We ran into Mandy Hampton at a UNT Art Gallery a few months back. She's been impressing us ever since. This Denton-loving artist not only possesses a myriad of talents, but she has shown the ability to go seamlessly from one medium to the next, spanning the world of fine art and craft. In her workshop, she showed us her favorite tools, and a few projects she's been working on, including a large piano she is about to disassemble to use as material for new work. Read on to see how she keeps her creative community close, deals with the challenges of working in a small space, and how she keeps all of those skills sharp.
Tell us a little bit about your history with Denton.
I moved to Denton in January of 2010 to finish my bachelor’s degree. I’d spent the previous years going to community college and traveling over seas, and then decided to move here on a whim. Within my first week, I realized I loved this place. After 3.5 years, I still love the small-town feel, the liberal arts atmosphere, the ability to bike nearly anywhere I want to go, the beautiful historic houses on Oak Street, and a community of people who care about this city. The University of North Texas was also a wonderful environment for me, especially because of the people I met there. I actually started with a degree in English and a minor in Photography. While taking a 3D Design class my first semester, I fell in love with the art program and decided to switch my degree to Photography. After 3 semesters in Photography, I switched yet again to a degree in Sculpture. This time it stuck. In the middle there, I also met my husband, Josiah Hampton, and we’ve been married just over a year now.
Considering myself a
world-traveler, I always kind of thought I’d move out of Texas for college - or
at least after graduation, but after 3.5 years in Denton I have a difficult time
imagining myself elsewhere. Josiah and I
both still have plans to move to another state or over seas for a time, but I
think it’s likely we’ll eventually return to Denton even if we leave.
You do just about everything when it comes to making art. You’ve labeled yourself a photographer, painter, musician, sculptor, woodworker and furniture builder. How do you find time for it all?
Honestly, the answer is that I don’t find time for all of it ALL of the time. But I don’t see this as a bad thing. Some mediums come and go in phases, some lasting longer than others. When I learn something new, like when I began woodworking 2 years ago, that one focus takes all of my time, energy, and passion. You might call it obsession. And then, I just incorporate it into my main body of work. I have defined myself as a sculptor for the past 2 years, but once again I realize I can’t stick that kind of label on myself. All of my work flows from the same source. I anticipate seeing my work evolve and continue to flow in and out of various seasons.
Currently, I spend most of my time sculpture, furniture, and photography. Certainly, there is difficulty in dividing my time like this, but it’s working for me. I have learned to use my trusty planner religiously, and schedule my time effectively.
With so many tools in your belt, how do you keep them all sharp? Do you find that it takes time to get back into a medium after stepping away from it for a time?
I actually do easily jump in and out of various mediums. Each medium is kind of like the different tools in my workshop—I use whichever tool best fits the project. I think it also helps that my art is cohesive in concept. Broadly speaking, my work is about telling a story. When I photograph a wedding, I capture someone else’s story. When I build a piece of furniture, I think about space and living areas and about making a piece that creates conversation and interest. When I make a sculpture, I pour my own thoughts and personal story into the work.
Certainly, there is the danger that I'll end up the jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, and I continue to think seriously about this. Sometimes I consider devoting my time to just one area of focus, but that doesn’t seem to work well for me. The variety keeps me interested, and I’ve found that these different forms of art strengthen each other and influence all areas of my life. One obvious way in which this strengthens my work is the ability to photograph my work. It’s surprisingly difficult to portray 3D sculpture in photographic form.
Do you have a group of friends or creatives to lean on, draw inspiration from, hash out ideas with?
Absolutely. After graduation, I kept my membership in the UNT sculpture collective in order to stay in touch with those folks, which is why I was able to be in a recent UNT On The Square exhibition. I also stay in touch with my friend/professor Jim Burton who has easily been the most influential person on my artist career so far. Jim facilitated an environment that worked well for my learning style, taught me how to critically think about art, and also taught me nearly everything I know about woodworking. I probably wouldn’t have majored in Sculpture without his prodding.
Aside from these, I have several friends with whom I engage in art-centered conversation, but not with much consistency. This is by far the most difficult thing about leaving the university. I am still trying to figure out how to get artists to come share my studio space so that we can work together. I thrive off of community and interaction with people, and I miss it. On that note, however, I have been talking with Tristan Bynum about Maker Space plans since January and am looking forward to that taking off. I think Maker Space will be an invaluable resource for me and other artists and I am looking most forward to a community of artists with a shared space.
How do you overcome the challenges of moving from the studio space at the school to creating a workshop out of your house?
Josiah has been an invaluable asset to my artistic career. He relentlessly researches tool reviews and craigslist to find me what I need at a cost we can afford. At this stage, I actually have a nearly complete workshop of tools, including a table saw, a band saw, a thickness planer, a lathe, and a number of hand tools. My absolute favorite tool is my antique Stanley #5 hand plane.
Space however is a problem. Our 2-car garage is small, preventing me from making some of the larger pieces I was able to while at UNT. And the worst part – after I make it, where do I store it? You’re right, it isn’t easy.
Anybody who has walked around the Square in over the past few months has probably seen one of your pieces in the windows at UNT on the Square. Where else have you shown in Denton?
I was in several student shows on campus while attending there. After graduating in December, I’ve been in the “Art Show for the People” at Panhandle Studio, The Sculpture Collective Show at UNT on the Square, and a solo show at SCRAP Denton. I also was honored to get into the Spring juried show at 500x in Dallas. As far as finding places to show my work, at this point shows have fallen into my lap because of connections with other artists. I don’t expect this to always be the case though, so I am starting to research galleries in Dallas that might be interested in showing my work.
Is there one direction of your artwork you’re really drawn to right now? Do you see a specific medium really driving your work as an artist in the future?
For the past 2 years, a common thread in my work has been the use of repurposed materials in the form of sculptures and furniture. I think this will continue to be a big part of my work for the near future. Some people know me for my piano sculptures, and yes, I am still taking apart pianos. I currently have a grand piano filling half of my studio, awaiting it’s impending destruction.
As for why I like to work with these materials, it’s mostly about process and meaning. My work right now usually expresses some kind of narrative that pulls from the object’s history, but also involves current experiences in my own life. “World of the World” and “Holiday” are two good examples of the kind of work I am currently making and most excited about.
The history of objects and the stories behind them drive my creativity, and all of my best work at this point is inspired by the initial act of destroying something else. I’m still playing around with what that is exactly, but it’s working well and I am enjoying the process. I don’t sketch or plan much, I prefer to just make. I feel like these conceptual sculptures practically build themselves (with a lot of work on my part of course).