Opening July 9th, West Branch Gallery presents a selection of large outdoor sculptures and smaller interior works by David Stromeyer in collaboration with Cold Hollow Sculpture Park. Here, Chris Curtis delves into the artist’s process and motivations for opening a public sculpture park featuring over forty of his monumental steel creations.
The work of David Stromeyer redefines the strength and complexity of steel as he manipulates it in seemingly impossible ways to fit his artistic vision. Pushing the boundaries of conventional fabrication techniques, Stromeyer literally bends steel to his will, taming its strength and forcing it to reveal its hidden qualities of familiarity and ease. Through his methods and unbounded dedication, Stromeyer transforms cold, hard steel into sculptures with elegance, grace and beauty.
In a career spanning nearly half a century, he has explored other media and techniques, applying a locomotive intensity of unrelenting artistic achievement. Stromeyer’s early steel sculptures were left unpainted, acquiring a natural rust patina that seems to underscore the intrinsic strength of the material. Then in the late 70’s, he began experimenting with color, often painting his works with dynamic, contrasting colors, blurring the lines, not unlike pioneering sculptor David Smith, between sculpture and painting. His current work pairs this hard won mastery of color with his mastery of steel, employing these skills to elevate his works to an even higher level of sophistication.
“Arpeggio in 9/8”, a 16 ft. high steel sculpture created in 2015 and painted in vibrant red, orange and yellow is an iconic example. Heavy steel plates, all devoid of straight lines and shaped into gentle, irregular curves float skyward as if immune to the forces of gravity. Colors reflected on curved surfaces of other colors blend in subtle and powerful ways, alternating in high voltage between peacefulness and pandemonium. Like an outsized Rothko painting seemingly so understated in color, the overall effect is one of inexplicable awe.
Other parallels with Rothko can also be drawn. Both artists have explored the concept of plasticity. Of his work in steel, Stromeyer remarks, “I wanted to explore its plastic quality. Steel has a great deal of ability to be manipulated … I want to push it more and see what it can do.”
Perhaps unwittingly, Stromeyer has employed the same concepts of plasticity that Rothko wrote extensively about in his book “The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art”. In Rothko’s view, plasticity is the elusive, ethereal effect of movement through space and time that an artwork can convey to viewers. For Rothko, this plastic property is essential for the painting to be successful. In this sense, Stromeyer’s monumental sculptures transport viewers beyond their physical groundings. Like Rothko’s sublime paintings, it is this quality and the powerful emotions of awe and wonder that make Stromeyer’s work so compelling.
But these achievements do not come easily or quickly. For forty-five years he has relentlessly pursued his vision, creating not only over 400 sculptures, but also building a world-class studio and much of the equipment required. He designed and built the core machine, a high capacity, 150-ton hydraulic press that enables him to coax magic from large plates of ¾ inch thick steel. When a project requires special jigs or fixtures for it, he makes them. Heavy steel is a formidable foe, rebelling fiercely to subjugation. Forces involved are high and the work is dangerous. Nevertheless, by his own admission, there is nothing his art demands that he will not do.
This nearly fiendish dedication to his artwork and his desire to share it with the public, led he and his wife Sarah, herself a writer, to create the Cold Hollow Sculpture Park, which they opened to the public in 2014. At the park, Earth becomes the base and nature serves as the backdrop to more than 40 of Stromeyer’s monumental sculptures, all thoughtfully sited in large open fields. Sculpture is the art, the park is the meta-art, itself a giant artwork. Walking the paths from one huge sculpture to the next, green grass supporting blue sky, puffy white clouds and quiet, quiet, quiet, Rothko’s elusive plasticity is evident everywhere.
Strolling the grounds, looking at sculpture, we are transferred to a place where steel is fluid, color is liquid and time is arrested.
Perhaps the greatest calling of the artist is to challenge beliefs and alter our perceptions of conventional wisdom and understanding. David Stromeyer answers this call with unwavering poise.
Text by Chris Curtis and photographs courtesy of Cold Hollow Sculpture Park & David Stromeyer
Catalogs accompanying the exhibition and featuring this essay, photographs, and a statement by the artist will be available for purchase at the gallery and upon request.