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John Riley

RANDOM EVENT : A Morning on Santa Monica Bay

October 13, 1985|JOHN RILEY

Craig R. (for Roberto) Stecyk, 35, pushed off this morning from an old rum-running cove in Malibu. In 60 pounds of inflatable rubber boat. Carrying a much heavier aluminum prototype of a body-shaped sculpture to be cast in bronze, the third in a series.

The first two are Out There Somewhere. On the bottom. Beyond recovery. Abandoned. Two lost bronzes in a series called "Deep Six."

He dropped the first two shallower, off Point Dume, some years ago. For a time, he could find one of them while free-diving at 27 feet. He'd hold his breath and go right to it. He'd run his hands across it, wiping off the sand and scum, and it was his again for a breathless moment, gleaming on the bottom of the bay.

So he knows how it might feel to find this one. When someday, like a sponge fisherboy finding Greek antiquities, someone recovers one of the "Deep Six" and wonders what it signifies.

Today he scouts the trench. Rehearsing. Remembering how it was to let each of them go. The third bronze will shoot downward, tracked by Loran navigation to a location he will never divulge. And, like the others that disappeared as storms reshaped the bottom and clipped the ends off California piers, it will move from his secret set of coordinates. He will never see it again.

"It's a sexual image," he explains. "Hermaphroditic, a stylized modern Hellenistic torso. Sinking it accelerates the cycle of immortality."

He does art randomly, away from museums, dealers, critics, art historians. But he performs for them too, with 94 exhibitions in 13 years, selling commissioned paintings and sculptures to keep going and to establish authorship of major forms in his work.

Stecyk's random art makes his lawyers nervous:

He takes a freshly killed ground squirrel from a highway, removes its skin, replaces its viscera with brass molded in his truck-mounted rolling foundry, glues the skin back on and epoxies the lifelike / deathlike artwork, which he calls "Road Rash," right at the kill site. He calls it "an instant fossil, a fallen victim of technology," and views it compassionately. Who is liable if a motorist crashes after hitting the sculpture?

He bolts a 15-foot-high bamboo-like aluminum-cast "Street Rod" sculpture to a street corner. Or a graffito-like "Portable Placa" to a building. Or deposits fake green cacti in the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Is it art? Or vandalism, trespassing, or a threat to safety?

Was his exhibit "Art Trash" at Claremont Graduate School's East Gallery (scavenged from the dumpsters of artists Sam Francis, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, Frank Stella and others over a 10-year period) modern archeology? Or trespassing, invasion of privacy, or violation of an implied contract?

Against advice, he does his art, calming nerves with artwork for law offices.

He grew up near the ocean in Santa Monica. When he caused trouble at school, his parents--a quality-control engineer and a ceramicist--hired a psychiatrist, who proclaimed their only child an artist. He roamed freely through the studios of family friends until he had a studio of his own. The surfboards he painted 15 years ago in exchange for studio space and the O.P. Clan graffiti he sprayed on buildings in Ocean Park remain underground classics, inspiring artworks that have appeared only lately in New York's East Village.

A longtime student of the surfing world, he prefers to bodysurf or take waves on a surf mat.

"At 15, I became disenchanted with surfboard riding. It seemed too vain, posing on those planks up there out of the water. Surfing is the ultimate illusion. A wave is the culmination, the last impact of a long, ocean-wide experience. Surfing is an unreal relationship, superimposing your trip on what's going on."

A graduate of Santa Monica City College and Cal State Northridge, he's been away from California only briefly. He lives with painter Lynn Coleman and their year-old son, Coleman, in an abandoned house near a freeway offramp in the San Fernando Valley. Together 12 years, they married five years ago--with a hired witness--in the rose garden of Avalon City Hall on Catalina "not long after the Marvin decision."

His father, once a U.S. Signal Corps photographer, walked through the radioactive destruction of Hiroshima. Is his son a mutant? A demon? He appears healthy, enjoying on-site interactive art here on his ocean home. Relaxed. Caught in the midst of one of his grand gestures. As he was when he torched his 1959 Cadillac before cutting it up to be part of his sculpture and video-art display "Autopia." Or compacted every stolen piece of "Art Trash" in a parking lot in Pomona. Or buried a 1955 Chevrolet Delray coupe under personally stacked rocks in a prefabricated structure in Death Valley Junction.

Why has he done all this?

"I had no choice."


"To challenge my own perceptions."

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