Tom Franco traveled to Phoenix four times over the course of a year, accompanied by a team of four artists from the Firehouse Art Collective, a Bay Area network of affordable residential/gallery/retail spaces that he helped found. Sometimes working in extremely hot conditions in the vast factory, the team got a taste of the physical energy needed to work with massive towers of wet clay.
The pipes are extruded from a 50-foot-tall machine and then carefully forklifted into the artists’ work area. Franco and fellow artists often worked on ladders, putting muscle into shaping, scraping, and puncturing the clay. The beehive-shape kiln area is bigger than a house, Franco estimates, and the drying, firing, and cooling process can take up to several weeks.
Franco says he tackled the sculptural end of the work with glee, feeling the primal aspects of so much raw clay. “The fun of it is, how far do you go into the clay? Because the pipes are five to six inches thick.” He adds, “The cylinder is a funny form, too, because it’s not flat, it’s very strong. and it supports itself.”
Seven pipes in the show are Tom’s, while two are attributed to James, who submitted detailed designs and asked Tom and his team to bring them to life. James’s busy schedule as an actor, writer, and filmmaker precluded a trip to Phoenix. Most likely, his work will garner plenty of attention, especially the pipe called Jimmy (2017), which depicts the actor in a scene from the 2001 television movie in which he played James Dean. It includes Dean’s infamous Porsche. The other pipe, Harry (2017), bears an oversized, beatific feline, evidencing the actor’s known affinity for cats.