Aleph Geddis is a carver and sculptor, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, who currently divides his work time between workshops on Orcas Island and Bali. We have been enthralled and delighted with his work for years. Thoroughly taken in by the hand carving skill, beauty and utility, we wanted to learn more about how this is accomplished and how the work has developed for Aleph personally.
Venturing off to do this, by way of ferry, through the San Juan Islands, cars, buildings, houses begin to disappear and you are left with the simplicity of tree filled hillsides and water. The entry could not have been more apt for what it is like to enter the simple farm property where the carving shed, filled with books, birds, tools and a cozy carpet of wood chips, is located. All seems pared down to the essentials and focus is on the doing, the learning, the designing, the carving. Simplicity juxtaposed with depth.
As a dedicated traveler who brings his work wherever he goes, Aleph was a tremendous resource and collaborator in discussing what could be the perfect woodcarver’s tool roll. This, and the real world geometry lesson, were icing on the cake of a fascinating field trip.
1. You split your time between the PNW and Bali, both places famous for their wood carving culture — do you see similarities between the two areas in regard to their style or methods? How does living in these two environments influence your work?
On Orcas, where I share a studio with my step-dad, we influence each other and our processes intertwine. My step-father has been working in our carving shed for 35 years and I have been carving there since I was a child. There’s something about the set intention of the space, that when I go there the carving is automatic. Its a really special place for me and having grown up there, its a big part of who I am as an artist.
In Bali the workshop is fresh and new, like a clean slate. I am surrounded by my close artist friends and we inspire each other daily. Bali a place of intense creativity and I am still amazed at how the process of thought to form happens so quickly there.
Lastly, being a traveller is a big part of who I am as a a person and so the travel itself shapes my work.
2. Your current work revolves around three main ideas: Geometry, Beastiary, and Spoons. How have you found yourself in these niches?
The three main ideas that my work centers around today are geometry, beastiary and spoons.
When I first started apprenticing with my step-dad we carved lots of realistic birds, animals and plants and it was at this time that I began studying northwest coast native art. Inspired, I moved onto carving masks and eventually more of my personality started coming through and the masks evolved to reflect my growing interest in geometry.
I was into math and geometry at a young age and it has always been an influence in my work. I love the inter connectivity of the way that the shapes all work together; there’s something fascinating about form interacting with itself, beyond man-made constructs. When I was 19, I got really into sacred geometry and studying and sculpting the platonic solids. Then there’s the relationship between cubes and dodecahedrons, at a glance they seem so foreign to one another but in truth they are so inter-connected. The truth is that I am still discovering new things in geometry that intrigue me, this is and will remain a life-long passion of mine.
My spoon project stems from my desire to bring art into all aspects of my life. Todays predominant culture revolves around mass production of poorly made products. By contrast it feels good to slow down and put a lot of time and effort into objects that I really care about. The spoons represent the intersection of function and art, a principle that is fundamental to the way I live my life. The carving shed and even the tools I use are an example of this. They are by nature functional, but no less beautiful. The spoons also reflect the interesting dance between hard and soft that is found in my masks. So while the three ideas, geometry, beastiary and spoons seem separate, they are in fact all connected.
3. Perfect geometry is not something you see in nature, especially in wood — what is it about that juxtaposition that inspires you?
Normally in my work I don’t like splitting or checking but when it comes to the geometric pieces I love cracks and imperfections . There’s something beautiful and truthful about the unpredictable and organic nature of the wood, when juxtaposed with the organized nature of geometry.
4. What is your favorite type of wood to work with and why?
Lately I have been loving yellow cedar, big leaf maple and walnut. They all have a wonderful creamy quality to them and hold detail well.
5. Where do you draw the line between a sculpture and a carving, or are those two words interchangeable for a lot of you work?
For me carving is the process I use to make my sculptures. You can carve to create other things that are not necessarily art.
6. How do you get such straight lines and angles in your carvings?
I am a big believer in the importance of process. To get the result I want, it is important to do one step at a time and finish it completely before moving onto the next. The concept is quite simple. In reality it requires a lot of patience and presence.
7. What types of tools do you mainly use and are they mostly hand tools or a mixture of power and hand tools? Do you use sandpaper?
I use a mixture of power tools and hand tools. When I first started carving, I was a ‘feather specialist’ and used a lot of power tools. As I progressed with my carving, I moved towards mostly hand tools, for a number of reasons. Power tools are noisy, cause dust and I don’t like the surface that they leave on the wood. I also don’t like sandpaper, because I feel that it takes the soul out of the piece and takes away the beautiful natural texture of the carved surface. Carving is so much more intimate with hand tools, there’s nothing better than the feeling of a chip coming off with a sharp blade.
In my toolset are a mixture of gauges and chisels, some Japanese tools and I also make my own bent knives inspired by traditional northwest coast native tools.
8. What are your tool “essentials” and how do you transport them when you’re traveling?
I like to carve wherever I go and its impossible to take all my tools with me, but I have narrowed down my travel kit to these essentials: 3 bent knives, a straight knife, a small Japanese skew, 7 midsize Swiss made gauges, a miniature set of gauges, a ruler, a pencil, a compass, a strop and two sharpening blocks. I manage to fit all these in one tool roll, but I have yet to find one that fits my aesthetic. That is of course, until I saw yours.
9. What do you look for in a tool roll?
These are the necessary qualities I look for in a tool roll: It must be able to fit all my tools and keep them safe. It must be made well, out of good quality material. And lastly should combine function with aesthetic.
10. What is on the horizon for you? Any new avenues you are planning to explore? Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
Right now I’m working on finishing up a series of geometric pieces for an upcoming show at the Bellevue Arts Museum. The show opens in mid April and will showcase a number of Pacific North West artists and designers.
At the same time I am continuing to work on my masks. I really feel like I’m finding my voice and that they embody the blend of geometry and animal characters that I have envisioned.
I am starting to take molds of the masks and will later cast them as a limited edition series in paper. This is new territory for me and I’m really excited about it as it will make my art more accessible, which is a good thing in my opinion.
All these pieces, including the spoons will also be available on my soon to be launched web store. So stay tuned!
Learn more about Aleph on his website, and follow his work via Instagram. You can also watch a stop frame animation created by Spencer Hansen to show the process of carving the Blamo Character Whooly. Whooly is a collaboration by Aleph Geddis and Spencer Hansen.
Photos: Ben Lindbloom Photography