Hand in hand 

Three things to know about Andy Tirado's Open exhibit

First things first: For Andy Tirado, it's all about the Forstner bit.

For those who don't remember much from wood shop, we're talking about a drill accessory here. At its center is a spur that anchors the bit to the object about to be drilled; if you only drill in a little, that spur leaves a pin-point mark, and the blades around it, a light circle. When Tirado does that thousands of times over wood, it looks similar to corkboard, dimpled all over.

Those marks cover many of Tirado's monumental sculptures, and if you want to wrap your head around anything he's done, you've got to know how much they matter to Tirado. For years, he made a living building set pieces and props that had to look flawless and finished, like a 7-foot-tall Emmy sculpture for a conference.

Left to his own devices, he fell in love with the Forstner bit's roughness. He remembers thinking, "Finally I get to express myself and not cover it!"

One last piece

You can see the effect in his sculptures of hands, like the 13-foot-long "Lacuna" that floats in the Plaza of the Rockies building, or in another hand hanging in front of El Pomar Galleries at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. In those galleries you may also find Tirado himself: He's been splitting his time throughout the summer between his studio at Colorado College (where he's a 3D art supervisor) and the FAC, where he's been working within his exhibit, Open.

Yes, within. Open is about the process. The middle of the gallery floor is his workspace, complete with a drawing board, clay models, jumbles of wire, heaps of metal, a large toolbox filled with colored pencils and oil pastels, and a coffee pot complemented by bags of whole beans, a grinder and vanilla creamer.

Although much of the show is already finished — large-scale drawings of hands are mounted on the walls around him — Tirado is working on one final piece, an articulated sculpture, which he hopes to complete by mid-September, about two weeks before the show closes.

But the final product is almost — almost — secondary to the process, which is Point to Know No. 2. He loves to investigate the "how" of making something, and sharing it.

"I wanted to make interaction with people just as much a part of the show as the work itself," Tirado says. So he's there as often as he can be, and working deep into the night now that the school year's begun.

What Tirado's found is that the unfinished parts are what intrigue people the most. "You work so hard on making something anatomically correct, and then they're like, 'Oh, I love the part that's all exploded.' 'Yeah, I haven't gotten to that yet,'" he says with a chuckle. "But more and more with the work I'm trying to leave those areas very unfinished, and open."

Laying tracks

Which is a long way from where Tirado started as a young artist who, after working in the studio of Chuck Close and immersing himself in the New York City arts scene in the late '80s and early '90s, decided to eschew all the questions about art — Why was this made? What does it mean? — and get his hands dirty crafting something that would never elicit such questions, something that wasn't art at all: a canoe.

On his website (andrewtirado.com), Tirado explains, "The art I was half-heartedly doing had already been revealed to me as meaningless, and I couldn't continue to make something that seemed to have nothing to say to the world. Building a canoe, I would be using my hands and creating something of beauty. Plus, I would be working with wood, something I had had the desire, but little opportunity, to do ever since I was a boy."

Soon he was building other unquestionables. Several years after he returned to Colorado and started a family, he founded Artworks, a company that designed and built displays and custom cabinetry. But eventually art called him back, and after a 23-year hiatus, he went from starting "Lacuna" in February 2012 to Open at the FAC. (Tirado's website illustrates this journey in great detail, along with how he creates his sculptures, and is well worth a read.)

To the third and final point: Despite consciously revealing, both at the FAC and through his website, the mystery of what it takes to make his sculptures, Tirado has done nothing to eliminate the magic of his artwork. Sure, "magic" is a romantic term, but no matter what you know about sculpture, it's truly amazing to see Tirado convert a pile of lumber into a hand (all of which are modeled after his own set) over 10 feet long.

Perhaps that magic unknowable part builds off his growing love of abstraction. Though he's wary of going fully abstract, he's dabbling. It probably has something to do with Tirado's skill, and his need to challenge himself, and that Richard Diebenkorn down the hall at the FAC that catches his eye daily. Or echoes of the voice of Floyd Tunson, his Palmer High School art teacher and renowned artist in his own right.

Wherever it comes from, both his drawings and sculpture have elements of realism and abstraction, predicated on the mark-making. Which brings us back to Point No. 1. The Forstner bit, which helps build a shape out of thousands of smaller shapes, and his drawing, which he relates to laying down tracks of music. He'll layer up to 20 coats of color in a controlled scribble. They coalesce into realism as you step back, sound coalescing into harmony.



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