Graduate School 1980-1983
Missing each other's company, Hardesty and Cundiff
decided they'd apply for graduate school together, hoping to
find a university that would accept them both. No problem.
In addition to good GRE scores and outstanding undergraduate
references, both had professional working credentials at management
level. They were accepted to the University of Arizona (U of
A), with full teaching scholarships.
Leaving their home state of Kentucky, Hardesty
and Cundiff set out for the rare air of Tucson, Arizona. Here,
they blossomed, each participating successfully in both graphic
design and the studio arts program, a first for the University
of Arizona. They graduated with distinction in 1982, with masters
of fine arts degrees.
During their postgrad studies in Tucson, Hardesty
and Cundiff gutted a deserted off-campus building (owned by the
university) and turned it into an art gallery. They used the
space to exhibit cutting-edge, sometimes radical art forms, including
concrete poetry, performance art, and installations. They designed
silkscreened posters for each exhibit, which themselves became
collectibles. Within its first year, the small artspace gained
recognition as one of Tucson's most inventive and eclectic art
Also in Arizona, Hardesty and Cundiff met the celebrated
light and space artist, James Turrell, who had been invited to
U of A as a visiting artist. They both signed up for Turrell's
light and space class. During his stay in Tucson, Turrell lodged
at the Hardesty/Cundiff home. In this setting, Hardesty had the
opportunity to speak intimately with Turrell and absorb his ideas
At one point, Turrell took his class to Flagstaff,
Arizona to see Roden Crater. Says Hardesty, "Even though
work on the famous crater had then barely begun , you could
see it was already a magical place."
Before meeting Turrell, Hardesty was creating installations
composed of electrified sculptural elements, lights, sound, and
even live animals. They were complicated constructions. What
Hardesty liked about Turrell's work were the sheer simplicity
and scale of it. "Roden Crater is destined to be a 21st-century
masterpiece. Even if it were just laying PVC pipe to siphon water
out of the crater bowl, it was an honor to work on Turrell's
project," Hardesty laughs.
Hardesty's constructions were already climbing
off the wall, but his exhibit opportunities were mostly group
shows; it was unlikely he could take over an entire gallery.
But after meeting Turrell, that was his inclination.
Twice, he got the opportunity to use an entire
room. For those, he created his first 2 "environments."
In one fell swoop, Hardesty had jumped from wall-based constructions
to installation art. But it was a rocky beginning.
For his thesis show, by which the faculty committee
gives either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for graduation, Hardesty
had to be careful. He was provided one museum wall on which he
was to sum up his graduate work, which was chiefly in design.
He could easily have hung 3 of his construction paintings, already
well-received by both the design and studio art departments.
But he chose to use the opportunity for a daring wall-based "installation"
First building a false wall one meter out from
the existing gallery wall, Hardesty installed three dots, each
6 foot in diameter. Deceptively simple, each dot held an elemental
surprise: an optical illusion, a rush of warm air, or audio.
Together they created a single warm, contemplative atmosphere
that charged the entire space, though other artist's had their
works on other walls in that room. Creating unified mysterious
spaces was clearly something Hardesty learned from Turrell. Though
his approach was different. Hardesty was using "parts"
to create a whole.
Like his panel paintings, in which elements remained
unblended, autonomous in their own space, but were unified via
an encapsulating rectangle, so too was this work separated into
distinct parts, but unified by the wall.
The unifier in this case was not the space of the
physical art-it extended out into the room, the viewer's space.
It was far simpler than his work heretofore, and far more sophisticated
in that Hardesty stifled his prodigious rendering facility, removed
all artistic ego to create something beyond his skill. It was
a new idea, of what art could be...universal.
New York City - early
In 1983, Hardesty and Cundiff moved back east,
to New York City, taking up residence in a burned-out loft space
on the Lower East Side. To say it was a fixer-upper was an understatement,
with holes in the floor big enough to fall through. But the rent
was cheap, the lease long, and it offered what artist's value
most...space to work.
"Those first months were scary." says
Hardesty. "The loft was a dump, we had no money, no job
prospects, knew no one, and had no reputation. We were essentially
starting from scratch."
"Fortunately, New York is full of work. I
soon found a job designing posters for
Bruce McGaw Graphics. Sandy [Cundiff] found work uptown designing
packaging and advertising for various clients, like Yves Saint
Laurent, Charles of the Ritz, and Revlon. The pay was pitiful.
But it gave us time to look for better work."
After a year, Hardesty left poster designing and
got an Art Director's position at a mid-sized Madison Avenue
ad agency, doubling his income. Cundiff too found more gainful
employment, first at Sutton Communications then at Ziff Davis
Publishing, where she helped launch several new computing magazines.
The mid-eighties were the boom years of personal
computing, and Ziff was the place to be, launching new publications
such as, PC Magazine, Mac User, Mac Week, PC Week, Digital Review,
and many others.
With some resources now at their disposal, the
couple spent the next 2 years fixing up their loft during the
evening hours. When complete, the loft itself was an impressive
architectural statement, efficiently and creatively designed,
high-tech, split-leveled, with polished white surfaces and almost
no right angles. The kitchen looked like the bridge of "Star
Trek's" Enterprise. Smartly, a large open space was reserved
for art creation.
Now, with decent jobs in hand, and a clean, comfortable
workspace, Hardesty began making art again.
His "component" work was reduced to much
simpler forms, but a genesis of one particular form was becomming
prevalent...he seemed to have a peculiar fascination with geometric
curves. circles, arcs, spheres, disks, toroids. On the computer,
he was building enclosed wireframed structures over and over.
Use of 3-D computer technology, commonplace today, was extraordinary
in 1985, when probably not 20 people in the world doing such
work on their home desktops. Hardesty was a full decade ahead
of the plethora of 3-D modelers to come.
But Hardesty never employed technology to impress.
"I've never been particularly enamored with computers or
technology. In fact, I dislike them. They're just tools I use
to get what I need."
It's been said that artist's see what others do
not. A more accurate way of putting it might be that artists
"consider" what others do not. A perfect illustration
of this is the following.
"Walking down Rivington Street [lower east
side NYC] one day, I was witness to something a little odd,"
explains Hardesty. "A pigeon was sitting atop a traffic
light. And the precise instant that the light turned green, the
bird took flight. It was merely coincidence, of course, but it
seemed so cause-and-effect. This tiny incident was a catalyst
to a deeply profound idea. It defined perfectly what my thinking
was about, had been about for years. That is, the interconnectedness
of all things, even completely disjointed things; "poetic"
relationships of parts to a whole, in short, duality.
The more I thought about it, the more I could see
it as the crux of everything I'd already been working on subconsciously.
Indeed, that single notion, triggered by that inconsequential
event of a bird leaving it's perch on a traffic light, has been
so compelling a theme, it's sustained my art investigation for
more than 20 years."
In reaction to that incident, Hardesty began doing art "experiments"
as he calls them.
For instance, he noticed that by the simple act
of placing an object next to a sound,
or light, a sort of dialogue began. "Not everything worked.
It had something to do with spacial framing, the size and proximity
of the elements to each other," comments Hardesty.
His "Blue/Broom" piece ( the image
tat the top of this webpage) was his first attempt to make sense
of something that, on the surface, made little sense. Alliteration
helped a bit, as did use of his voice for one element and Sandra's
voice for the other.
He now began making simple wall pieces that had
only 2 or 3 elements interacting. Hardesty remarks, "Friends
who saw these works agreed there was a strong, austere aesthetic
messaging between the parts, but it seemed to be a completely
different message for each person. Each viewer strongly felt
they knew exactly what I was intending to say with the piece.
None were correct, but I decxided their view was just as valid
as mine. So rather than narrow the open-ended quality, I embraced
The elements in these pieces were purposefully
and bluntly specific, virtually demanding the viewer to project
his or her own psyche and reasoning onto the piece to make sense
of it. Hardesty began tinkering to maximize this effect.
"Proper spacing of the elements was key, there
needeto be an equilibrium tof sorts. Not unlikelike two magnets.
How for can you pull them apart before the attraction breaks
completely? How close before the two elements conjoin. You need
something between these two" He looked for formulas for
these "parameters of intimacy." He knew it had to do
with balancing proportion, distance, and the metaphoric baggage
of the objects employed.
"Putting a beach ball 5 feet from a pinpoint
of laser light, produces no messaging between parts; the informational
content of each element has to be somewhat equal. That is not
to say, of equal size. Replacing the laser dot with a 2-inch
speaker playing audio of my voice and, Whamo! You've got mail!"
Frankly, I never found a formula. I wasn't sure
exactly why it worked, but I'd learned that if something works,
it's best not to question the gut too much. In fact, I think
it's that instinctual trust, that makes one an artist."
"I did a few wall pieces using simple duality
["Arc", "Night Was", "Heat Center",
"Ice Away"]. Once I had a fair handle on my options,
I figured it was time to go bigger."
Bigger was hardly the word.
Instead of light bulbs and speakers, his first
piece included a 22-foot-diameter wooden disk and a ring of 24
speakers. So large was the disk that it was impossible to even
assemble it in his loft. So it was fabricated in 4 sections.
Once the piece was complete, Hardesty sent a sheet
of slides of his smaller wall pieces, drawing plans of this much
larger piece, "Blue/Around," and a picture of
the quartered slices sitting in his apartment, to P.S.1
in Queens NYC.