead). Oh please, take the gas pipe will ya. 
 

The Current Work

My current collection of work consists of both free standing and wall hanging sculptures from found objects and sculpted plywood, redwood and Oak.

Included are various metals both new and shiny to old and rusty.  But even my older pieces evolve.  As I learn new things I sometimes go back and add something new to an old piece.  I got a letter from Barnstall Park asking that I update my slides. They think I make a piece then forget it and then just start over and make something entirely different.  I added a frame to "Carpenter's Lament" about seven years later, and it changed the whole piece.  I looks much better now, now that it is finished.

I am not afraid to use more uncommon materials as well, such as concrete or spaghetti sauce. Various woods are used as either frames to contain the work or the backbone to which every thing else is attached.

Each piece is unique and makes a statement in and all by itself.  Patrons often ask me how one person can come up with so many varied ideas.  I don’t know, except to say doing the same thing over and over is boring to me.

Unlike much of art today, my pieces speak for themselves and do not need much explanation.  What is being communicated is clear. After one experiences the basic message the craftsmanship takes over and then form and content. 
 

Future Plans

Future works planned are as varied as the past.  I have well over 200 hundred pieces on paper and from them many off shoots are expected.

One major project I would like to do is a ride-through artwork, much like those mood rides one sees at Disneyland or for those who remember Pacific Ocean Park or P.O.P. (a pier in Santa Monica that was torn down years ago). Only this ride would be quite different and mysterious.

One thing is for sure: there will always be something new and different to see in my work.  A glance at my notebook of coming attractions is a pleasant journey in itself, at least for me.  I remember a time when I could not think of what I would do next, that time has passed long ago.  Only time and money (the same thing, really) will determine what project I will tackle next.

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