I've been sculpting big things for a long time just as I've worked on some very high profile pieces that have been seen by millions of people. When I was the Chief Sculptor for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade I built what I felt were fairly colossal art works. I've done a number of sculptures that are more than 30' long or, tall. I've worked on dozens of helium inflatables that are as big as this buxom onion with its many layers of meanings and materials but, balloons are entirely a whole other ball of wax. The hard sculptures from which they are patterned represent only 1/24th of the finished products total scale. This "Subtlety" or "Marvelous Sugar Baby" for Kara Walker stands out in my career as the biggest, most highly publicized project that I have worked on to date. The work began life as a series of drawings and studies by Kara. She would eventually draft and cut out one of her signature silhouettes that would be most conducive to a three dimensional interpretation. At that point Nico Lopez was brought in to create a foam cored clay model that was directed and approved by Kara as this is all about her vision. For myself, my team and all other artists, talent , coordinators, vendors and services involved, this model became our bible. The task that was upon us all was to come as close as humanly possible to creating a radically enlarged replica of the model within a highly restricted allotment of time.
Kara's sugar coated colossus is 35' tall and 75' long. Her heart shaped posterior rises 27' into the air and she's covered with enough sugar to sweeten millions of cups of coffee. Closer to the point it may beg the question: How many African slaves would have been required to manufacture this product that we would be so promiscuously slathering? She contains more than 330, 4' x 3' x 8' blocks of architectural grade polystyrafoam. It is correct to think of styrafoam as an extremely light material. For this aplication the foam only weighed 1 pound per cubic foot. This project represents 15 tons of it. My crew and I assembled and carved this monument to so many certain injustices particular to the lowest points of humanity in 20 days. We would spend a further 5 days spraying it with thick, sugar stucco through industrial hopper guns, thus lending our hands to Eric Hagen's sugar crew's tremendous task of having to apply 80,000 lbs of the sticky stuff. Their cement mixers never stopped spinning.
I know that 20 days seems impossible but it's a fact. The orchestration that went into this project was as monumental as the piece itself. Art Domantay's crew took a derelict, industrial hulk of a Domino Sugar factory building, 2 football fields long, oozing ponds of viscous black strap molasses and converted it into as civilized a studio as any sculptor could hope as well as what would become a truly magnificent exhibition space. Scores of windows were replaced, skylights fixed, leaks eliminated, electricity, running water etc, etc, etc.... Every tool and, every piece of heavy equipment that was required was provided. If it made sense and sped up the process, it was there.Digital Atelier. The logic of their enlargement process and block mapping was absolutely key in how swiftly we brought this to Kara's expectation.
If bigger paintings require bigger brushes, so too is the case for bigger sculptures. By my request, every member of my crew was outfitted with their own transformer and a 60'' bow wire. For those who don't know, that's a 5' long hot knife that can lop off hunks of foam as large as major kitchen appliances, in other words, a big freaking tool. Once all of the lop and whittling was done the piece was further refined with massive short bristle wire brushes and sawtooth rasps. The sawtooth rasp is an invention by Tim Daly who was one of the most
important players and coordinator's in this project. His tools would by their efficiency, cut days from the calendar. I would also like to mention that Tim was responsible for assembling and recruiting almost every artist involved with this project. Quite simply, without Tim's recommendation and introductions, I would not have been a part of this monumental work. Truly, a million thanks Tim, I've waited the better part of 30 years to be involved in a project like this.
Creative Time for granting Kara this commission and giving me the opportunity of leading a great sculpting team in the creation of the largest work that I've ever put my hand to.
To see this project from start to finish, please click HERE
To see some of the best press photos, please click HERE
To see news articles on this piece please click HERE
To see Art21 documentary on this piece please click HERE
To see Wall Street Journal video on this piece please click HERE