Tony was born in Albuquerque in 1956. He was brought up in Corpus Christi and he pursued a BA from the University of Texas in Austin. He left Texas in 1981 for New York. Museums that own his art include the Guggenheim, the Walker Art Center, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
“An established master” of contemporary manufactured goods, Tony relies on “intuition and improvisation to observe and appreciate the beauty in everyday objects that surround us – the incidental, the ordinary, the commonplace, and what many regard as mundane.” For a show at Lora Reynolds’ gallery in Austin in 2010, he grouped 31 glass bottles, an object ordinarily overlooked or discarded, with screw caps on but labels removed, filled them with colored water and placed them on a painted shelf, in his typically imaginative way. Coincidentally, and close by in downtown Austin, his site-specific commission for the re-opening of Arthouse consisted of a constellation of hundreds of water bottles suspended from the second floor’s beamed gallery ceiling, but unfortunately it was not a temporary installation. He also used the ceiling (as well as his first-grade art sensibility) to create what amounts to several large beaded necklaces of inch-long strips of colorful orange (and red and blue) construction tubing strung on long, looped lengths of cord. Though not a minimalist artist, he uses as little as possible in a finished work to get his point across
In March 2012, yours truly got to meet Tony when he spoke at the Nasher Sculpture Center about “Super Special Happy Place,” his public art commission completed in 2012 for the new federal courthouse in Rockford, IL. His first work out of natural materials covers two acres of five planted varieties of crabapple trees that bloom in the spring with red, pink, and white flowers, and grow clusters of apples in scarlet, orange and gold in the fall.
Tony is now the subject of a traveling retrospective covering his 20-year career with 60 key works filling up perfectly the Blaffer Art Museum of the University of Houston. Its last stop is in 2013 at the Bronx Museum. A fully illustrated definitive monograph accompanies this survey. Its publication was made possible, in part, by the galleries that represent his art: ACME, Anthony Meier Fine Arts, Hiram Butler and Devin Borden, D’Amelio Terras and The Pace Gallery.
“I know it’s not the ‘correct’ response for an artist to make,” he says, “but what’s wrong with adding some beauty to the world?”
Like many artists, he began what has become a very successful career struggling to make “bad paintings.” He thought to himself, “Does the world really need more bad paintings? This is my art.”
“I still can’t draw a cat that looks like a cat.”
“My work has pretty much been informed by everything I learned in first grade,” he says. “It just took me 45 years to realize it.”
Drinking from a clear plastic water container, he became fascinated by the condensation clinging to the sides.
It would be easy to extrapolate an ecological message – man’s impact on the environment – from his use of construction materials and, well, trash, in his work. That would be overthinking, says the artist. In a word, his work is about beauty.
“It was a cloud, like a cloud in our atmosphere, and I thought it was so extraordinary to have that microcosm inside something as mundane as a plastic bottle…”
It led to what he calls his “signature work,” clusters of bottles filled to various levels with primary-color liquid, often suspended from the ceiling.”
His résumé includes exhibitions from Marfa to Los Angeles to Instanbul.
Over the past couple of decades, Tony has built a career on stuff most of us throw away without a thought, from twist-off lids to old carpet squares, suspending everyday objects with string or stacking them on the floor in columns and pyramids.
It’s an approach to found-object art that offers the artist a lot of freedom.”
“I’ve developed a way of working where I let a site determine aspects of what I do.”
“I like the idea of controlling how you see and making you see something different.”
Initially inspired by a wall of gridded windows, Tony made what he calls “a large abstract painting” by covering the clear ones in simple designs of hundreds of small strips of blue painter’s tape and leaving the frosted windows as they were. It’s a striking, soothing work that constantly changes with the interplay of shadow and sunlight.
Utilizing long lengths of fluorescent nylon construction twine, he draped the hot-pink, chartreuse and glowing orange strands from pipes in the ceiling. He has twisted the concentric loops into a complex composition that becomes a three-dimensional “drawing” that one can walk around and under.
“I’m fascinated by fluorescent colors…colors that don’t exist in nature. They really respond to the light in the air.”