This week we interview member artist John Lebowitz our resident metal/wood sculptor. Beginning his professional life in public service, as a social worker, in well deserved retirement Lebowitz has intensified his life long interest in art through the media of wood and metal. Remarkably, he enjoys regressing commercial wood to a more natural, artistic state, through carving, torching, and coloring, subverting the industrial form and returning it to the organic. He is now working to integrate the reclaimed aesthetic of the wood into his metal work. The results are dynamic structures that radiate flowing, naturalistic lines and gentle movement. Lebowitz states that he benefits from the dialogue with instructors and students at the University of West Georgia where he works on his art, but he also benefits from a critical eye for potential as he finds and transforms the cast off remnants of cut steel or the discarded molten ‘slag’ of his fellows. These curious metal shapes, left behind like scrap fabric after being cut into for a dress pattern, inspire his creativity and find new life in his organic, symbolic forms.
Here he is, in his own words:
Q: In a nutshell, tell us about what you are currently working on? Any major themes or ideas?
Currently, I’m working on a small sculpture that combines boards of lumber incased in steel channel bars. The form for the sculpture is defined and limited by only using a 3’ long bar of channel steel, a 2” x 10” x 24” board of pine lumber, and acrylic paint. One theme or metaphor for this piece may be perceived as the transcendence of confinement.
Q: Is this a new direction, or does this align with your overall oeuvre?
This sculpture shows elements of the methods I used in previous works, but is expanding in a new direction in that the materials of wood and steel are now in play together. I like the hardness of the steel juxtaposed against the softness of the wood. This piece is mounted perpendicular to a wall, so that it can be viewed from three sides at a specific height, and does not require the use of a base or pedestal. I’m continuing to explore the viewpoint of how my sculptures are exhibited.
Q: What about your techniques and media?
I’m continuing my methods of power carving, torching, sandblasting, and painting wood, but now introducing bars of steel to partially contain wood forms. It’s important that the steel joinery be seamless and viewed as a separate entity.
Q: Do you listen to music or TV while you work or do you prefer silence?
When I’m in the process of intuiting a design or problem solving issues, I prefer to do that in as much quiet as possible, but once I know what I need to do, I like playing music or being surrounded by the noise of other artists working.
Q: What is your average work day like? Where is your studio?
I am retired, so I do not have an average work day. I work on my art almost every day from two to five hours depending on what I want to accomplish. Usually, I alternate working on two or three sculptures at a time. This gives me the ability to come back to a piece of work with a slightly fresh view, for an ongoing critique. Currently, I work in the metal and wood studios at the University of West Georgia’s Visual Arts Building. I’m very grateful for this opportunity, and for the camaraderie and inspiration I get from being around students and faculty.
Q: Who is your most significant influence?
Personally, I have to say that my mother has been the most influential person in my life. Since my early childhood, she gave me opportunities and encouragement to be creative, and supported my efforts throughout her life. I have always admired Picasso. Based on what I’ve read and seen, I imagine his approach to working in various media and methods as intuitive and fearless. Like, he could make great art from whatever materials he had available. To me his works seem to have a visceral honesty about it. These are qualities I want to emulate. A contemporary metal sculptor I am fascinated by is Albert Paley. His longevity, scope, and quality of his sculpture is just amazing (see example of Paley’s work below).