Stenzel’s studio. Bishop, CA.
I have to call him. “Hey, Alex. I’m outside a gate, there’s a sculpture or something.”
“Oh, Charlie! You’re here! Yes, come in the driveway. Don’t park by the truck, that’s my friend’s, he’s leaving now – you can park anywhere else,” Stenzel said. A fast talker, German accent, his first language.
I park, get out, there’s a chicken, then a turkey in the yard. Broad Breasted White. Maybe a White Holland, or a Beltsville Small White. All these breeds look the same – white-feathered, fat, wrinkled blue head, wrinkled red wattle. Walks like a CD skipping. Or a guy at a bar looking to punch someone’s face, anyone’s face, he’s just angry.
Stenzel answers the door. I mention the turkey. He says pet it. Leads me outside, tells me to touch his blue head, from behind, like this. I do. It’s wet.
I read Alex Stenzel’s Wikipedia page after I meet him, at home, because he texted it to me alongside other information about his and his daughter Nessi’s upcoming art shows. Which is why I’m there – to talk with them about art and art-making. That was about 10% of what Stenzel and I actually discussed.
Some of Stenzel’s WikiResume…
“Two dozen patents, trademarks, and copyrights in fields as widely ranging as fashion, general gift items, computer accessories, food products, architectural designs, screenplays, workout programs, and computer games.”
From the Daily Titan, 2010: “…inventor, artist and philosopher, Alex Stenzel, 44, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., has developed a new kind of breadless sandwich that has taken the raw food community by storm … Stenzel has also had a world ranking for three different sports: tennis, mountain biking, and the Iron Man World Championships in Hawaii in 1986.”
He called it the Gorilla Sandwich – “a hollowed-out cucumber filled with kale, olives, mustard greens, walnuts, and avocado, among other healthy ingredients.” Whole Foods sold it, for a bit.
Also, in August of 1988, one of Germany’s most wanted bachelors. According to Germany’s Miss Vogue.
I walk into the house he calls his studio. The first thing he asks: “Do you want some coffee? Espresso? Latte?” He drinks 12 of them a day. Or, six double-shots, packaged in pods and brewed in a minute. The milk he steams and mixes in. I decline, for now, but fifteen minutes later, after he’s led me through the home, his loft, the attached art studio, I’ll take him up on his offer. We’ll drink his second double-shot of the day together. I’ll eat the chocolate he makes himself in big, plastic sheet pans, using ingredients he can’t share, all – or mostly – “superfoods.” It was smooth and creamy, light and thick. He lives off the stuff. Plus an apple, always an apple, which he eats after a certain number of espressos, usually, although I can’t remember which one. Ends the day with 8 ounces of meat, or maybe it was 6, and some wine.
During the fifteen minute tour – or maybe it was thirty, I’m not sure, he moved fast, and I couldn’t record or take notes; I just listened – Stenzel mentioned a slew of things. Some about art – how truth and beauty are the two absolutes, born from natural intuition, which comes from … we don’t know where.
He showed me one of Nessi’s pieces, an abstract collage made of glue, paint, a stomped, metal, pink watering can, a purple bowl, a plastic glove, etc. He pointed out the weight of the watering can against the lightness of the bowl. “She has a sense of composition,” he said.
Nessi presented her first art exhibit at C5 Studios in Bishop when she was 4 and a half. Her second, third, and fourth exhibits were this past summer and fall at Mammoth’s Mono Arts Council (MAC). Her fifth will be at the MAC’s Winterwonderland Show, which has an opening reception this Saturday, the 18th.
Nessi’s pieces are textured collages of what she and her father collect. Bottle-caps, old socks, broken rubber bands, receipts. Her process involves potion-making. And spinning. Or climbing. Or running around. Like this: mix some glue, paint, glitter, whatever’s inspiring her into a bowl, let it sit, go climbing on the studio’s indoor wall for a few minutes, and return to her work. Repeat, until it’s done.
While I was there, she had a particular fondness for winding up a punching bag and its attached, assorted ropes and handles until the whole mess of chain and strap and rope was twisted into a tight braid, which, after latching onto the bag, she would let unwind and take her for a dizzying ride. Again, and again, and again, while her father and I talked about skiing and climbing and what brought us here.
At one point, she asked if she could play a record. Blue Rose. She liked the name. We listened to it while she spun, until she wanted to hear her father’s song, which he’d made a handful of years ago. He put it on, left to use the restroom, and Nessi spun while I listened. Heavy, German techno-metal, it sounded like, punctuated by screams and chanted lyrics I couldn’t make out. Stenzel returned, we smiled, bobbed along, finished our coffee.
Stenzel’s art is abstract these days. He creates without preconceptions. Enjoys the process. Aims to make something greater than tapestry. Something that contains emotion. Something that writhes and makes you do, too. Painting, for him, is a prayer. A meditation. A yoga that unites him and medium, mind and medium, body and mind, mind and land.
Different from the actual yoga he does an hour and a half of every day, split up into thirty minute segments.
During the tour, I point out a workout book on his shelf. He lifts up his white shirt. Sixpack. Says he’s in his fifties, man. I think about lifting my own shirt. I don’t.
The exercising, the espresso, the chocolate and apples and meat – it’s for his most important project yet: writing his philosophy. His manifesto. His theory on beauty as he perceives it in nature and art.
He’s been writing it, in German, for six years. Up in his lamp-lit loft, where I can’t stand straight because the A-frame ceiling cuts low – where there’s a small mattress and a nook of bookshelves and other philosophies. And Stenzel’s journals. He writes at night. Afterwards, he exercises. Always.
The heart of his argument, as he texted it to me: “To understand what beauty is, one has to understand what time and space is as all things that exist reside in it. However, one cannot explain existence… what time and space is by means of reason and observations: words, thoughts, and empirical observation, all of science, mathematics and logic and as such by means of all that what exists, ergo time and space as one observes it; as time and space is always a given and always present, present in the one who is aware of it. It is an intuitive intelligence that neither resides inside or outside of us. It must be realized.”
He’s in the editing phase. Hoping to have it ready for publishing by the end of the year. He’ll write a short paper in English and German to accompany the work. “I’m just enjoying taking my time with it right now in the editing process and making it as beautiful as I can,” he wrote me in a text. “I want it to be around for the next 2,000 years and be translated in many languages.”
The reception for MAC’s Winterwonderland show, where Stenzel’s and his daughter’s art will be exhibited, is at the MAC Gallery this Saturday the 18th from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.