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Romancing the Arts: Sculpture Behind the Scenes Filmmakers bring us the image of a sculptor pondering a stone for days, rolling it over and over, touching every grain on its surface, until its subject -- perhaps as simple as a foot -- leaps out of the depths of the mass. They romanticize the sculptor's clandestine visits to rob construction sites of fresh clay and avoid arrest by carrying it away in suitcases under cover of night, foregoing sleep to model it into their next subject by day. In film, the tragic seduction of an artist by the mentors and muses of artistic freedom leads the artist to creative inspiration which isolates her, not far from insanity . . . and 30 years beyond lucidity and the walls of a sanitarium. It's a true story of a protege' of Auguste Rodin (if you recall the film -- or the artist's name, refresh my memory). The immediacy of such a tragic biography belies the fact that, in reality, artistic isolation is more likely to lead to bankruptcy and career change than insanity. Sculptors, and other design professionals, need not to harbor their creative solitude in order to create the number and caliber of projects necessary to succeed in business, but may rather need to collaborate and develop synergy with other design professionals. But how do artists seek those in the market for their art? And how do other professionals with an interest in sculpture (or other art forms) locate artists who are traditionally inaccessible during the creative process . . . and convince them to team with them and participate in the whole of the design process? For artists who maintain dual professional careers, the role of the artist who works alone may be necessary, though that split does not necessarily make them less visible or productive than their full-time counterparts. For instance, Sovella, a civil engineer and general manager of a regional water utility company, has successfully placed sculptures across the oceans in Italy, Spain, and Hawaii, taking advantage of his location within an art community to market his artistry and, since 1987, teach stone sculpture at The Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach, California. Said Sovella, "I had not taken any art training at all and found [sculpture] difficult at first as an analytical engineering thinker, but I eventually grasped the creative view of stone. It has given me a more balanced outlook." Some simply prefer a more individual approach. Robert "Bo" Atkinson of Freedom, Maine, who calls himself a "sculptor/contractor" and "fluent coordinator with architects, engineers, technologists, artists, and supportive services," represents his very eclectic sculptures himself. Wide experience in building trades led Atkinson to develop concrete sculptures, first "envisioning" the energy of a piece in an abstract line form that is suggestive rather than detailed and specific. His sketches in CAD bear metaphysical resemblance to the finished shape, which he sculpts in place in an earth mold, tilts up, and landscapes around. Each sculpture, which he calls "concrete metaphors, takes on or retains the serendipitous organic characteristics of the earthen mold, much like the accidental effects of drips, runs, or blurs enrich water color paintings. His is a method that has worked for projects ranging from abstractly fluid female forms ("morphs") to the restoration of an historic public park fountain. Even the most solidly established public artists say tenacity (not necessarily at odds with creativity) is a requirement for the artist in business (see LASN, November 1995, page 16). Business coursework, on corporate gift programs or public arts ordinance processes, is not necessarily included in artists' formal training. Like many design professionals, they learn their business skills over time, according to the learning opportunities offered by each project. After 20 years in public arts advisory services in Los Angeles, Kathy Lucoff recently said that formal art programs are beginning to include such courses. Nevertheless, she considers municipal art ordinances the most crucial aspect of everyone's education in the cultural importance of art and in involving an artist early in the design process: "Municipal ordinances have gotten the whole ball going. . . . Ordinances are the best education vehicle we have [for including the artist in the process from the beginning]," said Lucoff, adding, "Since permit applications are made after design is complete, developers are learning that if they do not have an artist on their design team, they cannot get a permit." (Terry Allen's "The Corporate Head" in the Poet's Walk, a sculpture of a man with a briefcase caught midstride with his head in a wall, in Los Angeles, California seems an apt depiction of a dynamic business person caught by apparently unseen obstacles.) However, since not everyone has a propensity for grant writing or filling out applications to obtain part of the 1% of public funding set aside for art on public projects, the art world will welcome the trend toward collaborative opportunities driven by Landscape Architects. Landscape Architects, of course, are very familiar with contracting design work for construction and can assist artists to overcome this obstacle and become a part of project contracts. Traditionally, artists have solved the logistical problems of marketing and contractual hurdles by hiring representatives or affiliating with a gallery or guild to represent them in exchange for a fee. In the case of outdoor sculpture and other art forms suitable for placement in the landscape, the best of these will locate pieces in a garden setting and encourage interaction of mutually interested parties and the artist. Sheila Thau, the proprietor of the Quietude Garden Gallery in East Brunswick, New Jersey, displays sculptures in individual settings within a 4-acre landscaped gallery. Thau says the common affinities of Landscape Architects and sculptors make for the most opportune of situations to achieve cohesive designs for landscapes, but "Landscape Architects must drive the process by specifying specific rather than 'possible' sculptures, negotiating the concept, and reconnecting with the client and the artist] later in the process. Stronger relationships between Landscape Architect and client will help [artists] stay involved in the final process when sculpture is [likely to be commissioned and] installed." To obtain the piece that complements or completes a design, Thau suggests the Landscape Architect establish a dialogue with the artist and the client. To overcome the tendency of projects whose plan includes "proposed sculpture," Thau suggests the Landscape Architect track projects to time commissions during the construction phase. Thau puts the onus on the Landscape Architect to maintain contact with the client, instill confidence in the client, and drive completion of design. The Landscape Architect is the artist's liaison with the client and the specifications can reflect that factor . . . or [fade to black] . . . Lake Douglas, a Landscape Architect who founded the first ongoing public art program in the Gulf South (Atlanta to Houston) -- the Arts Council of New Orleans, confirms that the process of involving artists in a project after construction needs to change. Rather than allowing any time to elapse between design concept and constructed project, however, Douglas foresees eliminating the distance of the artist from the project as the solution to pervasive syndromes that lead to no art where art was intended or art that is not integral. Strongly suggesting that the norm could become Landscape Architects and artists working collaboratively, Douglas said, "Ideally, the Landscape Architect, artist, engineer, and client should decide what is wanted at the beginning of a project, so that the option or solution becomes a process in which the [art] object becomes integral to the project. There is no place for 'plop art.'" Landscape Architect M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, and Jackie Ferrara, Sculptor, discussed their collaborative method with LASN (June 1994). The 70 sites which the Arts Council of New Orleans has completed -- varying from public libraries to boulevards, to city parks, to museum additions -- testify to the fact these things are possible. "These things are possible if Landscape Architects take their natural leadership role in inviting the artist and become professionally involved, politically astute, and entrepreneurially active --that is, become involved credibly with the decision makers. It is the same process they use to become the project leaders themselves," reasons Douglas. "The trend is toward collaborative more than individual pieces, which means integrated more than individual art. Landscape Architects should let everyone know they want the artist in the design process from the beginning." Thau's comment that, with greater collaboration between the two professions bound by affinities, "Landscape Architects can give artists a voice and artists can give Landscape Architects a voice [that] help[s] define the value of Landscape Architecture" appears to be a viewpoint that practitioners can support. Landscape Architects could be helping themselves by romancing the arts. LASN HD's Sidebar: The Guild Sourcebook cover graphic in hand HD marked the art she liked

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June 27, 2019, 2:05 am PDT

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