Posted by: groundsforsculpture | August 28, 2011


Roots by Steve Tobin, 2005, Cast Bronze. Courtesy the Artist. Photo by David Steele.

By Aura Star, Volunteer Docent

HEAPS, PILES, PROFUSION, MULTITUDES, GAZILLION large metal forms, circles, I-beams, rods. This residue of manufacture  of rusted scrap steel greets us at the front of Steve Tobin’s studio/warehouse.These discarded pieces are the raw material for the “new life’ as art that will be given them by Steve Tobin.  Steve Tobin is known to us at GFS by a recently installed signature piece of his:

The blood red tree roots modeled from an actual tree. His association with the creation of real tree roots cast in bronze as a tall standing sculpture that can be entered under is one of his signatures.  He is most well known to the public since he rescued the  root of the tree that saved Trinity church in lower Manhattan from the debris fallout of 9/11. On September 11, 2005 he placed these reconstituted roots in bronze on the church site to memorialize this event.  Steve Tobin in this age of indifference is strongly engaged with his environment. He brings life to the discards of modern society..

His naturalistic bronze imprints are of roots, termite mounds that he had cast in Ghana. He has preserved in bronze, the forest floor. He is proud that he has developed a special technique that can preserve the thin pine needles as well as the gossamer insect wings in some of his forest floor works.

Formed  into large window-like design are the bronze forest floor molds.

Other large window like frames are filled with, hundreds of ears of corn, hundreds of carrots, hundreds of individual  breads, cakes, bagels, muffins aligned together forever in cast bronze in a reverent and aesthetic manner. They remind one of cathedral windows.

Steve Tobin is the alchemist who creates permanence and beauty from the detritus of  the environment.

He has preserved for art  the forest floor that would eventually return to the earth as humus.

This applies as well to  the organic materials he uses in creating  his windows.

So what about the women’s shoes filled with asparagus, string beans, mushrooms, crackers, beets?  On display were shelves of these shoes filled with edibles. The shoes are real but have been cast in bronze as are the edibles that fill them.  These represent for Steve the architectural and the natural juxtaposed in a statement about the relationship of man and nature and about the manufactured imaginative and the natural.  On display were shelves with such shoes lined up. There were perhaps about 48 individual shoes filled with corn, olives, lettuce and grapes.  Each shoe sells for $1500.00  but you would need at least ten or twenty to get a full range of this genre. PROFUSION, MULTITUDES are present in all these assembled works…

All productions of Tobin’s were enormous and overwhelming from the piles of steel discards to the finished products.  There were multiples of each design idea.  All were original because he makes no duplicates.  Tobin has created art from the dross of industrial processes, a sunflower  and  urchin from discarded metal tubes  used to launch fireworks,   5000 metal letter trees  form a ball 6 feet in diameter syntax. He was happy to report it had just been sold so he wouldn’t have to sell his studio. Also purchased was Rebirth;  an aggregate of leaning I-beam ends assembled to resemble a crowd of some sort.  A number of people in our group mentioned that it resembled the Jewish graveyard in Prague where many bodies were buried and tombstones crowded together were leaning into each other.

Yes, said Steve, it does represent this idea. The graveyard will continue to crumble, but Steve’s sculpture will endure the ravages of time.

Another amazing rebirth are the wavelike walls he created of buffalo and cow bones. There are five- thousand bones in the piece. It rises as a wave and symbolizes life moving upward and onwards towards its inevitable end. Life and death are represented in this lacy, strong and wonderful piece.

It creates awe and a reverence for the life once in these bones.

Creating order is but one facet of Tobin art.  Two of his houses were in the studio– The Glass Lantern House.  From the 1890’s to about the 1930’s images were captured on glass and shown through an unwieldy projector.  With the advent of modern photography and slides on film, thousands of thee lantern slides remained as relics in college classrooms.  The University of Pennsylvania gave Steve Tobin a collection of 30,000 slides so he built a house.  The house lets in light so you can walk inside it and see a history of images, flowers, monuments, graphs, dinosaurs and whatever images were used in history, geography, physics, biology and even alchemy classrooms.  From the dark cellars of academia slides were rescued and transformed into a shrine.  There is also a matzo house made of bronze matzos with patterns of holes.  In entering this house you are aware of the light that passes through these holes and are reminded of the Passover ritual representing the Exodus of jews from Egypt that is celebrated annually by Jews worldwide.  Tobin captures and orders history into shrines

A new art form he is currently exploring is called exploded clay.  Not satisfied with bringing order to artifacts, he has been creating his own version of the “big bang.”  As a finale to our visit, Tobin led us outside to view a large wok like container.  In it was a wet clay cylinder  weighing 3000 pounds. He punched a hole in the center with a baseball bat,  placed 2 tablespoons of fireworks explosives, filled the hole with porcelain powder, put on ear muffs stepped away from this assemblage, pressed the detonator and then a loud boom and smoke followed.  We viewed the exploded clay. A sculpture had been born.

This exploded clay sculpture, all 3000 pounds of it, is left in the wok to dry for one year.  When it is dry it will be glazed and fired at 2400 degrees.  In the bowl of this explosion  clear glass is dumped in.

It will form a pool of colored and glazed glass.  This is how the world began and our trip ended. It began with detritus that is transformed into art through Steve Tobin’s  imagination and energy.  Destruction or chaos can lead to order. Think of the earth’s creation. In the beginning  there was chaos.

Tobin seeks to create order through entropy by organizing and preserving as well as creating.

This mimics the creation of our universe shaped through natural processes of cosmic creation.


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