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Zeit: 'What could be salvaged'

Brent Holmes

"Palladium" by Sean Russell

Artist Sean Russell explains how he turns place into art


Sean Russell’s exhibit South of Town , about a spot in the desert where people go shooting, among other things, opens in the Clark County Government Center July 20, with a reception July 24.

STEP 1: Find a unique situation occurring in a place

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About a year into my master of fine arts program (at UNLV) I purchased a Taurus Model 608 .357 magnum. Much of my artwork was about the patriotic fervor in the wake of 9/11, and owning the largest revolver I could find seemed to fit into my understanding of the topic. A few other graduate students and my professor had firearms, so we formed a little gun club. A student knew of a place in the desert where people shot, so we would go shoot beer cans, wine bottles and targets. As time passed, I noticed more people doing the same, with strange and interesting targets: washing machines, stoves, those large, cube-like TVs no one has anymore, pumpkins, spray-paint cans, stuffed animals — it’s like an explosion at a garage sale.

STEP 2: Supply a medium and a process that relate to the situation and place

As an artist you look for events to be inspired by, so for years I had wanted to do some project involving this place and the situation. Back in graduate school we brought blocks of clay out and shot them, but it never materialized into “art.” A few years ago I decided to change that. Using clay as a medium just fit — clay is basically “earth,” and everyone shooting in the desert is for the most part shooting the landscape. We brought out a bunch of 25-pound bags of wet clay and arbitrarily shot them. There really wasn’t a plan — I wanted to emulate the seeming randomness of the way people shoot out in the desert.

STEP 3: Allow the process to transform the medium

I glazed most of the blocks with a glaze called Palladium, which looks generally like metal. The metallic finish connotes the tiny lead ball that initially caused this mess. What I enjoyed was that there was no editing process besides survivability — the artwork in the exhibit is simply what was salvageable. None are the most or least aesthetically pleasing representation of a process. What people will see is the pure power of a firearm transformed into the negative space of a block of clay. I am merely the catalyst who pulled the trigger.