Tony May, visits the Ardel Gallery in Bangkok, Thailand in 2007
A native of Wisconsin, Tony May received a BS and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at the time that an energized wave of young postmodern artists were flexing their artistic muscles. If older faculty were distraught over the travesties of pop art and early postmodernism, May remembers that for an extended period of time Madison was an important incubator of artists and attitudes that influenced a larger art scene — nationally and beyond. “Bruce Nauman was an undergraduate classmate, and Harvey Littleton was on the faculty. Dale Chihuly took glass from him. Marvin Lipovsky was there. Clayton Bailey was making inflatable grubs in Madison. He was a friend of mine. I studied with Stephen French and Warrington Colescott. Guys like Donald Lipski came after I left. Tandem Press was founded later, and is still there.”
As an undergraduate, Tony May was drawn to ceramics and studied with Don Reitz. May made large sculptural forms that were, he recalls, “like giant albatrosses, like millstones around my neck every time I moved. I left them abandoned under stairwells and stuck them in my mother’s garden. I remember an uncle asking me if one of my cast concrete pieces would hold up as a headstone for his wife’s grave.”
As part of his Home Improvement Series, 11″x 13″ each, May documents and paints his own handy work around his San Jose home and studio.
Having pushed scale with his ceramics, May was ready to go a different direction in graduate school. From the failure to calculate the fate of his unwieldy early sculptures, May took a turn toward economy and modest forms that has lasted to this day (with the possible exception of his public art). For the most part, his art has focused on the challenge of integrating art into a home environment or elevating largely ignored domestic elements into art. Often, the subject of a small painting or sculpture is home improvement itself — little projects that reveal his own handy work and inventiveness, or provide an opportunity to incorporate art or Asian philosophy into his environment. An affinity for Japanese economy-of-means is a natural for Tony May. By focusing on the small in scale, the recycling of domestic materials, and overlapping meanings in the use of his forms and materials, May reveals his ingenuity, plays with puns and his self-effacing sense of humor.