Neil Tetkowski’s art communicates beyond cultural barriers and is embraced throughout the world. His installations, projects and events focus attention on the changing environment we live in. One of his largest projects, the World Mandala Monument displayed in the United Nations lobby, is created using earth sent from every country of the world.
Where do you get inspiration? My favorite museum in New York is the Metropolitan. It is so close to where I live that I can walk there when I need a lift. The genius and potential of humankind is celebrated in this house of treasures. At the Met, curators still embrace traditional values of excellence and scholarship. I see a lot of clay there, from all over the world and I’m not confronted by “fun house art” and video installations. Whenever I leave the Met I feel like I’ve been to a yoga class, centered and renewed. Some people feel like that when they do their religion. I create my own Mythos through my art. It is the prism that defines my world.
What about the new work in this show? The artworks in this show are like islands, isolated but connected to something greater. The forces of nature are evident as well; fire, earth, air and water. These are the forces that define the memory of the material. It’s no joke that my hands have worked the earth of every country of the world. So when I form a piece of clay, to me it’s the Earth, and I’m “re-forming the world.” The Earth is literally and metaphorically transformed. Although the art doesn’t say everything, I can think anything. It is a free moment when I create.
Where did you grow up? I grew up on an island a few miles upstream from Niagara Falls. My “hometown” is a small town. It is embraced by a silent, yet forceful presence of water. Islands are isolated in some way from the very thing they are connected to. So are the people that live there. For fifteen years I’ve been living in Manhattan, also an island about the same size as Grand Island, New York. The bridges and tunnels are not the only things that remind me that I’m living on an island.
When did you start making art? I started making art when I was a kid. It was easy for me since both parents taught art. In the early sixties we lived in Siena, Italy. While I was in elementary school I got to travel around Europe with my father’s (college) students, repeatedly visiting great museums and cultural landmarks. I didn’t really know it was a special experience until I was in my teens. Around 1970 I had my first adventures with clay. At fifteen, I was highly motivated and got hooked on making things.
What happened after that? When I got to art school, I found out that a lot of people felt that talking about art was more important than the art. I didn’t buy into it then, and I don’t buy into it now. When you make art, or look at art you should invent your own experience and not depend on someone else for too much direction.