Actions precede understanding—sometimes we need to act— that action helps us understand our intention.  

Rick D'Elia in his artist studio at Studio 17
Rick D’Elia

Rick is at the door of my studio. Down the hallway behind him is a mass of camera equipment—but it’s just him at my door—asking me a question. “Would you be willing to talk on camera about the studio and what it means to you?”

A person’s approach is vital to the outcome—if Rick had stood at my door with the equipment in hand, I might have put up a wall. The person behind the camera has a huge impact in what we see—putting us at ease, or not. This is something inexplicable—and as I look at Rick, I think—yes I can do this if he is behind the camera.

But how has he ended up behind this camera—he is a poet, a writer,  he received an MFA from SF State, his dad is a mechanic, his mother works in a hospital, he has worked construction—poured concrete— “It’s tactile, working construction, pouring concrete, the labor…I like how physical it is.” At first art making and writing as a profession didn’t seem like a possibility, “When I got to college people talked about poets getting published and I thought, ‘Wow that’s a thing!’ It was outside my confines.”

We are mid conversation, talking about process, writing, video, photography—how different mediums open up new approaches. The difference in an idea manifested in film versus in a poem. Rick got to graduate school, some classes were closed, so he ended up in taking playwriting, which affected his poetry.

Rick D'Elia in his artist studio at Studio 17
Rick behind his camera

On the wall behind Rick is a picture of me hanging from a ledge in my studio—three descending images—‘the grip’—my fingers clinging to the ledge— ‘the release’—when I could no longer physically hold myself and had to  let go— ‘the fall’—the body free falling. I was writing a poem about an internal descent, but I couldn’t access the emotion through words, so I put my camera on a tripod, climbed up onto a ledge, and hung from my fingers until I could no longer hold. I made the internal descent into a physical experience. Rick has a similar relationship to words and action: “I have something in my memory, but I can’t put it into words. But if I film it, than I experience it—then the words come.” Using physical actions to make words is a form of seeing with the body—a tactile approach.

“You know the Proust thing, about seeing with new eyes—Joyce jacked that and then T.S. Eliot…(that it is) not about discovering new places necessarily, but looking with new eyes.”

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is…

Marcel Proust

“We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot

Rick is reading international fiction. Reading anything but ‘us’ for unconventional approaches. It opens doors, stretches the limits of what is possible.”  In his process, he is trying to get the words down without judging them too harshly. Get it on the page and let it sit, not saying it’s shit—come back and revise”

His writing doesn’t necessarily adhere to a single genre: poetic essays, essay dialogue, straight up dialogue, hybrid. I start writing and the form reveals itself. I was working on something, the lines kept getting longer—and I thought—let the lines go—it will be what it needs to be.”

Conversation notes written by Alex Nichols with Rick D'Elia in his artist studio at Studio 17
My conversation notes with Rick 

He is behind the camera, has placed a small microphone on my shirt. I didn’t realize what I was getting into.” In writing you are alone; it is just you and the page. Film is full of problem-solving on the fly, you can’t just test it out.”  The thing that is being filmed is happening in the now; When I first got into film I thought,  ‘I don’t have the technical background’ so just try it, just do it.” Things come up, and you have to adapt fast. The people, the collaboration, time constraints, equipment issues—and the biggest difference is that there is an entire crew counting on you. You’ want to pull your own weight.”  In writing, Those things don’t come into the equation.” there is this sense that you are only accountable to yourself and that is difficult, in terms of motivation.

And so “All this stuff about light, composition, bouncing light” he started to adapt into his language; even his words seem tactile. “Tactile and tangible.” He is pouring concrete into language. You have to ask questions and sometimes people ask, “How is the project best told? But that’s such a weird question-it’s more like, how is it coming now?”

How do we see with new eyes—how do we keep our minds open to possibility?

Rick D'Elia in his artist studio at Studio 17
Close up of Rick’s camera

Each artist is working within a constraint—the constraint of the medium itself and the rules they apply to their process. I walk the halls of this studio. Artists are crossing mediums, using what they learn from other processes to inform their work. That cross-pollination of process preserves the sense of constraint while also creating new possibilities.

Rick mentions Charles Olson. The pace of our conversation is fast—moving from deconstruction to standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people, to Roadtrip Nation. Someone asks him while he is doing one thing, if he can also grab a camera and film it—and Charles Olson, The Maximus poems—approaching an idea from every angle as an archaeologist. I am on one side of the camera, Rick is on the other side: “Seeing what is possible, to see what’s out there.”

Rick walks out the door with the equipment and I look down at the notes of our conversation—to see what is there.

About STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

At the end of June—a community of over 70 artists—at the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—must leave STUDIO 17 to make way for high-cost working space. This blog will catalog the end of this community above Thrift Town (on Mission &17th Street) and what it means. To understand what is being lost—I will spend the next two months carefully observing how artists work in their space—to give an intimate look at the inside of this community.

More about Alex Nichols:

Read more:

Feature on Alex Nichols and STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space

How the journey began… STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

More Featured Artists:

Lucinda Buxton Martin

Rick D’Elia

Jeffrey Martin


Daniel Lichtenberg

Ellen Rosenthal

Lauren Marchetti

Adam Barry

Lexie Bouwsma

Denise Laws

Andy Vogt

Qinmin Liu

Truong Tran

Kate Nichols

Published on May 21, 2015

Published by Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist and writer who deconstructs the experience of self, tracks the perceived and performs the narrated idea of self through a disarming physicality, rigor and humor. Her current projects utilize video, monologue, performance, and installation, reconstructing the physical boxes, strings and language of constraints.

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