When I first visited Ted Fullwood, he was recovering from a foot injury. He graciously limped around without complaint as Tony May and I carefully checked out his house-upstairs and downstairs-and his front and back yards, enjoyably scrutinizing all the art that filled the premises and covered the walls. Returning for a second visit a few months later, I discovered I'd missed several pieces and, of course, there were new ones to look at, too.
Fullwood is one of those artists I can't help thinking of as an outsider artist. It's hard to describe why. There's an originality that seems to owe nothing to the artworld and yet, Fullwood holds an MFA degree from San Jose State University.
He's so well liked by the ceramics faculty that he enjoys something of an honorary standing there. After he'd showed me around his home again, we walked over to the ceramic studios at the university. (Their facilities are superlative, perhaps the best in northern California.) Ted had several pieces underway there, one huge, unfired piece taking up an entire kiln and three others, quite large, one of which was bisque-fired while the other two had already been glazed-fired.
Just as we were about to enter the building, we ran into one of the graduate students. He and Ted stopped for a friendly chat. Fullwood seems to know all the graduate students and, before showing me his own work, he insisted on showing me the work of several of the students. His generosity was motivated, I'm sure, by nothing more than the wish to spread the good, so to speak. Here was a magazine editor and the chance to give a little exposure to the work of his student friends. Afterwards while we walked back towards his house, I asked him to tell me about the large ceramic heads he likes to make. After grappling with the question, he finally came up with the word existential. "They're island heads," he said. "There's no respect in the artworld for ceramics," he added. [I tried to argue, naming several exceptions, but Fullwood probably had a point. And if ceramics doesn't get the widespread respect that painting does, for instance, then what about Fullwood's over-the-top work with pipe cleaners? [You can see one on the cover of #19. That work is difficult to photograph and I wanted to concentrate on his ceramic work.]
When he first told me he worked with pipe cleaners, I couldn't imagine what to expect. Even after seeing the pieces, it's difficult to grasp that they're actually made of pipe cleaners. Pipe cleaners? One immediately begins searching the mental archives for associations in an effort to create some kind of context. Pipe cleaners... Geriatric art activities? Holiday craft projects for Mrs. Mendelson's problem kids? Recreational therapy for psychiatric in-patients? Home craft projects to work on while drinking alone?
There simply isn't a place in the fine arts for pipe-cleaner work, right? Fullwood's pipe cleaner sculptures range from more or less conventional subjects to wild creations that are sui generis
. "I try to find a fine line in my work between what's cartoonish and what's serious. If people don't know how to interpret my intentions, I'll feel I've succeeded." He searched for words, "It's not one thing or the other. That's why it's art. It says all of those things at once, if it works."