Posted by: groundsforsculpture | October 17, 2011

Steve Tobin Studio Tour

By Marci Gelb, Volunteer Docent

On a beautiful early autumn day, 18 docents from Grounds For Sculpture drove out to Quakertown, PA for a tour of Steve Tobin’s studio.Steve and his assistant, Ruth Berman, graciously showed us around his entire studio and the outdoor grounds which hold many examples from Tobin’s vast range of series — glass Cocoons, bronze Roots, bronze Syntax balls, bronze cow and buffalo bone walls, forest floor, Lantern House, exploded clay pots and his current steel Roots.  Steve explained that this eclectic collection of pieces really follows his evolution as an artist.  He started as a glass artist and then, feeling that it was becoming too much of a craft, he wanted to become more expressionist.

There was a bronzed root sculpture, similar to the one at the Grounds, outside the studio door. Steve’s bronze Roots series calls to mind the unseen power of nature.  Steve dug up the actual roots of a tree and used the lost wax process to cast the roots in bronze.  The reddish patina on the bronze is to remind us that the roots are alive, just like the arterial system of our body.  Steve also used his artistic creativity to make the roots in the sculpture grow down vertically instead of just spreading out laterally as the actual roots had.

After he finished his 9/11 Trinity Root Memorial, which is currently located between Wall Street and Broadway in NYC, Steve stopped making bronze roots and started using steel.  The steel roots take his art from naturalism to modernism.  His steel roots are inspired by Asian calligraphy.  Steve is reminded of specific Japanese/Chinese characters, and then makes ink drawings of them.  (I was told by my son, who is studying Chinese, that Steve’s sculptures remind him of the Chinese character ren, which means people.)  From the ink drawings, he makes a six foot high model.  He gets pipe bent to his specifications and then plays around with the pipe.  A staff of ten help smooth the joints between the pipes.  It takes one man approximately one month of work to smooth a joint.  Steve’s first steel Roots were black, to mimic the sumi ink drawings he makes on rice paper.  Once, though, he saw one of his pieces with just the primer painted on and decided to make white “ghost roots;” these contrast with the dark shadows they cast.  Just six months ago, he began painting his roots orange because he was reminded of the rust color when thinking about the raw nature of material and also liked the different tones and shadows cast by the sun on the orangey-red color.

Steve sees these Roots sculptures as windows into the sky where the actual object is not as important as man’s relationship to nature as he views the work.  Steve also derives a sense of energy from these sculptures.  He describes the large orange steel Root at the Grounds is as follows: “…all the roots break into arches where one arm is reaching up to the heavens.  This gives a sense of movement – like that of a fencer – to the piece….It divides the sky into quadrants.’’

After the tour, we ate a scrumptious lunch at The Red Lion Inn just down the road, then headed home through the autumn afternoon, eager to revisit the Grounds and look again at Tobin’s Aerial Roots on display there.  A wonderful time was had by all!
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