Improper Slope – A Documentation by Rich Gilligan (edition of 300)
To accompany the NYC opening of cement sculpture artist Max Palmer’s first solo exhibition – Improper Slope – a full-color 32-page publication of the same name will be printed in an edition of 300. The booklet showcases images by renowned photographer Rich Gilligan from multiple sessions he spent documenting Max in preparation for the exhibition, as well as a conversation between the two individuals further detailing the sculptor’s creative process.
All 300 copies will be hand-numbered and signed by both Max Palmer and Rich Gilligan. The
book will be available for sale at the show opening on May 4th, as well as select locations
Rich Gilligan is an Irish-born photographer known for his raw approach to portraiture and
fashion, with a style that sits between classic reportage and fine art documentary photography. His photographic roots stem from skateboard culture, having shot for international skate publications for more than a decade. This experience led Rich to his award-winning book DIY – a collection of landscapes and portraits of life in illegal D.I.Y. skate parks worldwide.
Rich’s photos have been widely exhibited in numerous group and solo shows worldwide. He was awarded the 2013 Showcase Photography Award from the Gallery Photography, Dublin for emerging talent in Europe, as well as having been recently selected by Time Magazine as one of the top nine photographers to watch from Ireland.
He now lives and works in New York City.
Conversation with Max Palmer and Rich Gilligan, March 26 2017
Rich Gilligan: I have it in my head that there are a few key steps in how you make your work. The first thing I imagine is you gathering all these found fragments of the city, then you begin to edit them and finally you work on them physically. Am I on the right track?
Max Palmer: It’s like a step-by-step process, but I don’t really approach it like that. It just works out that way because I’ll find something that I like [when] I’ll be out skating; I’ll find a little piece of metal or something, and I’ll bring it back here... sometimes I’ll immediately know what I want to do with it, [but] sometimes it‘ll just lay around here for a while and then one day I’ll be like, ‘I want to use that right now.’ Once you make the mold, pour the concrete and then take it out, it looks completely different than you thought it was going to look, and then there is another step of ‘what do I do to it now?’ Painting or finishing becomes my next concern, or maybe carving into it. Or if it just sucks, I’ll break it open, taking the piece out and just start over.
RG: What draws you to the materials you work with?
MP: I was always drawn to concrete because of skateboarding. When I first started using it to build a bowl in the garden of my old house called “The Sideyard,” I had no idea what I was doing. My boss at the time—artist Sarah Van Der Beek—wanted to use concrete for her sculptures, so I started casting concrete for her and began learning a lot more about it. Then I just liked using the found metal pieces I worked with because it seemed that at one time they were important to something, like they belonged to a building or a machine as an integral part of that. And I just feel like when I find them I can re-purpose them and give them another life, as opposed to being trash in the gutter and going into a landfill.
RG: So you are giving them a second chance?
MP: Yeah, I guess!
RG: How much of an impact does the city have on your work—specifically New York in contrast to where you grew up in Ohio?
MP: The city influences it for sure, but I don’t think it’s specific to New York City. I think it’s just that this is where I am right now, and I definitely take a lot of visual influences from it—especially since it’s so vast and diverse architecturally: brand new buildings and places falling apart and in disrepair, all combined together. And then just so many people throwing away perfectly good materials here—if you just take a little extra time to salvage something, you can find so much.
RG: Texture seems to be something that is really evident in all of your work, is that a conscious decision or is that just part of the process?
MP: That’s definitely conscious because I just like the range of possibilities of texture that you can get from using concrete, wood or plaster. I’m interested in exploring the imperfections in things and letting that be part of the work.
RG: I know you studied photography for a long time so I’m curious to know if that’s fed into you current work?
MP: In relation to this work, it all stems from photography because, for a long time, I was just shooting photos of textures before I started making the sculptures. And then from that, I was always really drawn to the little pieces of the sidewalk where there used to be a bus stop sign that had gotten ripped out, a chunk of the sidewalk with a little piece of metal sticking out of it. And then I just decided that I wanted to recreate those little pieces of the sidewalk. I started making all those squares with the little metal pieces in them, and, I mean, they don’t look like them at all really—well, maybe a couple of them and that was my whole idea: they just became their own thing. It all just started from looking at those holes in the sidewalk. And then I started researching stuff about sidewalk repairs on the NYC Parks Department website, and I found the “sidewalk hazards” page. There are all these photos and each hazard had a different name in the system. One of the hazards was called “improper slope,” where one of the pieces gets lifted up by a tree or something and makes a huge crack in the sidewalk—that’s where the title came from. It’s completely meaningless, but I just thought it was funny that the whole project started from sidewalk hazards....
This conversation took place at Max’s studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY