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  • Writer's pictureHamed Fardsoltany

The Science of Metal: Understanding the Properties that Make It a Unique Art Medium

As part of our driving force at Metalico Arte, we are constantly seeking out artists who explore the resilience and versatility of a material as old as civilization itself - metal. From ancient armor to contemporary metal sculpture, the transformational journey of metal is as awe-inspiring as the sculptures it forms. This post delves into the fascinating world of metal and its use in contemporary sculpture, showcasing how the properties of metal shape this unique art medium.

John Lopez in action John Lopez Studio

Upcycling: A Sustainable Approach to Metal Art

As mentioned in previous posts, within the realm of metal art, upcycling or "Hybrid Metal Art Sculpture" has become a compelling narrative. One such artist who excels in this field is American sculptor, John Lopez who uses a unique blend of scrap iron and cast bronze to create life-sized animal sculptures. Rooted in his South Dakotan heritage, Lopez's works infuse discarded metal elements with the noble character of bronze, forging sculptures that teem with life and motion. His masterful transformation of weathered, rusty iron into large-scale fauna is a testament to the versatility of the metal medium. These sculptures are not just objects of art, but storied hybrids, narrating tales of the past through their diverse metallic components. In his hands, the seemingly ordinary becomes extraordinary, embodying the transcendent potential of hybrid metal art. His works offer an intriguing insight into the upcycling process and the unique attributes that different metals can bring to a piece.

John Lopez - John Lopez Studio

Understanding the Influence of Metal Properties

The science behind the creation of metal art lies in the understanding of metal properties. Different types of metals, owing to their diverse properties, bring about distinctive feels and looks to the artwork. For instance, copper, known for its malleability and warm hues, lends itself beautifully to organic forms. The mesmerizing kinetic sculptures by Lyman Whitaker, an American sculptor, illustrate how copper can be manipulated to create delicate, motion-filled pieces that dance with the wind. His "Wind Forest" installations typically consist of several individual sculptures placed together in a group, resembling a forest or a field of plants. The sculptures vary in size and shape, with some resembling flowers, grasses, or trees. Additionally he uses stainless steel, or alluminum, which are carefully crafted and balanced to ensure smooth and fluid movement in response to even the gentlest breeze. As the wind blows, the sculptures come alive, rotating and spinning in a mesmerizing dance. The varying speeds and directions of the spinning elements create a sense of rhythm and harmony, evoking a sense of tranquility and wonder. His compositions can vary from single, 1.5 m tall pieces to "Wind Forests" consisting of groups of sculptures standing up to 8.2 m tall.

Example of Lyman Whitaker's kinetic sculptures from the Vickers Collection

In contrast, steel, with its strength and endurance, is often employed to construct monumental structures and geometric forms. British sculptor, Sir Antony Gormley, widely known for his 'Angel of the North', showcases the structural capabilities of steel in his large-scale installations.

'The Angel of the North' by Sir Antony Gormley, located near Gateshead in Tyne and Wear, England. Completed in 1998, it is a steel sculpture of an angel, 20m tall, with wings measuring convert 54 m across. The Angel aro" by theopauls is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Then there is the captivating use of stainless steel in the works of world-renowned sculptor, Anish Kapoor. This highly reflective metal not only contributes to the aesthetics but also alters the perception of the surrounding environment through its mirroring surface, creating an immersive experience for viewers.

'C-Curve' by Anish Kapoor"

Image courtesy of Dominic's pics and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Expressive Techniques in Metal Sculpture

The process of creating a metal sculpture involves a host of techniques – welding, casting, carving, forging – each adding a unique texture and form to the piece. The style of Japanese sculptor, Tomohiro Inaba, epitomizes the transformative power of welding, as he creates ethereal, seemingly disintegrating forms using strands of welded steel. Recognized for his stunning animal sculptures made from galvanized iron, he creates dynamic works that take on the unique, mystical appearance of movement. His works typically feature the solid base of a figure with the latter half of the subject transforming into intricately woven iron wires that seem to nearly disappear into thin air. The top of the sculptures possess much more negative space; Inaba leaves these “blanks” to spark the imagination of his viewers and encourage them to engage with his sculptures. The artist often depicts the animals in motion, adding to the work’s fluid and ephemeral finish.

'The Night I am Looking for You', 2015 by Tomohiro Inaba. Iron

16 9/10 × 27 3/5 × 5 1/2 in | 43 × 70 × 14 cm

Meanwhile, renowned Colombian sculptor, Fernando Botero, uses the traditional technique of casting to create his signature, voluminous forms. Here, bronze, known for its superior casting abilities, often serves as the material of choice.

'Sculptor's hand' by Fernando Botero Angulo CC BY-SA 3.0

The Impact of Patinas and Surface Finishes

The final appearance of metal sculpture is often dictated by surface treatments, such as patinas or polishes. Patinas, achieved through chemical reactions, can introduce an array of colors onto the metal surface, ranging from verdigris green to rich browns. American artist, Richard Serra, utilizes the natural rust patina of Cor-Ten steel to give his massive sculptures a distinctive, earthy look.

Serra - University Saarbrücken

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Conversely, a high polish finish, as seen in the works of Jeff Koons, creates a mirror-like surface that reflects and distorts the surrounding environment, adding another layer of interpretation to the sculpture.

Jeff Koons - Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

In conclusion, the world of metal art is a fascinating fusion of science and creativity. Understanding metal's properties helps artists shape boundless expressions, from upcycled artworks to monumental installations. Every piece, from raw scrap iron to shining stainless steel, speaks volumes about metal's versatility in art. It's not just a medium, but an active participant in the narrative, adding its voice to the artist's tale. Thus, metal art becomes a dynamic dialogue between the creator and the material, a captivating conversation sculpted in form and texture.

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