This is the last week for you to take in one of the year’s most fulfilling exhibitions: Fritz Dietel: 25 Years, now through October 22 at Swarthmore College’s List Gallery. The 20 pieces on are meticulously made, organic seeming forms which surprise with their scale and materials — wood substitutes for flower stems and feathers, bronze for a seed casing, paper for bark and gossamer webs — representing deeply observed natural forms, reimagined out of context. Dietel, Swarthmore’s 2017 Donald J. Gordon Visiting Artist, discussed his work in a lecture at LPAC on September 19, and later in an e-mail exchange with the Swarthmorean.
TS: Much of your work evokes nature. What in your life has influenced your interest in natural forms?
FD: Shells, flowers, seed pods, tree bark, mushrooms, minerals, crystals, pollen, coral, sponges. I have done a lot of snorkeling, scuba diving and extended hiking in Wyoming, Kenya and Maine.
TS: How do you keep up your connection to the natural world, living as you do in the city?
FD: Walks in city parks, visiting my parents farm in Va., summer vacations in the Adirondacks, north woods of Maine, and the Chesapeake Bay.
TS: How have your aesthetic and your process evolved since you began working as a sculptor?
FD: The processes keep evolving as I experience new materials and tools. My aesthetic has changed, but I continue to come back to exploring vessel and spiral formations. My sculptures frequently evolve from one another, and change because I push, stretch or compress the forms.
TS: Are there technologies or materials that you are looking forward to exploring in the coming years?
FD: LED lighting, fabric, and at some point, a return to welding steel, bronze and aluminum.
TS: Do you choose materials based on the forms you envision, or does your process with the materials inspire the vision behind a piece?
FD: The process of working with the materials dictates the form. I also have a very good idea what kind of material works best when starting a piece. This comes from years of experience. Frequently I will run tests before I commit to a project to make sure I am going down the right path.
TS: Who has — artists or others — inspired your work?
FD: I don’t look to other artists for inspiration but I do admire Richard Serra, Richard Deacon, Martin Puryear, and Kiki Smith. Since I have a keen interest in how things are made I do on occasion look at American Craft, Wooden Boat and Fine Woodworking magazines.