Human beings have invented art for a very, very good reason, to make freedom out of our artificial structure

Richard Tuttle came to prominence in the 1960s as part of a generation of post-minimalist artists, including Bruce Nauman and Eva Hesse. These artists questioned dominant trends of minimalism by embracing an improvisational approach to art-making using everyday, often ephemeral materials. TateShots met Tuttle at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where he is currently artist in residence, to hear about his philosophy of art.

Art itself is of nature, and what an artist really does is engineer this transformation from the natural to the artificial side of things which is the man-made side of things. We are at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. I am a scholar artist in residence for this year. I looked at the Twentieth Century and said this is the only century in the history of humanity that has not produced an original form. That’s really kind of shocking. Normally composition is in terms of some kind of rectangular space, something like that.

I came up with this irregular octagonal. It’s only a piece of paper that’s available on a roll, a 60 inch roll, and one of the things that does, it makes the composition side of art function in an in out kind of way, then to show the benefit that there’s no top, no bottom, no side, no front, they can be on the floor or on the wall or whatever. There’s this extraordinary flexibility and availability because there’s also a part of art, I think, where the artist is supposed to create a solution and produce then, create a problem and a lot of times the problem is not given its full share.

For me, from the get go, colour is one of those things which has different qualities, there are different varieties. Every time I begin a body of work it comes from a specific idea of colour. In the days of the week pieces, the thing that absolutely excited me, was there was a yellow and brown. If you look at the brown area you see a perfect fossilised spiral shell. They were all made on lithographic stones, a technique that goes back to 1800 but suddenly you’re actually using it to extract information of natural history and making it part of the image.

Human beings have invented art for a very, very good reason, to make freedom out of our artificial structure. A lot of my work is about releasing from the conventional world and a lot of people don’t want to be released from the conventional world, it’s just fine.