Today's spectacular human is Timo Granzotti. I had the pleasure of meeting Timo years ago in Nevada City and he is a delight to be around. He has a kind, steady and warm demeanor. No matter the time that passes, conversation arises easily. He's a sweetheart and a talent all the way around. When I met him, he had been a teacher at the Buckeye Gathering, instructing folks in fire making, tracking and fiber arts. Over the years, I've seen his woodworking skills take shape in these beautifully zen objects. There is a strength and grace present in his pieces and anyone who can harness the strength of fire and transform nothing into something has a great ability to make memorable art. Below is his interview.
What is your brand/name?
What is your heritage?
I am of Italian-Ethiopian descent. For some time, Italy ‘occupied’ Abyssinia, the horn of Africa, which is largely composed of Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was my mother who immigrated to the U.S. during the Thirty Years’ War between Ethiopia and Eritrea. I was born in Alaska. My growth and development were split into chapters, between Alaska and then Italy. I’d say my heritage is very much a combination of these diverse aspects.
What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work?
Indigenous & Ancient (crafts, skills, art and symbolism), Mediterranean (lifestyle, culture, art), and Modern (minimalist, abstract, simple, design).
What are 3 skills you've learned in representing yourself as an artist?
One skill that I've been learning to use in a way that works for me involves social media presence and branding. There is so much that can be shared to an audience. As someone who was always more focused on the process of creation and making, I’ve learned to incorporate more of the actual showing of my work, and the process itself. To fold all of this into the life of a maker, and promote it as well, is yet the other layer. This is inspiring when done well. To do it in an artistic way is something that I really appreciate, and almost another job in itself.
Another skill that I’ve developed is hard to describe, but I suppose the word for it would be streamlining. It seems much of my journey has been in finding a way to combine all of my interests and skills into a concentrated form of expression. Much of it has also involved letting go of certain aspects to help with the focus. At times it's hard to let go of something, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. I’ve found much relief in streamlining myself as an artist. For example, a couple years ago I put myself through the production process steps I thought were necessary to developing a maker’s business. I carved batches of items to prepare for a website store release. I carved a number of these items and a number of those items, on and on, and went through the monotony of repetition for months. The inspiration was diminished and it was instead a draining chore. I set a deadline for the release, priced everything, took the photos, wrote all the descriptions. The experience was necessary in that I realized that I don't want to be that kind of maker. I don’t want to be a production style maker in that way. I had to be true to myself, and let go of that. Instead, I now make what I want, and mostly when I want. Most of what I make is a one-off. I have more room to evolve, grow. For me, streamlining has been a way to refine my representation, make it more genuine.
The third skill I’ve enjoyed developing is documentation. Investing in a good camera and lens is a great upgrade but learning how to capture the essence or beauty of something is the art of it all. Documentation is a major element for me, and not just of my work, but also of inspiration. I have two or three sketch books that I fill with designs. Whenever I go to a museum, or art show, I’m sure to either photograph or draw aspects of what inspires me. I have hundreds of gigs of images, multiple Pinterest boards that I keep private, and many, many books. This all comes together in helping me to refine what I’m trying to evoke, whether it be overall style, or a specific piece I’m working on.
What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?
I think the first skill to have is the eye for seeing art. For recognizing art, patterns, colors, and how they work together or apart. To see it in everything, much like a second lens that shifts how something is understood or related to. To develop the ability to see and observe is the first. Not everybody has this skill, and many artists never fully develop it.
Next, I believe is determination. In the beginning it is very hard to perfectly create what is in the mind, yet over time it becomes easier. To know this and persist takes true dedication. There is no shortcut to developing the ability to carve. It takes countless hours, with failure and injury. Many artists are in a rush, a hurried race to success, before their art or skill is fully developed. Others abandon the pursuit when they discover how much more it requires. I find that a wonderful result from determination is, the more you push yourself, the more you realize you are capable of.
Lastly, I think is imagination. To make something unique, takes a fresh mind with unlimited possibilities. The imagination crosses boundaries, borders, definitions, and classifications. To be original and creative, is also a skillset. It finds inspiration at each moment, in almost anything. To express is human. In art, how an individual relates to a thing is expressed.
If you have these three skills: the eye for seeing art, the determination to create, and the imagination to make it unique, all the other skills can come.
What moved you to make with your hands:
I’ve always used my hands both physically and creatively. It’s something of a philosophy for me. I believe a well-used pair of hands tells great stories. When I’m old, I’d like my hands to have plenty of stories to tell. So far, I think my life has been a series of formative moments that developed my passion for making things. I have a background in botany and ecology, and have been both an ecological landscape designer, consultant, and a teacher. I am also a wilderness skills expert, with a focus on skills, craft and ancient technology. These two fields are closely related in many ways and both involve the tactile element, the touch, the feel, and the strength of the hands. They also involve a certain dexterity that develops in the dialogue between the brain and fingers.
From as early as I can remember, art has been an element in my life. I always wanted to create. One of my earliest memories was when I was very young, 7 or 8 years old, when my older brother took me to a totem pole down the road in town, this was in Alaska, and had me draw it. It took me several hours and was 5 or 6 pages long. Another was when I was 13 years old for a school project I decided to make a large scale model of ancient Rome. I used basswood to carve each little home, including the Aurelian Wall, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, and painted the roofs red to simulate terracotta. I made the River Tiberius out of crumpled plastic over blue and white acrylic paint, and clay hills for the surrounding country. It was very ambitious and took me months but I remember how fixated I was on the project. Throughout all of this I was always involved in the outdoors, whether rock climbing, hiking, fishing, or camping.
I have also always been passionate about exploring the cultural past. I believe making with the hands ties one with the past, it’s an unbroken dialogue, an inheritance. At first it was my own cultural past. Over time, this grew into studying other cultures as well. I read classical literature, ancient myths, sagas, and stories. I collected books and explored all kinds of art and art movements. I studied crafts and artifacts from all over. Museums are the best for this. I spend hours looking at the works from various places in the world. I was also inspired by architecture, pattern, and design. I guess this hasn’t really changed much. I think my education played a part as well. My education was very classical, we studied ancient Latin, Greek, and studied the works of Euclid, Themistocles, Aristotle, Sophocles, Virgil, Herodotus, Thucydides and so on. During this time art combined with my learning, and influenced it’s direction very much.
In my teens, I was interested in drawing, painting, clay, and literature. This was around the time when I moved to Italy. Much of my development happened during this time. I lived in Sicily, in a town called Taormina. Here I went further into my cultural exploration. Italy is a very artisan based culture, you can walk down the street and witness artists and makers with generations of learning working away. Even at home, the hands are used in the kitchen, and in conversation. It was very idyllic in many ways. I remember hiking 2,000 year old Saracen steps through the countryside with specks of sheep and coastal views, or fishing for octopus with the elders, making wine, foraging wild herbs, helping to repair fishing boats, or working at the oil distillery pressing lavender and other aromatics. I traveled throughout Sicily, went to Tunisia and the Sahara, and traveled throughout the rest of Italy and parts of Europe. I visited so many ruins. I love visiting ruins, they inspire me so much. They are a reminder of what we are capable of making with our hands. I later moved to Florence, where I lived for a couple of years. More inspiration, as sculptures filled the city. I would sketch them just as I did when I was younger. During that time, I got into construction, remodeling an old villa, and developed my eye for design.
I moved to California, I was 22 years old. This was a new chapter for me. It was also a major culture shock. I went back to school and studied black & white photography thinking to be a photojournalist. However, I discovered my interest in botany, shifted my focus, and soon got my degree in horticulture. I was into landscape design and had my own little business for a time. During this time I was also discovering the diverse landscape of California, and began my studies in native plants, ecology, and the skills of the native peoples. My foundations in the wild of Alaska were reawakened. As my learning deepened, so did my craft. I made everything I could from natural materials. Soon enough I became a teacher, organizer and consultant in both fields. This slowly developed into a focus in woodwork. I studied traditional woodcarving from Scandinavia, the Pacific Northwest, and Japan. I focused on working with the axe and knife for many years. I searched for old woodworking tools to restore, and also made my own. My interests grew and so did my workshop. I now use a variety of means to make an object, and I appreciate the fact that I spent so many years cultivating my skills in hand-based crafts because it has made me more adept, more versatile. I can pick from a variety of ways to achieve making something. I am also grateful that I have collected much inspiration and influence in my life to use as a foundation.
I’m now making work that is more expressive, more symbolic. I found myself wanting to share something else from within me, not just objects that are strictly utilitarian or have a practical function, but with more artistic representation, a sensation, a mood, a feeling. More and more I've followed this, although, I still go back and forth, keeping the balance. My hands always need something to inspire them into action, to do those long days in the workshop.
If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why:
There are so many places to chose from! I think in the U.S. I really want to explore the Southwest more. New Mexico, Arizona, and the Sonoran expanse. There’s so much about the landscape, the adobe homes, the weather, the history, the rock formations and color tones, it all calls to me very deeply.
In Europe, it would be to explore the eastern Mediterranean, Crete, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey. The colors, spices, the history, the food, the lifestyle, the ocean, the culture, all so rich. My heart is in the Mediterranean, I’m always wanting to be there.
3 Favorite songs at the moment:
Oh, just 3?
1) Elega al Che by JAJA
2) Take Words in Return by Henrik Schwarz
3) Kylie by Kerala Dust
What advice would you offer your fellow female makers? What business advice?
Seek to be hard to define. Everyone wants to put things in a box of understanding. An artist or maker must be always evolving. Find new arrangements, combinations of skills. Keep what you do difficult to summarize in a single word. Keep discovering new areas, dig deeper than everyone else.
What advice would your 65 year old self to you today?
Do more. The reasons you have now, will mean little in the future. You will always look back at your younger self and think, ‘why didn’t I?’. Take it all in. Travel more, eat more, love more. Dance more, laugh more. Live more.
What change would you most like to see in the world?
To return to a generational relationship to the natural world. A socio-cultural refocus like this would change a lot.
Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?
It’s a wonderful entry into the possibilities of another way of living. I like that it inspires people to create their own formula, their own way of formulating a lifestyle. I like this, it challenges the status quo. It also challenges the value system, and it makes us question how things are made. In the end, it’s helping to create relationships. Hopefully, it will stay on course, and become so much more.
Thanks you Timo. You've always been an inspiration and reading this interview enhanced my appreciation for you as an artist. Please keep up with Timo through his website for his workshops and primitive skill teachings.