Andy Coolquitt, Artist

“It was a weird thing for a kid growing up in a Baptist family to collect,” says Andy Coolquitt of the whiskey bottles that formed his earliest stockpile. “I was interested in the beautiful, sculptural shapes of the bottles and the graphic design of the labels. It was something we didn’t have in our house, so it was a bit exotic. I had them displayed in this little cave-like space off the garage.” The now Austin-based artist was raised in Mesquite, Texas, in what he describes as a “bland, boring suburban existence,” with little “interest in visual culture.” Rebellion came in the form of “having a whole lot of stuff around me and letting that stuff dictate my aesthetic.”

Since then, Coolquitt has literally turned obsessive scavenging into an art form. Metal pipes and tubing, plastic lighters, aluminum cans — these are just a few of the found materials he repurposes and transforms, setting them up in conversation with each other and giving them a life-like, almost human quality. He’s constantly on the lookout for cast-offs. “Every time I drive or walk or ride my bike, I’m always doing it.”

It’s always been as much about the process of drifting around the city, as the objects he picks up and the works he eventually makes from them. “I consider everything that I do part of my practice, whether it’s talking, walking, collecting, curating, arranging, writing, making a functional design object for a company, or making a sculpture for a gallery. There’s no reason to separate.” His sculptures can look like they belong in a high-end design showroom, and in fact, a few are currently available at Matter: recreations of a side table, console, and coffee table he’d found in the street. “I just see everything as sculpture. If you’re making a sculpture, it’s not a big stretch to make a piece of furniture; to make a light fixture, it’s not a big stretch to make a house.”

And that’s exactly what Coolquitt did, building a live/work/performance space/ongoing art project in Austin, which he’s called home since 1994. How people inhabit and move through physical environments is a key concern for him. For his latest solo show, which opens this weekend at Lisa Cooley in New York, he’s focusing on the ways in which we understand a sense of place. “It could be totally impossible to create a sense of place at an art exhibition. But I’m gonna try anyway.” If Coolquitt makes work that “wants to be on the fence,” the same could be said of the things that influence him. The following objects, places, and people affect him in ways that aren’t easily classifiable. But you can see in these picks his long-standing interests in domesticity, sociability and spatial relationships, collecting and arranging — as well as the spillover zones where the distinctions between art and life, and form and function, cease to matter much.