In 2010, sculptor and painter David Rudolph was selected for an $84,000 grant from the New Mexico Arts Commission for his proposed installation project, “The Books,” at Santa Fe Community College. Rudolph will construct, over 11 months, 17 giant concrete books that seemingly protrude from the ground around the walkway between the old and new sections of the campus. Originally from New York, Rudolph moved to Los Angeles in his early 20s to pursue a career as an artist. He and his family came to Santa Fe in 2005.

SFR: You worked in a shipyard in New York. How did you go from that to sculpting?
DR: I thought I was going to be a mechanic for the rest of my life, until I realized I didn’t like working with these huge things. My job was oiling the cranes, and I’d climb up and scribble on walls. Or I had access to all these metal shops, and I’d make sculptures in secret out of pieces of metal from old ships.

So did you always have the drive to create art?
I learned from experience, everything I did. Once in a while, I’d sit in on an art class somewhere. It wasn’t until I started sculpture that I understood: ‘Oh, I really get it.’

You designed pieces for movie stars and directors when you lived in LA. What are some examples?
I designed a lot of furniture…I designed a large television set that’s in the middle of Hollywood…It’s 25 feet tall…all in concrete and steel. You can go inside the television and have your own talk show.

You’ve been very prolific. What drives you?
Having to do this for a living for 41 years—and I attribute a lot of that to I had kids and a wife and a family—if I wasn’t able to do art, I really didn’t know what I was going to do anymore. I have to make this work. I can’t let them down, and I don’t want to go get a job at a car wash or something, so I would just make it work. I’d go out and meet with people and do all the things involved. I have a motto: I’ve always done art as if my life depends on it because my life depends on it. Something else I always say is, ‘Art saves the world’…ultimately, [it] could make the world a better place.

What inspired the current project at Santa Fe Community College?
When people experience my work, they leave feeling more intelligent. You see a lot of art that people just leave saying, ‘I don’t get it,’ and they’re disturbed by it. And I want the opposite of that, where people see it and go: ‘Huh, that makes sense to me. That gives me an idea’…I’d rather do something that saves the world every day than something that takes away from it, and maybe inspire some kid who sees those books maybe.

In what way?
It’s about imagination, and imagination ensures continuous innovation and lifetime learning. Albert Einstein has a quote that I used: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’…You start thinking: ‘You have one book going this way and others going that—are they going to hit each other? Where are they going?’ I think that stimulating that imagination—teachers and students are going to be seeing it primarily—I wanted to create that. It has a sense of movement.

Much of your work, such as the television sculpture, is interactive. How do you envision people interacting with this installation?
With their mind, with their imagination, with their relationship to it, with what kind of story it tells them…One guy said, ‘It looks like you started to excavate things.’ Then someone said something totally off-the-wall: ‘It reminds me of a school of dolphins’…‘Why are these big books here? What are these? Why would someone do this? Are they buried? Are they coming out of the ground? Is it just from some ancient time and they stopped digging them out? Did they grow here?’ It’s just like this whole range of things…I keep hoping they’re going to have a news flash and say they were doing this dig and discovered a new Aztec calendar and, would you know it, it begins at 2012. They’ll tell us the world is going to get better, and it’s because of art.