Who: Mitchell Gaudet
What: Glass Artist
Where: New Orleans East (Bayou Sauvage Marsh)
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: Studio Inferno’s new home (6601 St. Claude, Arabi, LA), where he scooped melted glass out of a giant furnace without any hesitation
Q: If you could have the ability to perfectly impersonate someone for a day, who would it be?
A: It would definitely be Bono because I have the same squinty eyes, and with these new glasses I have, I look exactly like him. When I’m at the Superdome with these glasses on, people yell, “Sit the f@$* down, Bono!” I would love to fake the Irish accent and sing.
I’m not necessarily even a fan of him, but to be able to sing and karaoke, I’d definitely do that. Although, I wouldn’t want to live his life. I can’t even imagine how awful that would be to never get a moment to yourself. I’d probably just go out somewhere private and sing some non-U2 song. Have a nice voice for once.
Either that or I’d be some obscure archeologist on a dig. I’m not sure I’d want to go into something grand like Tut’s Tomb. It’d be nice to be in some remote area, though. Chaco Canyon maybe. I went to Chaco Canyon years ago, and it’s incredibly off-road. You get off the highway, you get on a little road, then you get on a farm road, and then you basically get on a trail. It’s a little tricky to get to.
They’ve excavated an incredibly tiny portion of the canyon, and it’s still mind-boggling. I mean, the noble savage—they were filthy, but man, did they have beautiful stuff. Beautiful black-and-white pottery everywhere.
I wouldn’t want any of the stuff, but to be there and see it—that would be amazing.
Q: If you could choose any place in the world to display your work, where would it be?
A: A lot of my work is done through sand casting. It has a real funk surface to it, so it would be nice to display it in an archeological setting, like Pompeii — one of the courtyards there. I mean, almost anything you would do there would look spectacular.
It’s hard to compete with places like Pompeii, though, because it’s so incredibly authentic.
I tell you what, there’s the house of ill repute at Pompeii. It has all of the images of these different sex acts, and I’d like to do something really bland and clean there. The content would be dirty, of course, but the surface would be clean. A beautiful glass sculpture. Maybe a fertility statue because that stuff was all over Pompeii before the British got there. Pompeii was covered in penis iconography and wind chimes, and when the British excavated it they really destroyed a lot of that.
We have these romanticized paintings that we use to look back on places, but there’s this whole other side to Pompeii. There were fertility symbols—this God with a giant penis that his head would rest on—everywhere. We’re very prudish, and we were especially prudish back then, so they got rid of a lot of that. When they excavated, there was graffiti everywhere in the city. On one gladiator’s tomb, a woman had written, “He got me pregnant.” There was a town square where there was all this nasty stuff written about professors and teachers, and there were these drawings and everything.
So that’s where I would go, and I’d make this giant, clean-surfaced priapic work.
Q: If you had to equate yourself to a sound, what sound would it be?
A: I sound like a dude from the 9th Ward. Either that or a merganser duck.
Q: What’s your worst shop story?
A: Besides getting my gas bill every month? Well, we’ve almost burned ourselves down a few times, but there’s actually a lot of safety precautions in place.
Really, though, it hasn’t been anything super catastrophic. The funny thing is, the furnace has an alarm on it in case we ever lose power. It shuts the gas off immediately if the alarm goes off, and the alarm company will first call the shop. Then they call my phone, my assistant, my wife, another friend of mine, and then they used to call Markey’s Bar cause we’d be there all the time.
There’d be this call and the bartender would look at me and say, ‘It’s your furnace,’ and then we’d all scramble down to the shop. We’re consistent drinkers, but now we drink at the Old Arabi Bar down the street, so I’ve got to get that changed with the alarm company.
I guess, though, personally the worst story for me was when I dropped a piece of glass on my arm. I was unloading it, I was careless, it broke, and it cut a V right into my arm. It was a little squirty, so I covered it, but I knew I had to go to the hospital.
At the time, I was going to Charity, and I’d been to Charity before for something minor, and I waited forever since it wasn’t serious. That’s how the triage works. So, the time I cut my arm open from the glass, I put blood all over my face and rubbed the blood everywhere. Then, when I went into Charity, I got attended to immediately.
The thing is, my wife and I have way more burns cooking in the house than anything else. We’re so used to this huge furnace in the shop that the heat from the oven at our house doesn’t feel like anything. So, we’ve actually reached into the oven together to pull something out and burned ourselves. We’ve become heat ignorant.
Q: What’s a luxury in your life that you refuse to live without?
A: Oh, my hot tub. There’s no doubt about it. Actually, my wife [Erika Larkin Gaudet] of course. Although, she’s not just a luxury, she’s a necessity. But I would say without a doubt it would be my hot tub.
And I’m going to preface this with telling you a story about a time I was in Seattle. I was meeting up with an old friend of mine—this old hippie from Berkley, and he said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come over? We’ll have some beers and take a soak in my hot tub.’ And I was thinking, ‘No way. I’m not getting in a hot tub with you, you old freak.’
Well, I did. And after that, I immediately started saving money to get a hot tub. And they get a bad rap, but they’re amazing. People think it’s crazy to have a hot tub in New Orleans, but you just dial down the temperature to below your body temperature and it’s perfect. Now, come August, it’s 99 degrees with the heat totally off, but we have a nice fan above it, and we fill it with the hose.
It’s my third one and every house I’ve had I’ve put one in. My wife and I have coffee in the hot tub to start our day, and every afternoon we have a beer in it. And our hot tub overlooks a marsh, so we watch all the nature and have this grand view. It’s where we think and where we relax, and I miss it when I travel. I mean, I miss it as much as my dogs when I travel.
Gosh, now I sound like a creep. ‘I want to be Bono in a hot tub and make a giant priapic work at Pompeii.’ That makes me sound like a total creep.
Mitchell Gaudet’s Studio Inferno was part of CAN’s Wetland Art Tour, and he has shown his work with the Arthur Roger Gallery. He is currently developing a work inspired by the seven deadly sins for a post-summer show.