From exploring the woods of Colorado to hitchhiking across New Zealand and masterminding his Pioneer Works creative center in Brooklyn, Dustin Yellin reflects on how he has uniquely spelunked into a life of art.

Wheat Field

Dustin Yellin

ARTIST

2019

ART / SCULPTURE / PIONEER WORKS / RED HOOK / NEW YORK CITY / ROCKS / ANDY WARHOL / CIPRIANI / R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER / PABLO NERUDA / TESLA / JAY-Z / COLORADO / HURRICANE SANDY / BIJOU PHILLIPS

Dustin Yellin is perplexed by boredom. And that’s really all you need to know to begin to understand him.

“How the fuck can you be bored?” he mused to The Creative Independent. “It’s incomprehensible, what I don’t know compared to what I do know. This leaves me in this state of total wonder and thirst to discover more. I’m like that when I travel. It’s pathological. I’ll want to drive down every single road on an island. … And when I hit a dead end, I want to get out of my car and walk into the bush.”

The pace at which Yellin lives, creates, opines, forms bonds and ponders the world around him is intense. He’s perhaps best known for his surreal collages set in dozens upon dozens of panels of glass, clocking in at thousands of pounds each. And then there’s his creativity laboratory Pioneer Works. His poetry. His 2D paintings. His perpetual presence in Red Hook. All access points to his mind—as are the 18 quotes in this collection to celebrate the latest episode of Design Matters.

To Yellin, everything is creativity. Ponder, and live accordingly.

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief


“I’ll start with when I was 8 years old. I took a wood box, and I buried a dollar bill, a pen and a fork inside this box in Colorado. And I thought some strange humanoids or aliens in 500 years would find this box and learn about the way our species exchanged ideas, maybe how we ate our spaghetti. I really didn't know. Anyway, this is kind of funny, because here I am, 30 years later, and I'm still making boxes.”

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“I’m terrible at speaking about art. I think you should cut off your tongue if you’re going to make art.”

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“I subscribe to the idea that I’m lucky to be alive and I might die in 65 minutes, and that, in the Bayesian sense, civilization is a sculpture, and everything has been invented, and we’re now in the midst of inventing whatever the future might be.”

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“I’ve always felt like making a sculpture is like making a poem. You’re putting down a few words and then you’re reacting to those few words.”

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“[The elements in my pieces come from] LIFE magazines, art history books, encyclopedias, old dictionaries, people’s notebooks that I find in the street, things that I’ve picked up during my travels. … I think of them as road maps. The books that I’m using won’t exist in 200 years; they’ll be gone. And a lot of the illustrations and photographs that I’m cutting out and putting in the work will be the only remaining examples of those images. They’re remnants of souls. They’ll be lost inside of the abdomen of an exploding supernova and crumbling in a black sea of guitar strings.”

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“I have drawers of mushrooms and drawers of icebergs and drawers of humans and drawers of architecture and drawers of plants. … I’ve been building up this collection as long as I can remember. Everything’s labeled. I have these beautiful brass plaques that are engraved with the names of the different subjects, so when I’m building these worlds, I can find them.”

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“It’s like an internet of paper. I’m painting with the detritus of the world.”

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“Everything’s accumulation. We are just accumulations of dust that are somehow conscious.”

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“I work in the lonely darkness of my soul … with a team of people to help me execute it. It’s almost like I’m making frozen movies.”

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“I don’t like to think of myself as being thematic. I respond viscerally and visually. I don’t think it’s thematic. Unless you think death is a theme, and life is a theme.”

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“I’m always thinking about a 500-year time scale. I’m not making this work for the person that’s gonna come in this week and bring it home and love it. I’m thinking, in 400 years, how is this gonna tell a story?”

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“Sometimes you have an idea, sometimes you have an art object, sometimes you have a cultural program. But at some point it’s all the same. If you’re breathing, and you’re not dead, and you make something out of nothing, then it’s coming from the same place.”

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“There is no difference between a work on paper or The Triptych or Pioneer Works or a love song that I’m going to listen to tonight while I’m drinking tea and musing over the pleasant surface of the water.”

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“I’ve been making art my whole life, and I’m getting older and I feel like I have 700 years or 7,000 years of stuff that I want to make. No matter what I do I’ll only capture the thumbnail of it.”

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“As an artist, I really want to get into a room and talk to a scientist who inspires me, and most of the scientists I know are musicians because of the math, and most of the musicians I know want to be making paintings when they’re not making music because it’s cathartic. This is the mission [of Pioneer Works]—to break down these walls—but it’s very difficult because there’s a lot of simultaneous programming. But that’s the idea, that at any given moment within our residency program you have many of the disciplines of the arts represented simultaneously, and many disciplines of the sciences represented simultaneously.”

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“I think that’s the way you change the world. You redefine your insides and the box that you're living in. And you come together to realize that we're all in this together, that this delusion of difference—this idea of countries, of borders, of religion—doesn't work. We're all really made up of the same stuff, in the same box. And if we don't start exchanging that stuff sweetly and nicely, we're all going to die real soon.”

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“I want you to have a revolution in your heart. I want you to stay up past your curfew.”

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“My wildest wish is that all the people around me are content and peaceful and die in love.”
 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman