3 Questions with Matthias Pliessnig
Sculptor and furniture maker Matthias Pliessnig on sacrifice, experimentation, and the Internet.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
“There’s no sense in counting the hours in the beginning.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
First, you can never work hard enough and there’s no sense in counting the hours in the beginning. I think that if you want to have a serious career in the arts, sacrifices have to be made in your lifestyle. This sounds harsh, but I’ve found it to be true with fellow artists.
Second, it’s never been easier and cheaper to promote yourself. The Internet is an incredible tool, which can be taken for granted. It’s also important to learn how to use a camera in manual mode — documenting your own work is very important. The Internet is flooded with images of art and design; yours has to stand out. It has to be either an interesting shot, or strong work — hopefully both.
Last, learn about how the business end works.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
I am always challenging myself and the materials I work with. This keeps things energized and exciting for me. I spend every day in my studio working on commissions, however I always have at least a few side projects of my own that are playful. For instance, building a miniature boat for my dog, which he will probably never use.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
In 2006, I was halfway through grad school and materials were loosing my curiosity. An engineering student came into the woodshop and asked if I could cut a couple dozen extra long wood strips for him. I asked him what he was building, and he replied by unrolling plans for a small ultra light sailboat made of steam bent White Oak. The plans were gorgeous and I’ve always admired the function and beauty of boats. I got the information from him and bought my own plans. The next day I began building and learning the process of steam bending wood. I went completely into adrenaline mode from there. In 1.5 years, I built 26 large pieces and still maintained a social life.
Matthias Pliessnig‘s fluid, skeletal furniture forms are made using traditional steam-bending techniques with oak. His interest specifically with bending wood first developed in 2006 after making a boat. As a sculptor and woodworker his training developed during his studies at Kansas City Art Institute, earning a BFA in sculpture, at Rhode Island School of Design earning a BFA in furniture design and at the University of Wisconsin Madison, completing his MFA in wood and art in 2009. Pliessnig has received national attention for his work and is considered one of the top artists/designers working with wood today. In 2008, he received a grant for his MFA project from the Joan Mitchell Foundation; in the same year he was given the Best of the Year Award for lounge seating by Interior Design Magazine. In 2009, his work was purchased by the Museum of Art and Design’s permanent collection and he received a grant from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. In 2010, he was awarded one of the most prestigious artist awards given today from United States Artists. Most recently, the Smithsonian and Renwick Gallery chose eight pieces of his work to be included in the prestigious Renwick Craft Invitational. Pliessnig was one of four artists selected who represent the forefront of contemporary craft and design.