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Maverick Visions : Artist Brett Goldstone: Sculptor Is A Scrapper

Second in a series on creative people out of the mainstream.

July 21, 1986|DON SNOWDEN

"I want to be an artist but I don't want to be a frivolous embellisher of rich people's interiors," said Brett Goldstone in the industrial tool shed that serves as his downtown work space.

"I have no intention of being that or the validation of the 'soul' element of big business. I don't see any difference between that and the paid penance of medieval times."

The New Zealand native's blunt distaste for the decorative aspects of art extends to virtually all the avenues artists traditionally use to expose their work. The idea of selling his work is anathema to Goldstone, 27, and so is cultivating the kind of name recognition that could turn him into a bankable art "star."

Like other mavericks with creative visions outside the artistic mainstream, Goldstone's aesthetic passion compels him to express his vision even though the prospects for reward may be slim. He is no more or less pure or passionate about his work than other, more commercial or critically successful artists. But his is a kind of creativity that is seldom seen or written about.

Goldstone's aversion to reaping the potential commercial rewards of creating art has already steered him away from his initial goal of being an editorial cartoonist. He was working as a draftsman here when the publication of several of his illustrations caused an unusual reaction.

"You know what spoiled cartooning in a way?" he mused. "When I started getting paid for it. I only made cartoons from that point forward for money. I was very seldom doing them for myself, out of passion.

"I'm scared to death of having gallery shows selling my sculpture now. I have a feeling that I'll lose heart for that, too."

More to his liking is the functional nature of a recent major project. Goldstone borrowed enough money to meet the down payment on a $40,000 house in Lincoln Heights and rebuilt the run-down dwelling entirely with scrap materials he found.

"With my house project, I'm trying to identify with all the artists who've had to stop making art and bring up families and have a house. I'd rather represent them than keep company with Warhol."

The idea of being a maverick is central to Goldstone's view of art. He cites the artist's role in defining and directing the cultural vanguard as the major factor in overcoming his ambivalence toward involvement with the art world.

Other reasons are more profoundly personal--the high-strung sculptor and the kind of art that he terms "installationist" is full of a jittery energy that makes him far more comfortable moving around than sitting still. The process of making art is more important to Goldstone than the end result.

"I'm like this sort of raw nerve ending that has to do anything," he said. "I have a lot of personal problems when I can't make art. I get very depressed and violent.

"I have to make art because that's my only function now. There's no other thing I'm good for, but I talk about stopping all the time--isn't that funny? Nothing short of death is going to stop me and we don't know about that."

Goldstone applies that obsessive creative energy to the piles of rusty scrap he uses as the raw materials for his sculptures. The spartan interior of the workplace that a Chinatown businessman allows him to use contains a few large works-in-progress and the band saw and welding materials required for his work.

"I happened to come to this stuff because I don't want to make my art an expensive habit," Goldstone said. "I want to be able to do it all the time and not have many expenses to clear. "I'm trying to get my life down to absolute minimum requirements. I don't want to carry around TVs and record players. I want to set up a place where everything is given to me and I give it back to other people."

That barter life, which, for the most part, is how he handles his expenses, is a far cry from Goldstone's comfortable, middle-class upbringing in New Zealand. He developed a passion for cartooning as a child but focused instead on accelerating his formal education. He quit law school at 17.

Three years of traveling confirmed his desire to be an editorial cartoonist before Goldstone arrived in Los Angeles in 1980. He hasn't entirely lost his fondness for his old craft; Goldstone approvingly cited a review that labeled his current direction "cartoon sculpture."

Goldstone briefly returned to New Zealand in 1983 and staged a controversial exhibit in a crumbling inner-city building in Auckland. His final event before returning to Los Angeles--unveiling a giant painting on a gasoline storage tank in Auckland--presaged the series of "Art Attacks" he began to employ here as an alternative method of displaying his work later that year.

Working surreptitiously at night, Goldstone placed his paintings and other works in prominent positions outside downtown galleries and art scene hang-outs.

"The subversive element in art is very important to me. 'Art Attacks' was very strategic because you adopt a lot of guerrilla principles--surprise attacks, vector saturation under cover of night. . . .

"The artist market, this whole business, is situated on a very precarious pedestal definitely out of proportion to its support structure. It's kind of nice to kick it every now and again to watch the deadwood fall, perhaps, but it's hard to get any response."

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