Ian Stabler is an Artist and Natural Builder who grew up along the High Line Canal. His work centers around a relationship to the life and growth of the wood that makes up his sculptures and buildings. Seeking to bridge gaps between humans and non-humans, Ian highlights the relationship between the human body and the trees forms. He now lives and works in Victoria, Virginia. You can see his work online at http://cargocollective.com/IanStabler.
Lindsay Moery, the Conservancy’s Program and Development Associate, met Ian at his parents’ home in Greenwood Village earlier this year, and more recently spoke with him over the phone.
Lindsay Moery (LM): I was so intrigued by the sculpture that I saw in your parents’ backyard. Can you tell us a little about your art, your style, media that you like to use? How you began?
Ian Stabler (IS): My sculptures are large wooden people that I started when I took a sculpture class at Colorado College. At that time, they had the Waldo Canyon fire and walking around out in the burn site, I found this piece of wood that looked like an arm. For me, it’s more about – I don’t like to create things out of nothing. Instead, taking these naturally gnarled pieces of wood with so much character starts to become a process of co-creation. If we can see humanity in wood, trees and nature, we can have an empathetic relationship with them and then it becomes impossible to do something like clear cut forests. It’s about having a respect for non-human beings and seeing them as living things, rather than a resource. That’s my hope for what people will see in my art.
LM: You spoke about the wood found after the Waldo Canyon Fire, have you also found wood near the High Line Canal?
IS: Yeah, my first set of sculptures are from the Waldo Canyon Fire. Then, I graduated from college and moved back with my parents in Greenwood Village and started putting together a show for the gallery Elements 5280. That show was almost completely High Line Canal wood. That was really cool for me, going back to where I spent my childhood. I spent all of my time back there in the Canal. It’s such an escape and secret. If you were down in the Canal, people just cruised by you. You can disappear in there and create worlds and build forts or rafts out of our recycling bins. It’s just such an incredible playground. It’s great because you can go for as long as you want in there.
LM: You’re immersed in nature in a way that’s totally unique.
IS: Totally. Especially in that area too, where you’ve got Kent on one side and the Marjorie Perry Nature Preserve on the other. It’s just wild.
LM: Do you have ideas about how art can be incorporated into natural landscapes, how nature and art can be in conversation with one another?
IS: Andy Goldsworthy, he’s sort of my inspiration in terms of that side of it. Having a gallery show wasn’t the point for me. It didn’t feel real to me. It’s great to hear feedback from visitors to the gallery, but I would much rather work in context. The dream is to find a way for these sculptures and paintings to interact with their environment and reflect a more immediate reality. The abstract reality of the gallery is you have these blank white walls and then the art, you know. That’s not real, that’s not reality. There are no vacuums in this world so why are we trying to create them in art?
LM: I love that idea. I saw that one of your pieces was a small cottage in the middle of the forest. Totally removed from that vacuum.
LM: It makes me think of the aging cottonwoods along the Canal. A lot of them are as old as the Canal itself and are host to all of this incredible wildlife. It’s a really interesting conversation, given their lifespan and need for water.
IS: To me, that would be the greatest tragedy, if we lost those. Those trees are so beautiful, so incredible.
LM: So, where are you now? You’ve left the Denver area, what are you up to? How does the changing landscape affect your art?
IS: I’m in Virginia now and [it] is incredible because it has so many hardwoods. They’re the ones that have a little more character. I just made a gazebo for a friend’s wedding, that’s the biggest project that I’ve built lately. There’s definitely more wood for me to work with [in Virginia], but I don’t feel necessarily that it has pushed me in a different direction.
LM: Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
IS: Right now I’m just collecting wood and waiting. My last completed sculpture came out of finding a striking piece of Cottonwood along the High Line Canal. Having a piece that inspires you like that, it’s easier to connect and get the message across. I’ve been looking here for a piece that will inspire me like that one did. It hasn’t really happened yet, but it will come.
LM: We just completed an extensive public outreach and vision planning effort to plan for the Canal’s future. Do you have any hopes or wishes for the Canal’s future?
IS: My hope for the Canal would be that it maintain its character. I fear it becoming both desolate and nonexistent and overly cultivated – no longer wild. I think it’s got a really great balance of wildness and connection. Humans can access it on their feet, by car, but you can also disappear into it too. There’s all this nature, coyotes running around. It has its own life outside of humanity.