Chimeras with Character: Joseph Lupiani’s Wooden Sculptures

Lupiani- Popple Moose-2-Poplar Walnut Bronze Soapstone-2016-20 x 9 x 4

Popple Moose, Walnut, Bronze & Soapstone, 20″ x 9″ x 4″

West Branch is delighted to welcome the sculptor, Joseph Lupiani, to the gallery. Lupiani recently moved to Grafton, Vermont from Arizona with his wife and three-year-old son. In Arizona, Lupiani created many public art installations, including Tucson’s Arroyo Nuevo, and the Solar Lions Installation in Oro Valley. “Working for the Metalphysic Sculpture Studio as the project manger for 15 years gave me the chance to work on large challenging sculptures, while using the most cutting-edge technology in the field,” Lupiani says. One of Joseph’s most challenging and notable bronze projects was a memorial relief sculpture of Gabe Zimmerman for the meeting room named in his honor at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Today Lupiani’s medium has shifted and he is carving smaller sculptures out of wood. “Moving from bronze to wood allows for a more focused approach,” he says. “This makes the block of wood very important because the sculpture is hidden in the wood.” To begin, Lupiani looks at many different varieties of wood − poplar, walnut, butternut, maple − that may require milling from log sections and then must be planed into blocks. “Looking at the block, I see a flow to it. The grain has character.”

Indeed, his wooden sculptures are filled with unique character. Maple Rabbit, carved from maple and set atop a soapstone base, 24 x 5 x 4 inches, portrays a dapper, well-dressed gentleman, standing poised and confident, sprouting a rabbit’s head with big ears. Somehow the creature looks utterly natural and lifelike because of his attitude and confidence. Popple Moose, carved from poplar and walnut with handcrafted bronze antlers, 20 x 9 x 4 inches, conveys a different attitude altogether. This creature’s pose is relaxed and nonchalant. Dressed in spiffy pajamas, he holds a cup of coffee and his morning paper, daydreaming perhaps, with the inimitable long moose snout and towering antlers. “I really appreciate the drapery and pose of classical sculpture,” Lupiani says.

These mythical, hybrid creatures are charming, lighthearted and certain to put a smile on your face, but their postures and swagger simultaneously convey an amused, streetwise sensibility. Butternut Pheasant, 16.50 x 5.75 x 5 inches, carved from butternut with bronze features and set atop a unique soapstone base, is another one-of-a-kind creature. She’s an older, austere woman in a bathrobe, posture erect, with her proud beak in the air. “I call this current series of sculptures portraits because I see them posing for the viewer. Their attitude is slightly annoyed that you are looking at them,” Lupiani said. “I aim to make sculptures that are well-executed but also make viewers laugh a little.” If Popple Moose reminds you of your spouse before they’ve had their morning coffee, Butternut Pheasant is your mother after she’s been rudely woken up. They are humorous, but also relatable in their attitudes and personalities.

Lupiani- Beanie Bird-1- Walnut Pewter-2016-5 x 4 x 3

Beanie Bird No. 1, Walnut & Pewter, 5″ x 4″ x 3″

Joseph’s “Beanie Bird” series, 5 x 4 x 3 inches, made of walnut with pewter fixtures, is also currently on view at West Branch as part of their spring exhibition, “Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom.” These darling little birds don acorn “beanie” caps on their heads and stand perched on tiny, silvery legs.

Using traditional routers, grinders, chisels, as well as modeling software, a CNC router (computer controlled cutting machine) and 3D printer, Lupiani works to extract these forms from blocks of wood. He makes the stone bases from discarded remnants he salvages from the Saxtons River. These pieces date back to the mid 1800’s when they were milled at the Grafton Soapstone Quarry. Lupiani works from a home studio in Grafton, where he also has an old floorless barn that he uses for carving and sanding. “This space is very rough but has the best natural light − essential to reading the forms as I carve,” he says.

Lupiani-Urban Deer-1-Maple Bronze Soapstone-2016-21 x 5 x 8

Urban Deer, Maple, Bronze & Soapstone, 21″ x 5″ x 8″

Inspired by Vermont’s natural world, his three-year-old son, and by past masters of the medium, Lupiani also finds inspiration from current artists working in the so-called “low brow” movement, as represented in the new contemporary art magazine, Hi Fructose. The digital sculptors who are now using ZBrush, a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting, also inspire Lupiani.

Another one of Lupiani’s realistic wood sculptures is the 21 x 5 x 8 inch, Urban Deer, made from maple, bronze, and soapstone. Brimming with personality, this deer-headed fellow with a rack of antlers towering high, looks with curiosity to his left, hands in his pants pockets. He is a wonderful model of sophistication, of resting easy.

As with every professional artist, Joseph Lupiani is challenged by trying to keep a balance between his ongoing life and his work as an artist. “The creative process has become more important than the final artwork for me. It is those times of complete immersion in the work that I love,” he says. “I could easily hermit away and make sculptures nonstop, but with a wife and a son, there is so much life to enjoy.”