Alternative Sculpture Media

It's not just bronze sculpture any more!


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Contemporary sculpture studios are alive with pyrotechnics from grinders, welders and plasma cutters. The rings of hammers on hot steel, the crackling sounds of electric welders amidst the eerie glow of molten metals lend an otherworldly ambiance.

Traditional sculpture is heavily laden with ceramic, cast bronze, carved wood or stone objects.

Since the beginning of the twentieth-century, alternative materials and methods including plastics, steel fabrication, cast iron, found objects, cast aluminum, plate glass, rubber and other techniques offer sculptors a broad vocabulary.

Many artists however, continue to use bronze casting because of its ability to produce multiple casts of an original design. Artists who create one original of each design limit their ability to best serve collectors.

New Mexico artists Sally Hepler, Jesus Bartholomew Ochoa, Karen Yank and Andrew Cecil were interviewed for this story.

Sally Hepler solved the problem of multiples by making templates of each element in her abstract fabricated stainless steel and sheet bronze sculpture. She describes the process as being similar to making dresses from paper patterns. The process involves plasma cutting, machine extruding, shaping and hours of handwork.

"My collectors receive a handmade sculpture that is part of a consistent edition while remaining unique. By limiting each edition to 15 or fewer, I avoid falling into the production line mode," Hepler said.

She learned her work ethic and painstaking craftsmanship from her machinist father who worked on projects including America's rocket program.

"The execution of my work is as important as its abstract meaning," Hepler said.

Her geometric and organic compositions are inspired by constructivists Malevich and Tatlin, personal encouragement from the late Allan Houser and her own sense of design formed while an architectural illustrator.

She described her work titled "Full Circle" as a metaphor for her life including years spent with her late husband. The large work is composed of a circle emblematic of life and an elaborate knot representing their relationship. Hepler's sculpture symbolizes positive human achievement, universal emotional feelings and lofty goals.

Jesus Bartholomew Ochoa, a found object constructivist makes one-of-a-kind mixed media metal totemic sculpture. Ochoa says he tunes into the zeitgeist for inspiration and trusts his intuition.

"We live in a throw-away society. When I'm walking through the debris I look for things that speak to me. I try to place objects in a context that retains their voice in service of a larger message," Ochoa said.

His work is inspired by events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the space program and tragedies like September 11. He incorporates mythological archetypes and symbolism. Albuquerque architect Bart Prince owns several Ochoa constructions.

Karen Yank expresses abstract emotional content in her fabricated metal sculptures. Yank tries to capture the feelings a viewer has when looking at a mountain rather than trying to artistically replicate the mountain itself. She says her early works utilized a combination of found and fabricated objects imbued with a sense of time and history. As her work grew in scale she abandoned found objects in favor of fabricated elements that Yank prepares with hand work and patinas that emulate the character of found elements. Yank does not make editions like Hepler but does work on a series of ideas.

She completes one self-portrait sculpture annually chronicling her emotional development. Each self-portrait is like a picture in a family photo album. Yank sees her current "Disc" series as pages from her personal diary. She notes the recent birth of her daughter as an influence on the emotional content of her latest work.

Karen Yank

Image: ©2002 Karen Yank
Cor-ten stainless steel
72" x 72" x 16"

"All my work is synonymous with my life. In a sense every piece is part of a self-portrait. When I'm working I use meditation to clear my mind and allow inspiration to come to me. What is truly happening in my life at the time comes through," Yank said. "I see myself as an abstract expressionist because of the very emotional content in my work . . . . My working process involves a long series of steps from cutting, bending, forming and initial welding through grinding, sand blasting, finish welding and acid baths to oxidize the metals to the desired level."

Andrew Cecil

Image: ©2002 Andrew Cecil
Polychromed cast iron
9" x 20" x 7"

Andrew Cecil enjoys working in the industrial process of cast iron. He is fascinated with the transmutation of iron radiators, engine blocks, tractor parts and other objects with a history into something new.

Scrap iron is heated in a blast furnace until reaching melting temperature. The molten iron is poured into sand or ceramic molds were it cools and forms an entirely new object. Cecil was raised in a family whose livelihoods depended on farming and farming equipment. Generations migrated across the country following technological breakthroughs in irrigation and machinery.

Cecil inherited a love for tools, trucks, tractors, dams and bridges that were a part of his childhood. His work has an endearing toy-like quality while retaining a firm grasp on aesthetic and philosophical concerns.

"The aspect of cast iron that I find particularly fulfilling is the manner and method that requires a community of people. Though we are casting our own dreams and ideas we have to work as a unit to make these things real," Cecil said. "When the pour is complete I experience the same emotions that I did when I was drawing or making something at two or four years old. There's an absolute joy in discovery that you share with friends and family".

Thanks to Wesley Pulkka, who reports on and reviews the arts regularly in
the Albuquerque Journal.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 16

Related Pages

Abstract Sculpture article
Art Outdoors: Energy in the Air article
Blueprint of a Vessel article
Figurative Sculpture article
Fused and Slumped Glass article
Touching Beauty-Michael A Naranjo article

Glass Art in New Mexico article
Glossary of Bronze Sculpture Terms article
How Bronze Sculpture is Made article
Mixed Media Sculpture article
Monumental Sculpture article

Collector’s Resources


VSA North Fourth Art Center / N4th Gallery | 505-345-2872
Patrician Design | 505-242-7646

Elsewhere in New Mexico

Corrales Bosque Gallery | 505-898-7203

Santa Fe

Mark White Fine Art | 505-982-2073
Art of Russia Gallery | 505-466-1718
Canyon Road Contemporary Art, Inc 403 Canyon Road | 505-983-0433
Hunter Kirkland Contemporary | 505-984-2111
Indigo Gallery | 505-438-6202
Charlotte Jackson Fine Art | 505-989-8688
James Kelly Contemporary | 505-989-1601
Meyer East Gallery | 505-983-1657


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