Tom Sachs was a janitor and carpenter for years. These experiences primed him for the life he was about to lead. He enjoyed the jobs, committing everything to them, but they fell short in scratching a personal itch to create. That’s when he started crafting sculptures.
To become good at anything, you must dedicate a great amount of time to it. You also must look at it from the correct perspective. Sachs is insistent of the bind that a well paid person in a job they hate finds themselves in. Money is a route to freedom, but not the route. The route to freedom is more about aligning yourself with what you do and doing it well. That’s why Sachs became a “ninja blackbelt janitor” as he subsidised his early foray into art.
Their own efforts appearing stunted in comparison to Sachs’, the other janitors didn’t like how he made them look. Sachs felt no mercy, believing wholeheartedly they should feel bad if they are half-assing a job. Rather than recoil at his own fate, Sachs took control of it. Rather than resenting the minutes spent cleaning toilets, he utilised the time as a meditative space where he could focus on making a toilet shine peerlessly.
He began to reap the seeds he had been sowing, honing an unshakeable approach to professionalism and perfectionism. Sachs moved up the ranks, becoming a supervisor of that project before the company, hearing of his interests in art, hired him to make art for them. It was the opportunity that he’d needed, although it wasn’t the product of luck, but of hard-work.
Between Nike collaborations and 1:1 replicas of NASA shuttles, Sachs is a keen cultural commentator. This was apparent with a Christmas display that he created for Barneys New York, replacing the Virgin Mary with Hello Kitty - who wore an open Chanel bra - in a stable with a McDonald’s logo. The nativity scene drew attention, not all of it being positive. It was faithful to one of the main themes of its source material though - a star had indeed been born.
Slowly building up a portfolio of sculptural works, Sachs began to prod and provoke consumerist society, juxtaposing high fashion with violence through pieces like a Hermés hand grenade and a Tiffany Glock pistol. Later came a Chanel Guillotine and then more controversy when the artist prompted guests to pick live ammunition from a vase designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.
The combination of his DIY handyman approach that Sachs would construct his thematic and darkly humorous sculptures with, to his meticulous professionalism and rejection of the ‘tortured artist’ label, amounted to the artist gaining a cult-like following amongst certain groups of people. His studio, something that Sachs considers his magnum opus, is a sanctuary for these young artists who share his philosophy and hope to help with his works.
Subjected to the 10 rules set forth in his short film ‘Ten Bullets’, the studio is a strict, yet open environment. There are rules, but only the kind of rules that create a framework for freedom. Through this space and outlook, Sachs has become a key cultural figurehead in New York, leading to his collaboration with Nike.
In their new NikeCraft shoe, the Mars Yard 2.5, Sachs teamed up with the sportswear pioneers to make something highly functional. The aim was to make a shoe that can be ‘worn to death’, a new tenet of sustainable consumption. Users are encouraged to note down how they wear daily depending on various activities. This feedback will be looped back to Nike before the shoe is finalised.
Sachs is still very much a handyman, carrying on his ethos and methodology of making a toilet bowl sparkle. Only now he’s working with NASA and Nike, pushing the limits of what science, craft and technology are capable of. Still, as the ideas and executions get bigger, the studio hasn’t changed.
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