Sculptural Passages: A convergence of industry and nature

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Sculptural Passages: A convergence of industry and nature Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for Honors in Studio Art Andrew C. Hellmund Adviser, Ted Aub April 15, 2014

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Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for Honors in Studio Art at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY.

Transcript of Sculptural Passages: A convergence of industry and nature

  • Sculptural Passages: A convergence of industry and nature

    Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for

    Honors in

    Studio Art

    Andrew C. Hellmund

    Adviser, Ted Aub April 15, 2014

  • Sculptural Passages | 2


    My honors project explores sculpture in the tradition of 20th Century formalist abstract

    art. The welded sculpture uses found metal to create sculptural passages composed of

    found, formed and fitted elements. By reusing recycled metal and former industrial ele-

    ments, I seek to transform the materials into new sculptures that foster community and

    highlight the many overlooked resources in our environment by bringing people together

    in conversation. In rediscovering the value and worth in found elements, I can find new

    ways to utilize these resources while still maintaining and acknowledging recognizable

    elements from the objects former histories and uses.

    My Story

    I have been an active steel sculptor since 2010, when I first learned to weld and fuse

    metal together abstractly. The ideas for the work had been developing since I was a small

    child who looked up to American sculptor Alexander Calder and British sculptor Andy

    Goldsworthy. Different as these sculptors are, what they had in common was that anyone

    could make sculpture with the materials around them and a lot of imagination. Calder

    drew me in, because of the energy in his wire sculptures, the color he used in his stabiles

    and mobiles and the whimsy that accompanied his abstract work. Early on, I knew no

    other metal sculptors. Goldsworthy represented a new way of seeing the environment

    around us, finding more beauty in the landscape and nature as something that we could

    value in art and yet create something temporary with lasting impressions. His is an art

    form that challenges the patience, persistence, and creative energy brought to seeing the

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    value in the materials around oneself and learning to work with what you have while nur-

    turing ones appreciation for the natural beauty that surrounds us.

    Since 2010, Ive had many opportunities to exhibit my work, meet and work with artists

    and students all of which have greatly expanded what I thought I knew of the sculpture

    world. I visited Storm King Arts Center, north of New York City, and through that expe-

    rience I started investigating the works of many more sculptors. Part of the amazement

    I felt was definitely the awe factor, but not necessarily because of how large the works

    were. But seeing how sculpture could be respected in the landscape as its own object of

    importance was particularly meaningful to me. Sculpture embodies ideas one can interact

    with, learn from, and ultimately form questions of, when the work is of high caliber.

    In 2010, when I was starting out as a metal sculptor, I searched for principles that could

    help guide me when I was struggling along in the creation process to inform the quali-

    ties that are important to my work. They were motion, fluidity, simplicity, dreams, space,

    and integrity. Hope along with these principles, I have found is important to myself and

    those around me always trying to carry a positive and optimistic outlook in all aspects of

    life and artit was natural to incorporate hope and dreams into my art as it is how I see

    and reflect on the world.

    If I were to describe my work, I would say the most important things at the moment while

    I am searching for my voice within sculpture are expressing movement using found

    materials, expressing hope and upward motion and that I not confine myself to one set of

    ideas. Motion and fluidity are similar, but to me fluidity has more to do with parts relating

    to the whole work, how things connect and flow or relate within the greater work. Motion

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    is the energy expressed within one piece or several, which plays directly into dreams and

    hope. Often, up is the place people look for hope (seen especially in how figures are

    gestural). I want to create work that inspires people to converse, and see something new

    every time and perhaps to even start to relate the upward movement within the piece to

    their own dreams. Space is one of the most important aspects of sculpture. I want to cre-

    ate works that consider the context of their space and relate well to it. As a citizen of the

    world and as a sculptor, I hope to embody these qualities more!


    In the Spring of 2013, I studied in Europe. During my studies I was able to secure a travel

    grant to see sculptors studios in France and England. Gleaning information from the

    spaces that the sculptors worked in I thought I might learn more about the sculptors, their

    methods, and the essentials for designing my own studio one day. Originally I was trying

    to visit Sir Anthony Caro and see the late American Sculptor Alexander Calders studio

    in France. Caro was not well enough to meet with me, so I shifted the focus to seeing

    sculpture parks, museums, and individuals. My requirement was that every visit had to be

    related to sculpture! Before this trip to England, I visited Belgian sculptor, Deev Vanor-

    beek in southern France. He was working in his villages public works buildings. It had

    a very industrial feel and was chock full of scrap steel. His work reflected his industrial

    surroundings as well as a more organic and playful sculpture that has clear connections to

    a sculptor who has observed nature his entire life. He started off by making large insects

    from wire. I enjoy the fact that the same feeling of line that has been twisted up and

    transformed into a fluid and undulating line can be expressed in his welds and method of

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    In May, after my semester of study was complete, I started out for England, landing in

    Manchester. I immediately went off to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Henry

    Moore Institute, and Sculptor Charles Hadcock. Along the way I was directed to Anthony

    Gormleys Sculpture in the Sea (100 lifesize castings of the artist that are facing the sea

    along a 2 mile stretch). As I moved towards London, I visited the Hepworth Wakefield

    and Ironbridge Open Air Sculpture Park, The Tate Modern, the Cass Foundation sculpture

    grounds, and numerous sites for contemporary sculpture around London and the sur-

    rounding areas.

    In making this study trip of sculpture, I wanted to know more about what made the

    work of these British sculptors so well known and what I could learn from them. When

    I arrived at Iron Bridge sculpture park (the only wholly steel sculpture park in Eng-

    land), I was hoping to learn more about technique and get a better sense of more British

    sculptors. There were about 80 steel sculptures of varying sizes, as well as a sculpture

    workshop where many of the pieces had been fabricated. In the summer, the workshop

    was used as a Hot Metals Camp and a studio for sculptor Peter Hide. Talking with the

    proprietor, the wife of the late Roy Kitchin, one of the founders of this sculpture park, I

    learned that this town was considered the starting point for the industrial revolution in

    England. It was where the first iron bridge was constructed and had many steel foundries,

    those two things together were important to Kitchen and his wife. For me it turned out I

    hit the jackpot of sculptural and industrial history! I heard stories of welding and instal-

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    lations and many names of still active steel sculptors working in the UK and the USA.

    When I left the park after spending several hours talking to the proprietor (a sculptor in

    her own right), I had a list of names to get in contact with and things that had to be seen.

    This is where I was officially introduced to the work of a British Sculptor residing in

    Edmonton, Alberta Canada, Peter Hide. I was able to meet with Richard Rome, a man

    who had carved his own path,not following Sir Anthony Caro, and created his own style,

    constantly growing and exploring over the last few decades. I have a lot of respect for his

    choice to stay away from Tony Caros style. I also met with a young guy who had started

    his own gallery/studio with some friends.

    I met with Angela Connors, a sculptor who has worked with quite different scales and

    materials from a 90-foot kinetic sculpture to busts of the royal family. Often the conver-

    sations started with my questions of their work and process, but after that, the conversa-

    tions shifted to talking about life, politics, and my stage in sculpture. I think this happens

    because, as an artist it is natural to be fluent in your own subject and to dabble in many

    others as another way of understanding the whole of the field better and being able to cre-

    ate what you envision.

    What I took away from this trip was that I wanted my work to feel more industrial, with

    more consideration in revealing movement from within former industrial fragments. The

    work I encountered was industrial feeling in its former applications, scale, and metal

    grain. I have always had an affinity for industry and machinery, however I realized how

    much I wanted to turn former objects of calculated function into works of fluid move-

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    ment, that were beautiful in and of themselves. Sculptures that could remind you of their

    former applications but be transformed into passages of movement and harmony, express-

    ing another kind of purpose---one that focused on creating dialogue and wonder.

    I also learned that I wanted my pieces to have more density or larger forms, so that the

    pieces could hold their own against different settings. As I had traveled around Europe, I

    had thought a lot about how things were sited. Often, even in renowned places, the siting

    was done poorly. It just wasnt thought out and as a sculptor that frustrated me! I knew

    that meant that I had to think more about how my own sculpture could be just as expres-

    sive and yet give it enough presence to be able to hold its own even against a sea of trees

    or busy backgrounds. Sometime it is important to blend into the background, while other

    times the piece needs to have enough presence of its own that could standout.

    While I didnt love equally everything I saw, viewing it was really useful in developing

    and refining my own vernacular of language and visual relationships. Developing con-

    tacts across Europe has been a wonderful way to expand my own community within the


    Much of the sculpture that I came across was visually interesting and well crafted, but

    comparing it all in my mind, I have a growing sense that I can make my own niche, and

    add to the development of welded metal sculpture even if its a bit out of the mainstream

    by todays standard. Much of the sculpture was just so much denser and constructed than

    I usually work with and felt like it was too dense for my own understanding of form at

    the time. Many times there was also sculpture that had constructed perfect seams and sur-

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    faces, something which I appreciate, but I feel that it is not always appropriate. Much of

    the sculpture was with thicker elements that had more perfect seams and surfaces. Some-

    thing which can be a product of my project, but is not the focus. Community is important

    to me.

    Project Scope

    This Honors project has been focused on the exploration of 20th Century formalist ab-

    stract art. Sculpturally, I work continuously to develop and refine a language of abstrac-

    tion that is interested in exploring the connections between man and nature---ironically

    using former industrial parts to create pleasing harmonies and curves as a way of stating

    that mankind coexists with nature, and ultimately cannot dominate it. Much of this body

    of work is influenced directly by American Sculptor, David Smith, British Sculptor Peter

    Hide and Canadian Sculptor Rob Willms. This last year has been a transitional period in

    my sculpture and without the development through the project, I would not have grown

    so much. More importantly, to realize what I dont know, while discovering what I want

    to learn and develop over the next few years has been empowering. I found that along the

    way, a few ideas played out continuously during the scope of the project and many ideas

    emerged during the process. For example, certain elements such as plows and plow-like-

    shapes recurred in at least three of my sculptures, as did I-beams, there have also been

    similar gestures that I think come out through the different works. I am not sure why I

    have an affinity to these shapes, but I am hoping it will reveal itself to me.

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    I think it is also important to mention the challenges to better understand some of the

    choices I have made compositionally. These challenges include, size constraints, and lack

    of experience with pedestals, general finishing techniques, horizontal formats and work-

    ing with such heavy materials (including learning to maneuver these works around the

    shop.) Let me start with size constraints. While this work was as large as I could safely

    manage, I am looking forward to going much larger in the next few years! However my

    personal safety (and that of others in the studio) was of the utmost concern, so all of my

    sculpture had to be practical for me to move by myself with our engine hoist, gantry or by

    hand. Therefore the pieces really had to be under 10 feet tall, with about nine feet the max

    (as the gantry is under eight feet with the hook all the way pulled up.) Weight constraints

    are a little below a ton, but due to the equipment available it was advisable to keep them

    smaller than that as it quickly gets complicated to maneuver heavy pieces around.

    Before this project I didnt for the most part use pedestals, because I believe that art

    should stand on its own. However, I am learning there are positive reasons to employ

    pedestals to enhance the viewers visual perspective of a piece. Much of the work that I

    produced for this project I have found is better at a greater height, because when I created

    it, I envisioned my work to stand on its own. I think there are creative ways to separate

    the piece from the pedestal and remind the viewer that the pedestal is just a tool to help

    bring the observer more into the space of the sculpture.

    Finishing techniques were not the main focus of this project, however I feel much more

    confident in the finishing via grinding of sculpture into more cohesive larger forms that

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    are tied together with a unity in rusty colors. For coatings, I have stuck with what I know,

    for the most part, using Permalac and a polyurethane (indoors) coating for all sculptures.

    As far as patinas go, I have experimented with applying Ferric Nitrate to a cold and hot

    surface, to expedite the rusting process and to create a more unified dark surface or in-

    tense color.

    Over the course of the year, I have attempted to break away from the vertical format. I am

    really intrigued by the horizontal so I tried it out several times (see Horizontal Passage

    and Succession) with success and more often failure. I have found that the horizontal is

    a really challenging way of working, but it is possible to work with so much more move-

    ment and expression and at a more human scale in front of the viewer. What is intriguing

    is the way in which the viewer can seem to be more engaged in the work.

    Another thing I quickly learned was that I did not know enough to do maquette-based

    sculpture proposals as my process is developed along the way and very dependent on cre-

    ating the composition from the particular found materials available. Now, with the skills

    that are developing, I feel more confident in what I can accomplish, whether that is going

    much larger or starting to develop work from drawings, since I know now that I can cut

    pieces to specific sizes with a torch or plasma cutter.

    It is important to say that in this most recent collection of work, I really tried to take all of

    my important forms from what I could salvage, whether that meant cutting out the middle

    of sections of bent plate or piecing together several pieces to get the desired curve. For

    the most part, pieces are not torch bent. If I need to alter the surface, I will cold bend it

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    or hunt for and hopefully find a piece that is bent to my desired curve. That being said, in

    this body of work I have used a bit of new metal to supplement pieces that I couldnt find,

    or when I needed something more structurally sound. I really do believe that creating

    sculpture from recycled materials will one day help us to see that we are surrounded by

    more resources than we readily acknowledge.


    The beauty of inspiration is that it can come from anywhere and at any time. I have found

    that most of the inspiration that I can attribute, is related to forms in nature, dance, mu-

    sic, jazz and poetry and of course looking at and responding to the masters. Ideas for

    the works or solving individual challenges within works comes from ideas, inspirations

    from nature (such as a rock face or waterfall), new ideas that interest me about almost

    anything, other works of art that I want to respond to, or qualities I want to represent or

    express. There is something so powerful about listening to someone who has dedicated

    themselves to a topic at a masters level. I am not really sure what my attraction to new

    ideas is, but learning and creating visual responses is of real interest to me!

    Of course there are an infinite number of sculptural influences, but most recently, Peter

    Hide, Rob Willms, David Smith, and Mark di Suvero have impacted the work process

    that I continue to develop. Their work is of great interest to me, even though our styles

    are very different (more so with Peter Hide, Rob Willms, and Mark di Suvero than with

    David Smith, whom I find I have more affinity with in my earlier work.) I find that be-

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    cause of their experience and the quality of their work, many of their horizontal pieces

    speak to me and evoke a will to create a response and challenge to them. With each

    passing day, I find that it is harder and harder to relate to Alexander Calder, as much of

    his work while being simple and elegant, and still prolific in my mind, yet is so differ-

    ent from how I work now. What remains important in my mind is the graceful move-

    ment within his stabiles that are impressive in their simplicity, along with the buoyancy

    and whimsy within his mobiles and wire creations. (I think some of my interest in dance

    has to do with growing up with his version of the wire Josephine Baker floating through

    space in my head.)

    Process Explorations

    Each work and idea has its own path to fruition. Some sculptures start with draw-

    ings or have a resemblance to former drawings (Amigo). However I mostly will base the

    movement I want to incorporate into my work from gesture drawings and paintings (See

    Appendix 1). I love to do instant (several second) sketches of dancers and musicians---the

    power, energy, and movement is pure! But often, I just start by working with the relation-

    ships of individual pieces to each other. Metal sculptures could have arbitrarily sat on the

    ground for a length of time until finally I realized that they were right to be in close rela-

    tionship with each other. Most of my process constitutes taking several elements that have

    been attached to each other and reorienting them to the most desired, cohesive and fluid

    piece I can develop. Often cutting them apart, reorienting them, flipping them around and

    generally not being afraid to alter them. That being said, there is a certain patience that

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    is required to create sculpture. Sometimes when you like the direction of a piece and it is

    shaping out well, there is the possibility of overthinking it or going past the point of no

    return (which makes for a good lesson). However, there is high potential for not returning

    to the form of the original vision. I have destroyed numerous pieces while trying to re-

    weld them, only to discover that I couldnt put them back in the way I wanted or recreate

    the original spatial relationships. But on the other hand I have had a few pieces that by

    taking them apart I turned out with a more cohesive and stronger piece. I am also getting

    better at thinking about purposeful construction along the way. I enjoy the risk of working

    with trial and error.

    Interestingly enough, often when I cut up a sculpture, those cutoffs will quickly find

    themselves in a new sculpture. Often while working in this project I would be working

    on one sculpture and then start another and then another one. When I work on several at

    once, I am able to problem solve them together, taking breaks from each in turn, and

    letting ideas simmer while I work on other concepts, before returning to the one of the

    other forms.

    This project has revealed several whole new processes of development and fabrication

    including using cardboard to create patterns to fit pieces, and using a Mig welder to fill

    gaps and do general fabrication. The latter has expedited the process exponentially in

    contrast to using a stick welder.

    I have also found that when I am struggling with a challenge in sculpture, I can turn to

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    painting or drawing to work out possible solutions. Often when I am exploring something

    in sculpture, similar relationships come into my paintings. My process can be summa-

    rized as taking inspiration from the elegance and movement of the human and natural

    forms that when combined with a passion for former industrial industry, gives me a start-

    ing place for inspiration. This then evolves from there piece by piece as I work out the

    form of a sculpture.

    Thoughts on Sculpture

    Art is my means of expression-- something much more than how I weld steel in abstract

    relationships. Sculpture has a greater meaning than merely a form of art that is thought

    provoking. By highlighting the value in scrap metal and repurposed materials, we can

    start to see our society and those around us in a different light too (ie. the castoffs of

    society have something to share as well). I do not encourage large amounts of waste, but I

    find that I can justify my sculpture, because I am reusing scrap metal. It is also evident to

    me that art has the ability to help create or nurture a deeper sense of community and bring

    a sense of healing and more expansive possibilities. Industry in not inherently bad, the

    processes and the waste are often more the problem. I look at recycled steel sculpture as a

    small reminder that we can give value and even beauty to sculptures that have been made

    from the elements of failed industry.

    Art is a means of bringing people together in times of turmoil, even people who dont

    usually meet or talk about expression and ideas, success and failure, and ultimately, life

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    itself. Good art can bridge many divides.

    Creating good art is not a given, even with hard work. Being a top-notch craftsman also

    isnt a given even with dedicated practice. To achieve the highest form of mastery, I

    believe that the craft has to be high, the imagination plentiful, coupled with an ability and

    a willingness to take risks. I have seen masterful craft and plentiful imagination combined

    together in one sculpture once in a while. However, often it seems that the artist at some

    point gets burned out and turns to craft to inform their design, which can turn out some

    wonderfully crafted works, but can leave one ultimately empty after the initial response.

    This is one of the challenges for myself.

    Sculpture is so exhilarating for so many reasons. Besides the everyday creative chal-

    lenge, if you are an artist, you are part of a larger community that offers many lessons

    on humanity, skills, and life, as well as visual enrichment. As a sculptor, everyday you

    have to learn something new. To create many projects, you need to learn new skills for

    rigging, foundations, fabrication, transportation, and general problem solving. On top of

    that there is the opportunity to use different tools and machines to make the task easier,

    which requires learning more from other people and yourself! Potential opportunities for

    developing, proposing, and siting pieces within the community provide opportunities to

    collaborate with many individuals and community groups, and to take an active part in

    envisioning, nurturing, building and participating in the wider community.

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    Future Plans

    After graduation, I will be pursuing sculpture as a profession. Starting my MFA program

    in Sculpture at the University of Alberta, studying abstract steel sculpture under the tute-

    lage of British Sculptor, Peter Hide. The focus of the program at the U of A is developing

    much larger work in the abstract steel avenue of thought. I am sure I will use this project

    as a reference on process, and be continually informed by this projects process. Through

    the development of this project, I have come to realize that I really want to create a new

    series of work that focuses on dance and movement, while still remaining abstract.

    Creating these sculptures, I learned that I really do love working with steel and creating

    simple pieces that are complex, and works that strive to clarify my own thought--despite

    the fact that I sometimes overthink things. I realized that I know a bit about sculpture, but

    there is so much more to learn and refine. This project did stretch my comfort zone within

    sculpture on both scale and formal levels. Looking back over the project it is easy to see

    where I could or should have done certain things better. There is always room to im-

    prove. However, I realized recently that I can only think this way now, because I have had

    the time to explore, manipulate, and refine every piece, learning valuable lessons along

    the way. I know what I want to work on, and that I am a long way from being a master

    in my own mind and in sculptural form. The possibilities remain infinite, but more steps

    have been taken, and the next steps into the future are clearer.

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    Appendix I: Movement Studies

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    Movement Studies

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    Appendix II: Sculpture

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    Urban Rising, 2013 - 201473 x 30 x 38.5

    Recycled Steel

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    Horizontal Passage, 2013 - 201450 x 72 x 33 Recycled Steel

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    Uprising, 201499 x 48 x 32Recycled Steel

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    Amigo, 2014110 x 63 x 17

    Recycled Steel

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    Just. Balance., 2013 - 201467.75 x 33 x 26

    Recycled Steel

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    Succession, 2013 - 201410.75 x 13 x 6.5

    Recycled Steel

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    Bending Grace, 201372 x 35 x 24Recycled Steel

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    Unfolding, 201466 x 24 x 16.5

    Recycled Steel