Play is serious business.

Watch a basketball player giving 100 percent. There is no hesitation or self-consciousness. If there is, it is a broken play, and all can be lost.

This is not to say that there is no place for reflection in play, there is, but it goes immediately back into the game. If you miss a shot, you keep shooting till you score.

I remember playing as a kid, at the School Around Us in Arundel, Maine. I remember the focus, the total dedication to enjoyment, to the seriousness of play. My art is this kind of play, a 100 percent commitment to the process of self-reflection.

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David Isakson, Full Court Impressionism, mixed media, 24 x 14 x 15 in.

As I get older, I realize that my art can reveal an obstacle I am trying to pass or overcome. I am playing as research, to dislodge the truth, to create meaning within the rules.

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David Isakson, Prop From the Science Fiction Film of My Life, mixed media, 20 x 9 x 20 in.

There are rules to play. In art they sometimes call it pay to play. It costs to submit work, to exhibit, and to publish. It costs to buy materials, to pay for storage, and space to work. If this is all play, it is a very big game. And so it is.

I am a small-time operator in a big game. I play to win, but I know that 50 percent of the time I will lose. I don’t get into every juried show I enter, but I have won scores of first prizes in juried shows.

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David Isakson, The Merchant of Venison, mixed media, 29 x 22 x 16 in.

As an artist, I weld and join materials to make humorous deconstructions out of everyday objects. In my work there is either no experimentation, or the whole thing is an experiment. I am dedicated to the techniques I use to join materials together; the experimentation takes place in deciding what materials I will join. I know what I am doing; there is no putting a mark on a canvas and then covering it up with more paint. When I weld it is quite permanent. I might get better at welding, but it is not an experiment, it is a technique. When I drill holes in things and bolt them together, which I do in almost every piece, there is more play. I can attach and then remove something; I can change the distance and position of one element to another. Playfulness is there, but the focus is on the execution of a concept.

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David Isakson, So I Live With My Mother Is That An Automatic Deal Breaker, mixed media, 27 x 13 x 18 in.

My work is a solitary pursuit, as much as it is art. But art is also my life, which is a team sport.

The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

—William Shakespeare

In Hamlet, Hamlet stages a play to find out if the king has murdered his father. It is years since I read Hamlet, it’s also been years since I played by the creeks and in the forests of Maine, but I learned that play can reveal the truth about the players, and the audience. The veracity of play is the truth of the moment it takes place in. But is it fun? Yes, play is fun.

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David Isakson, The Voting Machine, mixed media, 20 x 10 x 18 in.

I use a lot of writing and sound machines in my work as well as typewriters, court stenography machines, records, gramophone horns, and headsets.

There is a rhyme in Moby’s 1999 album, Play, that goes:

Oh lord my troubles so hard, oh lord my troubles so hard, don’t nobody know my troubles but God, don’t nobody know my troubles but God.

There is a secret world in this song, the world of the artist and God. This is the world of my sculptures. My works are like secrets between me and God. My dad used to love double entendres and plays on words. I inherited that as well as a bit of mental illness from my father. The secret is that my works are self-portraits, but not just physical self-portraits, like a selfie, but portraits of myself in the world, in America, in some hypnagogic state, in my studio.

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David Isakson, Sacré Court, mixed media, 24 x 8 x 12 in.

For example my sculpture, Sacré Court, is a play on words: in French, sacré cœur means “sacred heart.” I changed the word for heart with the word for court, a homonym and a play on words. I made the play about ex-president Trump going to court. This is a self-portrait because of my being in the world being affected by politics. For every day I am exposed to politics, sometimes my sculpture is a place for me to answer back. The sacred circular bulb hangs above the sculpture like a self-imposed halo. The body of the sculpture is a court stenographer’s machine.

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David Isakson, We Can’t Elope My Parents Would Never Forgive Us, mixed media.

The title of each work is my chance to speak directly to the audience, maybe even more directly than the piece itself. One of my favorite examples is a kinetic sculpture made of wheels, a strainer, melon ballers, and antelope horns. I call this piece We Can’t Elope My Parents Would Never Forgive Us.

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David Isakson, The Angel Of Feath, mixed media, 25 x 25 x 10 in.

Another recent favorite is a kinetic sculpture with wings and a sewing machine motor powered wheel that spins a set of bird wings at high speed. I was writing out the title of the piece on the tag that I use on sculptures. I meant to make a commentary on the massive loss of life due to COVID. By mistake I transposed an F with a D and the title of the sculpture was written The Angel Of Feath. I kept it.


Image at top: David Isakson, Brand New History, mixed media, 30 x 14 x 18 in.