Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Visiting the future site of my sculptures

For my sculptures that will be part of the Electra C. Doren public library's renovation I proposed to create eight silhouette steel cutout sculptures for the fence railing of the reading terrace.

But when I wrote the proposal all I had was the descriptions in the ReImagining Works Request For Proposal (RFP) and architectural plans and elevations of the proposed library reading terrace to work from. Great information, but not really enough for what I needed. I'd never been to that branch of the library. I use the branch closer to my home and the Main branch downtown. So I had no mental image of the Electra C. Doren branch or the neighborhood or environment. I knew I was creating a site-specific piece of art and so I had to go to the site even though the terrace had not been built yet and all I was likely to see was an empty back yard.

After I saw the drawings in the RFP I had three different ideas to propose but I decided that I had to see the library to help me decide which of these three ideas was the best idea for the site. A guiding principle of ReImagining Works is that you can submit as many proposals as you like, but you should only submit proposals for work that, if you are chosen, you can actually deliver for the stated value of the commission and on time. Don't over commit, get chosen, and then not deliver. So I knew I was only going to put one proposal in. Besides I only had a month from RFP announcement to the proposal due date - hardly enough time for three proposals. After all, I do have a day-job :^). Going to the site was going to be a critical decision moment for me. Wow, was that an important thing do to.

Electra C. Doren branch library
Photo credit: Darren Kall

I immediately knew more than the drawings could convey. The space was much smaller than I imagined from the drawings. It is different to see 35 feet on a drawing and to actually see 35 feet. The drawings don't convey the lighting, the neighborhood, the surrounding trees (or lack there of), the views of the site from neighboring places, etc. All of these factored into my proposal design and decisions. Plus being there added motivation: I had to have this commission. I had to put something in this place - it was a great space that needed artwork.

Back yard of Electra C. Doren library
Photo credit: Darren Kall

One of my three ideas raised in it's importance because I saw that there were no big shade trees near the reading terrace since big trees had to be cut down to put the terrace in. And I knew that the trees in the planned landscaping would take a long time before they would cast sufficient shade for readers on the terrace. Another one of my ideas was eliminated on the spot. While it was a great idea, now that I was there, I didn't think it would be seen from outside the terrace and since the terrace was smaller than I thought there would not be enough angles to see the piece from on the terrace to show it at it's best. (I'll write more about why these ideas both got dropped in another posting.) And it was clear to me that the sculpture in the fence idea was very appropriate. The sculptures would be seen and prominent from anywhere in the terrace, from the sidewalk, and even across the side street where there was a busy parking lot for a store.

Side view of back yard of Electra C. Doren library
Photo credit: Darren Kall
In hindsight I now know that at that moment, standing there on the site, I had chosen to submit the sculptures for the fence idea. I didn't know I'd made the decision then because it took me a while to let go of the sculptural shade idea. It took learning how impractical my idea was by asking questions at an RFP artists informational  meeting held by Jane Black, Director of Engagement at The Dayton Art Institute and the project manager for ReImagining Works. (More about what I learned in another post.)

But after that onsite visit, every time I imagined the site,  I kept seeing the sculptures in the fence. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pretzinger as inspiration for sculpture subject

While it was not a requirement of the ReImagining Works commission I chose to have a subject inspiration as well as a style inspiration. I chose the Dayton architecture by Albert Pretzinger and his architectural firm as my subject inspiration to accompany my choice of Charles Sheeler's Stacks in Celebration as my style inspiration. 

Albert Pretzinger’s work is iconic Dayton. Pretzinger' firm designed my favorite Dayton building; Memorial Hall. The exterior is imposing and causes viewers to wonder “What’s inside?” Drawn by that curiosity I've rented Memorial Hall for my team meetings several times and have been given the backstage tour of this grand building. Dayton has valuable architectural properties like Memorial Hall and many of them are due to Pretzinger and his firm over the years.

The two inspirations tie together nicely. They share an inspirational historical time, when grand visions of the future and the promise of industry were strong American cultural motivators. They come from a time when grand public edifices and substantial human creativity were creating big changes for America.

The Electra C. Doren branch building, having been designed by Pretzinger, represents the distinctive personality of its time, and makes a perfect setting for other Dayton architectural icons. I plan to make one of the sculptures include an image of the Electra C. Doren building.

Sheeler’s fractured images of smoke stacks and buildings were influenced by cubism where viewers actively collaborated with the artwork by assembling the multi-faceted view of what they saw into a whole experience.  I’m proposing to dramatically simplify the lines of Pretzinger’s architecture into flat sculptural patterns, and to create a fractured sky behind them. This will, I hope, like Sheeler, create an engaging and collaborative viewing of the sculptures where viewers assemble the patterns of foreground and background cutouts into a whole and stimulating experience. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why I chose Charles Sheeler as style inspiration

For the sculptures I'm making for the Electra C. Doren library I chose a painting by Charles Sheeler as my inspiration. 

In the ReImagining Works initiative the Dayton community (and especially the library user community) voted on pieces from the Dayton Art Institute's permanent collection. They chose a small subset of pieces that they wanted the artist to pick from when they created original artwork to put in their community library.

The artists submitting proposals chose one or more of these pieces for the inspiration for their idea. The inspiration could be broadly interpreted. Any aspect of the selected artwork could be used as the source of inspiration for the proposed artwork. It could be the inspiring artist's use of color, the art historical period, the style, the theme, a particular technique, etc.

I chose the Stacks in Celebration by Charles Sheeler as the style inspiration for my proposal.

Stacks in Celebration - Charles SheelerPhoto Credit: Dayton Art Institute
I've loved the work of Sheeler since I was in art school. The sense of balance he created between representing reality and abstraction is very appealing to me and aligned with my own work. He created a tension that triggers a viewer to think “What am I seeing?” and actively participate in understanding the artwork. If you look quickly at Stacks in Celebration you see factory smoke stacks and buildings. But then something looks "wrong". He fractured the reality of industrial buildings into transparent overlaps, impossible relationships, and he has faceted the sky in colors and shapes.

By presenting simplified flat images in my sculptural cutouts I aim to create a similar tension. I want viewers to make sense of the patterns in my sculpture and assemble them into their understanding. Sheeler’s theme of industrial achievement and his precision-edged sharp angles, and flat planes are a perfect vehicle to use in sculpture, especially the clean lines and flat planar surfaces I’m proposing for my steel silhouette cutouts.