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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v9n43 (10/27/2010) » Five Questions With...

Dennis Maher: Sculptor

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Dennis Maher: Sculptor

It could be said that if your artistic medium is the vacant house, Buffalo—and its estimated 15,000 abandoned homes—would be the perfect place for a study in politics, waste and contemporary Rust Belt urbanism. Maher, an assistant professor of architecture at UB, first discovered the inner beauty of the vacant while working demolition crews following his arrival in Buffalo in 2002. Harvesting scraps from the guts of demolished houses, his sculptures are the abstract fusion of chaos and order. Pieces of once recognizable and functional objects that you can no longer understand in any discernible way. You can see Maher’s work on exhibition at the Burchfield Penney or online at

What first led you to working with vacant homes?

I am always interested in the characteristics, good or bad, that define the environments in which I live. Vacant houses are an overwhelming present feature of the urban landscape here. The emptiness is for me an opportunity to re-imagine. The void is a great motivator.

How would you describe your artistic style and what does that say about you as an artist?

I am not a big believer in styles. I am interested in the push/pull between doing and undoing, making and remaking---the relentless pursuit of the unfinished. Things need to come apart in order to figure out how they might go together in a new way. Regarding my personality, I certainly have my share of creative, and simultaneously destructive, tendencies.

When you begin a project do you have a finished image in mind or does that project develop through experimentation and abstract?

I sometimes have a rough idea, but never a finished image. I allow the process of working with the materials to condition the work. Many times, the colors, textures, and forms of the materials I find significantly influence how a piece evolves. For me, it is an organic process, and one in which the materials have much to contribute.

What kind of statement do you think your work makes about urbanism, society or Buffalo in general? Is there a greater message you are trying to deliver through your art?

The works that I have realized here comprise a part of my ongoing project that I call the Undone Redone City. It is a fictitious story of a city that is always on the verge of becoming, a city that is born of our need to tear down, a city that is unmade so as to be always redone. Buffalo, and my views on urbanism, are certainly buried in the narrative.

What are some of the most useful or interesting parts of a vacant house to work with?

I am always intrigued by the stuff that good architects like to stay away from: hollow core doors, wood paneling, vinyl floor, ceiling tile. I am fascinated by things that are made to look like what they are not.

BONUS: Why do you think people are drawn to destruction as a form of beauty?

I think that we have a deep connection with beginnings, origins. We patiently await the next stage of the cycle and when we glimpse it, that moment is exciting.

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