Monday, May 12, 2014

Carving a Sugar Coated Colossus for Kara Walker

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. 
Another reason for the speed with which this was made was due to the herculean efforts, considerations and planning that went into figuring all of this out before a single block was laid. Hats off to Jon Lash and the 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.
Though all of the support was superb and every tool and material was correct, in my opinion, what contributed most to the speed and success of this sculpture itself was the heart and soul of every member of my team. Not an idle moment known by any of them, not an ounce of energy or intelligence in this was unexpended or withheld. All charged onto this battle field holding high their rasps and swinging their wire bows tirelessly till the campaign was carried out to a success that is being celebrated around the world. Gigantic thanks to the sculptors who were in this seemingly impossible quest with me: Brian Comisky, Lena Takamori, Matt Mikas and Ryan J. Clark and of course the most enormous thanks to Kara Walker, without whose genius, relevant importance, initiative and inspiration, none of this would have been and to 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.

The show opened to the public May 10th and will run till July 6, Fridays 4-8pm, Saturday & Sundays 12-6pm at the Domino Sugar Factory, South 1st Street  and Kent  Avenue, Williamsburg Brooklyn

To see this project from start to finish, please click HERE

To see some of the best press photos, please click HERE

To see Creative Time's production team credits 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

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