Sun Buns | June 2020
Tyler Cross is an artist based in Oakland, California. Although he is best known for the ceramic sculpture he makes in collaboration with his boyfriend, Kyle Lypka, Tyler maintains a focused solo practice of sculpture, painting, and drawing which poetically explores his fascination with the complicated relationship between art and functionality. Using a private language of color and shapes, echoes of which dance fluidly from his flat to three-dimensional works, Tyler constructs paradoxical artifacts and the abstracted, uncanny landscapes from where they came.
A conversation with Tyler from June 2022
Featured in Plunge Rag Vol. 2
PLUNGE: What part of your art process excites you?
TYLER: Drawing in my notebook is my favorite part. It’s less risky. I think when it comes to making ceramic sculpture with Kyle, if it’s being made off of a drawing I know what the beginning point, is whereas with painting I don’t really know where it’s gonna go. If there’s anything I’ve learned from working with clay it’s that patience is really important and that’s something I’ve carried over to my painting practice. I’ve started to go a lot slower and take more time with things. I think it allows me to sit with things and have things arrive versus make them happen. I think the beginning is something that always excites me, or gives me an unknown feeling.
Do you spend most of your time working collaboratively with Kyle? How much of your practice is devoted to your own work?
Recently I’ve been working on my own stuff more but in all honesty I’m more excited about the work that we make collaboratively. There are things that I’m doing for my show that I haven’t done before, so I’m excited to see how that goes, like light sculptures, and also I haven’t made a lot of metal work so that’s gonna be a new thing.
Will this be your first solo show?
Yeah, it feels good. I feel like I’m just making what I want to see and before I was concerned about what people want to see. After talking to Kyle I realized it’s not important and I should really just focus on what I want to make.
Do those concerns come from thinking about how the work will sell?
Yep, I was making things and wondering, “Is anyone gonna buy that?”. I don’t really feel like that should be the reason why people make artwork. I should just make it because I want to. I don’t think I’m at the point in my career where I should be concerned if someone’s gonna buy something or not cause to even consider myself as an artist is kinda hard for me to think about.
Why is that?
I’ve done art for myself in a private way for so long that putting a word to it always felt uncomfortable to me. I don’t really want to consider myself as an artist. I think it’s hard to explain and I don’t really know how to put it into words…
Do you feel like the production jobs you’ve taken on, like making the JB Blunk cups and vases for Carter & Co, have pushed your practice because you’re doing things that you wouldn’t normally be doing?
Well, Kyle and I started making vases for fun and that’s what sparked our whole collaborative project. Making vases was the beginning, so it’s resorting back to something that we were already doing and it’s also a way to get back into the swing of things. When we moved studios and weren’t making as much work for a little while we started making vases to warm up.
How did you first start making vases together?
Kyle made a vase for me as a gift and I liked it and wanted to make my own. Then I started drawing sculptures and Kyle wanted to make them.
Was that your first time making ceramics?
No, I actually did a lot at San Francisco Art Institute. I could have minored in sculpture. I needed to take one more class but that would have required me to stay for another semester, which would have been a lot of money so I didn’t.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The graph paper in my notebook. I can start with straight lines, which I feel like is something that is reoccurring the sculpture that Kyle and I produce.
I like that because the Sun Buns towel you made has the grid on it. You have a snake shape that recurs often, too. Where does that come from?
When I was going to school at SFAI a lot of the paintings I was doing had these kind of forms, like an alphabet of shapes basically, and I wasn’t really aware that I was even doing that until we had a class visit by Jenny Gheith, who works at SF MoMA. She made me think about what I was doing a little more and pointed out that I was working with a reservoir of shapes.
Has that impacted how you go about making work now?
More so in the beginning, not as much now. The snake shape became a stamp that we put on the bottom of our production work and Kyle’s and my collaborative sculpture. That’s our signature now.
How often are you making art?
I feel like it’s not enough. I felt like when I wasn’t working as much I would be in here days during the week and on the weekend. But then I also spend my job making work, so I feel like I am always working on art but it’s for someone else. I work for the artist Liam Everett and have been for seven years.
Does making art with Liam give you momentum to work on your own projects?
Yep, totally. Because then I get to think about things in a different way. Here lately it’s been more sculpture and with him it’s painting. They’re not two different worlds but they’re two different mediums that function very differently. I joke with him that sculpture is harder because there are more things that can go wrong. I feel like you can finish a painting in a month but then working on a large sculpture and having it finished in a month is risky with dry-time.
In your personal practice are you mostly making sculpture? You mentioned making lights and metal objects for your upcoming show.
Well I don’t want them to be “lamps” so I’m trying to think about how to talk about them. At first I was thinking that the element that would cover the lightbulb would be ceramic and Kyle made me think about them being metal because a ceramic sconce is more common. But then also the lighting sculpture idea came from working at the JB Blunk Estate. In the Blunk house you could see all these lights on the wall attached to a pull chain… I used to think art and function should be two different things and now I don’t think it’s that cut and dry. I feel like design is a kind of high art just like a painting or a sculpture. So for me to be deterred from wanting to make a light because it’s something that has a function just isn’t a good enough reason not to make it. I wanted to see it in the world so we made it. Metal as a material is so foreign to me so I think I’ll be sticking with clay for this project.
It seems like it was inspiring to have spent time in a place like the JB Blunk house where art consistently meets functionality.
Totally, and I love that. Whereas I feel like Kyle’s and my work is going in the opposite direction and is seeming less functional.
But it’s a nice illusion — the sculptures look like functional vessels but they’re impractical and non-working. They become very painterly in that way... How does making art make you feel?
I feel like when I’m really in it, I’m in a trance or something… time kind of speeds up and I’m completely in what I’m doing.
How will you know when you’ve arrived or succeeded?
I don’t really know. In some ways I feel like I have because I’m still making work and I feel like a lot of people go to school for “art” and don’t really continue the practice, but I feel like I have to. I have to be working on something or something has to be in the works. Whether it’s Kyle making a sculpture, I’m glazing a sculpture, or there’s paint drying upstairs, et cetera…
What are you most proud of?
I think the sculpture work I’ve made with Kyle has been some of the work I’m most proud of, because we have arrived at something that we both didn’t know could exist.
TYLER HAS BEEN BUSY OVER THE LAST SEVERAL MONTHS. SOME OF HIS WORK WITH KYLE WAS FEATURED IN A GROUP SHOW AT MARIN MOCA, HE HAD HIS FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION AT PART 2 GALLERY IN APRIL AND NEARLY SOLD OUT THE WORK, AND IN MAY HE CURATED HIS FIRST SHOW WHICH INCLUDED HIS AND KYLE’S COLLABORATIVE SCULPTURE ALONGSIDE SITE-SPECIFIC ARTWORKS BY LIAM EVERETT, LAEH GLENN, AND TERESA BAKER. TYLER AND KYLE WILL BE SHOWING EVEN MORE OF THEIR WORK AT BLUNK SPACE IN SEPTEMBER 2022.
Find more of Tyler's work: