A SCULPTOR of large work needs both design and construction skills. Otherwise, ideas remain idle dreams. Art results only when ideas are rendered into visible form and lasts only as long as the form remains to be seen and felt. I feel that my engineering background has enabled me to translate the soaring forms and geometric progressions of my imagination into reality.
A number of my colleagues have developed beautiful designs, but are unable to render their creative talent into a finished piece. Others have finished their pieces, but are stopped at the point of installation for purely technical reasons. Some install their works only to have them destroyed by wind, moisture, sunlight, material fatigue or vandalism. True, many learn through trial and error, but with considerable loss of time and creative energy. Also, many get discouraged and abandon artistic ideas that could have far-reaching impact if they could only get and keep their creations before the public.
Then too, how often have we all seen sculpture that was grossly overbuilt, only because the artist was not familiar with materials, stresses and forces. Not daring to take a chance on delicate, lyrical works, the non-engineer sculptor often builds massively, or even worse, doesn't build at all. The question becomes: How delicate can a sculpture be and still stand and withstand? The engineer-artist, having that answer before beginning, has a larger range of options. For instance, I had to know that my "Interaction" sculpture, installed on Ward's Island in New York's East River, would withstand the windstorms and gusts. I also wanted it to be as graceful as possible. Because I am an engineer and an artist, I could make it both solid and graceful.
Although I am now an artist first and an engineer second, my career, of economic necessity, started the other way around. I had six daughters to feed. However, even then, while I was relating machine to man, my passion was to create a visual sensation and a pleasant working environment, as well as a functional product. Whether designing machines to fabricate rocket parts, automatically package chocolate wafers, navigate submarines or vend cartons of milk, I wanted to challenge the senses.
Sensual stimulation still is my objective--now, with sculpture. Knowing the basic rules of physics, I can deal with various structural concepts. Solid geometric and trigonometric principles are involved in fitting and matching three-dimensional angles. Materials and their properties can be used to visual advantage. Knowledge of optical laws enables me to create a broad range of perspectives.
Patterson Sims of the Whitney Museum describes a "fusion of process and product," and "serial progressions and mathematically conceived compositions." Richard Serra explains his art as "revealing the structure and content and character of a space and a place by defining a physical structure through the elements that I use . . . " Master welders David Smith and Nick Ward obviously are fine technicians. Lee Shapiro could not make her elegant sculpture stand without application of physics. Lin Emery, Phyllis Mark and George Rickey exhibit extensive knowledge of wind force on their gently moving works. As technologists, they know better than to fool Mother Nature!
Ellsworth Kelly's work is described by Barbara Knowles Debs: "In a sense, time itself is trapped within the boundaries of Kelly's geometric form." My "Harmony" works are geometric abstractions. The "Growing" series are compound logarithmic curves. "Interaction" is cantilevered. Many of my shapes reflect my technical background.
I want to create dynamic sculpture that flows, reaches and soars--to communicate a feeling the viewer would not experience on his own. My technical knowledge and experience free me to do this. My dream is to have people who see my work feel better for having seen it.
The quality of a society is measured by its art. I believe those artists with a technical background have a unique opportunity to contribute.