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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 scenes.

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 in depth.

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 [1982], 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" work.

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 years

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 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 freelance
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 it."

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.