Wet Paint in the Wild: Ursula Von Rydingsvard Plays With Chainsaws and Sees Her Sculptures Transformed Into Cookies

The octogenarian sharpens her blades as she prepares for an exhibition at Galerie Lelong & Co.

Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Welcome to Wet Paint in the Wild, an extension of Annie Armstrong’s gossip column wherein she gives art-world insiders a disposable camera so they can give us a peek into their corner of the madcap industry.

Who is cooler than Ursula von Rydingsvard? As soon as I learned about the circular saw-wielding octogenarian, I was hooked on her sculptural practice, in which she famously “struggles” with her medium, which is typically cedar wood. Her new show at Galerie LeLong & Co. opened late last month, and when she told me she’d be willing to struggle with a disposable camera for a week during preparation, I knew whatever she produced would have teeth. Shall we take a look?

In process at my studio, working on one of five new sculptures. I usually work with 4×4″ cedar boards, but in this case we are using 2×4″ boards. I am wearing a supplied air respirator hood, which protects me from inhaling cedar sawdust.

My studio assistant Michael Leach using the circular saw to cut lines that I drew on the cedar. I first used cedar in 1972 when a monk introduced me to the material. When I cut into the cedar for the first time, it was soft and smooth, almost like butter. I knew I would keep doing this for a very, very long time after the joy that I felt.

I use a Jet Black Extra Smooth Prismacolor Ebony pencil to draw exactly what needs to be cut on the cedar. We start from the bottom layer, adding 2×4″ cedar boards, building up. The cuts from the previous board influence the next one. After I draw the lines on all four sides of the board, my assistants cut it with the circular saw, and it is then screwed into place.

Celebrating David Collens at Storm King Art Center’s annual gala. David was awarded the Storm King Award. He curated my first ever museum exhibition, here at Storm King in 1992. He is a rare person in that he listens very carefully to the artist he works with and cares enormously about all of the details.

David Collens, the hat thief.

Me, John Stern, David Collens, and Chakaia Booker.

My longtime friend, Martin Puryear. I first met Martin when I moved to New York City in the 1970s, and his friendship was very consequential to me, as we have many things in common, including our work ethic.

I’m moved that cookies were made in the image of my piece titled Luba. Luba (2009-10) was the first time I used bronze and wood together in the same sculpture, and she continues to stand proudly at Storm King.

Work in progress. I keep a rigorous schedule. Everyday I wake up at 5 a.m., exercise for one hour, and head to my studio in Brooklyn for a daily a.m. meeting with my team. Afterwards I spend as much time as I can on my sculptures.

Again, Mike working with the circular saw. The blades for my circular saw are custom designed TENRYU blades. The blademaker Keiji Iida stayed at my studio for three days and watched how my assistants cut. He studied exactly what we needed and made enough specialty blades to last me a lifetime.

My shop manager Jo Yu is holding boards as I draw.

In my studio, preparing my sculptures for my upcoming exhibition “LUBA” at Galerie Lelong & Co., which is now open. We are dissembling the pieces before they are off to Chelsea!

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