Steven Leslie

Artist statement

The value of a work of art may be as simple as an unconscious smile on the lips of a passing viewer or as profound as a radical shift in the way one looks at the world. My own work as an artist is inspired by both possibilities, to offer delight as well as share ideas about the world we live in.
 I began making art eight years ago in the medium of sculpture using cork as material. I was fascinated by how such a unique naturally derived product had served such an important historical function as a preservative and continued to be a symbol of purity in our modern world. It struck me how this material is used to contain and commemorate the finest wines. A wine cork’s very presence is a final memento for a specific drink, dinner or occasion that has passed.
My cork sculptures are meticulous work. Every step requires patience, vision and skill. In brief, the process starts with sorting, sizing, slicing, fitting and drilling thousands of individual corks. The next step involves drawing, calculating, engineering, tying and hiding hundreds of yards of steel wire. In addition to my sculpture work I have developed a method of creating cork skin using the outer decorative layer of thinly shaved corks. I gently uncurl and cut each skin with a razor. Then each one is firmly pressed flat, cobbled into a tight pattern like brickwork and glued in place.
The cork-smithing styles I’ve discovered have inspired an explosion of ideas for everything from household accessories and interior furnishings to replicating histories architectural triumphs in miniature.

Background

I’ve been carving wood, wax, soap and stone for over 2 decades now. prior to working with cork you could often find me picking up a bar of Dial or Dove soap and reducing it to an idol of glycerin beauty. In college I studied stone sculpture, chemistry, and human anatomy. I’ve been involved in makeshift repairs and custom quick fixes my whole life. Within my circle of friends I’ve been enlisted to do everything from re-wiring new and old power outlets, installing ovens, microwaves, sinks, ceiling fans, and light fixtures to house-painting, shelf-building, carpet installing and door hanging. My experience as a handy man has equipped me with the skills and appetite for innovation that “Cork-Smithing” requires.
I started creating artwork from used wine corks in the summer of 2002. A friend of mine, Norbert, owned a tiny restaurant on main street in downtown Ventura CA. One day he told me he’d been collecting wine corks in the back of his restaurant for years but that he just didn’t know what he could do with them now. I stood at the edge of the curb for the light to change when Norbert asked. "Steve I gotta lota wine corks in the kitchen and the back and I'm askin' all the staff what we should do with 'em you got any ideas?"
"I'd make the Eiffel Tower!?"
I said in a quick blurb like it might have been obvious.
"Great!" he said after a brief silent stare.
We both stepped off the curb simultaneously.
"Their Yours!" He said decidedly.
I didn't know what had really just happened. but somehow I had just received the short term duty of carrying off Norberts Huge cork collection which consisted of six large wine cases filled and overflowing with wine and champagne corks. I picked them up one spring afternoon and went to work planning and calculating right away. Practically a year went by with me working intermittently on “Le Courk Eiffel”" as it came to be known in the neighborhood. I worked as a massage therapist in downtown Ventura CA while attending Ventura College. The work involved in creating this thing I’d envisioned as a reflex to simple question was proving to be much more involved than I realised. But encouragement from my friends and family, especially my Father who loved seeing it incrementally grow higher and higher, motivated me to complete the monster undertaking in time to enter it into the Ventura County Fair as a contender in the “wooden models” category.

After exhibiting Le Courk Eiffel at the Ventura County Fair and taking home every prize I could. My father and I attempted to install it in Norberts French restaurant. It was like something in a Buster Keaton movie. We twisted it, turned it, bowed it, flipped it trying to go corner to corner thought the doorway but the dimensions were too big for the restaurant entrance. I ended up placing it in a local spa for exposure where it eventually sold to a woman who bought it upon first sight and shipped it to Panama City where it lives today.

My next creation was a six-foot tall vase I called "Cork in the Road." We’ve reached a fork in the road as to how wine bottles are being stopped. In ancient times vases and jars were used to carry and preserve their contents. Some vases unearthed hundreds of years later prove that the corks used long ago can maintained their integrity through an incredible test of time. As my own years have gone by I’ve taken notice that the use of plastic corks and screw caps to bottle wine is becoming more and more popular. I prefer natural corks. And I like the idea of preserving these tiny little artifacts of life and history. I feel corks represent something important. I view Cork In The Road as a symbolic image; preservation of a huge assortment of natural wine corks in the form of a corks preserving counterpart a vase.
Being involved with wine corks as constantly as I have been for the last few years has allowed me to explore new ways of using the beauty of natural wine corks to create objects more functional than what has yet been done with used wine corks. I created this new method of removing the rich and interesting outer edge of the cork to produce a used-cork-skin veneer which I've been applying with great care to everything from Lazy-Susan’s and serving platters,  to coaster sets and chess boards.

For years I’ve passively pursued the collection of more used wine corks in order to continue building my cork creations. But finding a great consistent source of corks wasn’t easy.
I would drive to different restaurants and wine bars and ask them to collect their corks for me. More often than not they would willingly begin collecting them. still it was a tedious process. But in summer 2008 I was introduced to Christine Lemor-Drake a local Re-cork America coordinator. She was happy to see what I’ve been up to with used wine corks down in Redondo beach and offered to help me in the way of supplying me some corks for my projects. I still drive around to pick up used wine corks. but the quantities at each location are increasingly great as the popularity of Cork recycling grows. I moved to San Francisco in 2009 producing smaller more functional pieces at prices more attractive to the crowds in and around the ferry building and Justin Herman plaza. I began expanding the number of items I produce with cork veneer.

“Cork-smithing”

The cork veneer method is a labor intensive; order specific, series of techniques I’ve developed in the last several years. I spend a large amount of time sorting the corks into 19 different criteria some of which are color, size, print orientation, and quality of wine. The biggest of these criteria is that all of the corks I use must be real authentic natural wine corks. No synthetic or composite corks allowed.
After careful selection each cork must be individually filleted open to produce what amounts to a cork skin. Although it is misleading to use the term “cork skin” since corks have no actual skin. They themselves are a product of the skin (bark) of the Mediterranean Cork Oak. But what I produce with the texture and printing from the cork still intact is often described as “skinning” or “shaving” the cork. Then I carefully wet and un-curl each skinned cork, pressing it flat, cutting it into uniform shapes, pairing, tiling, and gluing them together to form the decorative veneered surfaces of my handcrafts.
I’ve been selling my art and craft work in the San Francisco street artists association since august of 2009.







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