Gavin Worth: Filled With Wonder

An Exclusive Interview with the Wire Sculptor

Struggle for Illumination, Painting by Gavin Worth

Gavin Worth is a thirsty traveller – partly by choice, partly influenced by the circumstances. It all started at the age of two when he left Zimbabwe where he was born in 1981. Along with his family, he relocated to New Mexico.

Artist in Residence − Matha, France earlier this year and recipient of Best Visual Art Award − Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2010 Gavin graduated with a degree in Acting, and after college worked as an actor and musician for the Santa Fe Shakespeare Festival, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and the California Shakespeare Theater.

However drawing, painting and sculptures remained his lifelong passions. From ‘Sunrise’, ‘Reflecting’ at the ‘Sadness of Solitude’ to touching ‘La Rosa’ or piercing ‘El Corazon’ or giving life back to ‘Surgeon’s Chair’ Gavin’s talent is there to be appreciated. Currently staying at Cairo, Egypt and teaching at the American International School Gavin has articulated about his love of art here.

You were born in Zimbabwe, grew up in New Mexico and now you have returned to your native continent as a teacher. How has life split between two different continents affected the artist within you?

It’s a long story, but my dad was a journalist turned game show host in Zimbabwe when I was born. We left when I was 2, so I don’t remember it. I grew up in New Mexico out in the middle of the Chihuahua desert and was always anxious to see where I was born, so I saved up all the money I could and when I was 16, I flew back to Southern Africa on my own and traveled for three months. I was mugged within two hours of landing. I almost drowned in the Zambezi. I would hear gunshots at night where I was one week, and the next week, I’d fall asleep to the sound of hyenas. It matured me like little else I can imagine, and I saw a completely different world. There’s something about Africa. The colors seem more vivid. It’s almost like the light vibrates at a different frequency. You feel life uncurtained at every corner and it was scary and thrilling and immensely beautiful. It was while I was in Zimbabwe was when I started seriously drawing.

New Mexico is phenomenally beautiful. The land is sparse, the mountains are young and craggy, and the sky is huge. At night, the sky opens up into this glittering opera. You could sit there, see the band of the Milky Way out of the corner of your eye, and watch shooting stars fall by the dozen. It was hard to look at that and not be filled with wonder and, probably more so, humility. Those are the guiding ideas that I’ve tried to not let go of as I’ve grown as an artist. Never let go of a sense of wonder, and never let go of a sense of humility.

Corpus Callosum, Wire Sculpture by Gavin Worth
Corpus Callosum

Your wire sculptures depict human emotions in its many hues. How do you decide on the theme before execution of your work? What prompted you to consider wires as a mean for sculptures?

There is usually very little thought beforehand about theme or anything like that. It’s more about being struck by a pose or an idea, seeing a small honest moment that is beautiful to me, and then refining that into a finished design.

I thought about using wire after a long period of disillusionment from a lot of the traditional art media. I wanted to find a very common material had a lot of expressive power. I experimented with a lot of things: nails, cardboard, I found ways to grow rust into images on steel plates, and I was really happy with a lot of the results that I were getting. They seemed striking to me. I’ve always leaned towards drawing, and especially the use of line, so when I saw that roll of annealed wire hanging in the hardware store by my house; I knew exactly what I needed to do with it.

Rain Falls Incessantly, Painting by Gavin Worth
Rain Falls Incessantly

The snaps of the pages of your notebooks show rich intricacies of figures even with ballpoint pens. Have you always used your notebooks for registering inspirations from your environment?

Strangely, no. I’ve always thought that pretty sketchbooks were counter-intuitive. That if you were too concerned with the overall look of your sketchbook, of making your impressions and your trials look too pristine and too perfect, then you’d never take any chances in there. I thought there should be at least 4 failures to one success in a sketchbook.

When I moved to Cairo, it was incredibly hard finding any of the materials that I wanted. There is no lumber here. There is no real workable wire. I struggled for a while and then dove into my sketchbook. I found solace there. It had been a long time since I had done a ‘finished’ drawing, and all of a sudden I was loving the process again. The one thing I could find were pens, so I experimented with colour and rendering using ink. It’s been a lot of fun.

Is one form dearer to you than the others as your favourite mode of expression?

There’s no way I can choose. Each one is different, and each one is engaging in its own way. There’s nothing like drawing, and losing yourself in that. Until I start building a sculpture, and then there’s nothing like that.

In 31 years Gavin the actor, Gavin the painter, Gavin the sculptor and now Gavin the teacher walked on earth. How would you describe Gavin’s metamorphosis?

Mostly, it seems like stupid, impulsive choices mixed with what felt right next. I went off to college and thought I’d give art a try, but I butted heads with a teacher and was, basically, kicked out of the department. I had no clue what else to do. One night, I went to a play put on by the Theater Department and thought the girl in the lead role was really cute. Figured, hey, let’s give acting a shot. And it just stuck. I really fell into the depth of all the acting methods and live performance was thrilling.

I graduated and got a job acting with a Shakespeare company up north in Santa Fe. It was a fantastic job. I loved it. I got paid to act and play guitar for people, working with brilliant artists. I didn’t get paid much, but enough to get by. They went out of business, so I moved to San Francisco and got a job with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and, later, Cal Shakes. I desperately wanted to create my own work and tried for years to get various projects up and running but was ultimately frustrated by the lack of commitment from other actors. I became fed up with collaboration. I wanted to do work that I could finish entirely on my own. So, I turned back to my original passion and dove into visual art again.

The next five years, I spent learning disciplines (stenciling, furniture-making, design, digital work, etc) and trying to get my work out there.I had shows in bad coffee shops, sold my art on the street, went to art festivals, and worked my way up from there. I was named as one of the 30 under 30 artists in San Francisco. I got some work in galleries. I started getting a little press here and there. Finally, I was (mostly) paying my rent by selling paintings and doing freelance design work when the economy just got too bad. My long-time girlfriend and I had always wanted to live abroad, so when we got the opportunity to take a teaching job in Cairo, we decided to get married and take it.

Clap you clap me, Painting by Gavin Worth
Clap you clap me

How do you find your art has evolved since the early days? What is your perspective on western art that you are familiar with since your formative years vis–à–vis the art that you are now experiencing in North Africa?

I will openly admit that I don’t know too much about modern art movements. I always studied the masters. I know Michelangelo drawings backwards and forwards. But it all really loses me around the Pop Art stage. I think there are some unbelievable young artists that have emerged in the last 10-15 years though.

The art that I’ve seen here is so completely varied. I saw a whole show of horses painted on old carpets. I’ve seen some very interesting work using cardboard. Some of the more modern sculpture is fantastic.

Tell us something about your experience of the impact art is undergoing in Egypt during these times especially when the country can already boast of such a rich heritage.

Egypt is a fascinating country going through immense birthing pains. One of the interesting things I’ve found is that most modern Egyptians don’t seem to hold any connection with their ancient heritage, and since they’ve gone through so many waves of invasions by different foreign powers, it might be fair to say that there really is little physical link that way. The art is largely non-representative, mostly because of religious restrictions, and there are many wonderfully expressive examples of it.

But they are forging their own future. I teach many young, talented artists and I can’t wait to see the work they produce in the future. The country is trying to find its identity. The young people are trying to do the same. The art that will come out of that should be thrilling.

Tell us a bit about your current or forthcoming experimentations or projects.

I’m going to make some larger scale work in a few different avenues, and I’m also exploring a deeper use of narrative.

Portrait of Gavin Worth

Gavin Worth enjoys…

While listening to the soulful crooning of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Robert Johnson Gaving he loves to read Les Miserables, Blood Meridian, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Fond of Sushi and really good shellfish along with ‘pretty much anything from New Mexico’ Gavin also resorts to watching his favourite movies The Shining, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Back to the Future whenever he manages time to.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Gavin Worth