“[My sculptures] are just exercises in form…the idea of a hidden nucleus is ever-present.”
Since it’s often difficult to simply take a sculpture home and display it in your living room along side your IKEA lamp and floral tapestry, it seems to be a medium that frequently flies under the radar. This is an incredible shame because there are people such as Jordan Fowler, recent College of Charleston graduate in Studio Art and Computing in the Arts, lurking in the background pumping out beautiful sculptures ready for your eyes.
Here’s your chance to peek into the mind of Jordan and see what he’s been up to…
An important thing that you have to do as a practicing artist is continuously respond to call-for-artists. Public art can be intimidating for some people, but for Jordan, “the public ones are really enticing.” We asked him what the appeal was and how his work lends itself to the nature of public art.
“I mean the public ones are really enticing because they usually pitch enough money to cover all the materials, which is nice, because the material costs can be absurd to get all of the metal and all the surface treatment and all the other stuff like that.”
Whenever I see a large, organic structure in a beautiful park, the urge to climb and explore it is pretty strong. Being semi-mature adults, we know that this probably isn’t wise, but not everyone has that common sense. This poses another element for Jordan to consider when designing his work, especially the public pieces. “I do have to make sure they’re safe and manageable because I kind of expect that kids are just going to randomly come and climb on it or something, and I would hate for it to fall over and crush somebody. That hasn’t happened yet so hopefully it won’t.” We hope that, too, Jordan.
How does the space that the sculpture is in effect the viewer’s perception of the work?
Well It’s weird, when my work is inside, it feels gigantic and when it’s outside it feels tiny. Also, you know, a lot of my pieces have rust on them and stuff like that , so in a gallery they feel like these artifacts and outside of the gallery it’s like “oh somebody should paint that, it’s rusting”(laughs). “So that’s kind of a weird, unintended thing”.
Something that is often overlooked is what the artist does with the work post-display…
“I mean a lot of these things just go up for a year or two and then I have to do something with it. I usually make things that easily come apart, things that have a backbone of sorts that they all connect to and then make a separate base piece. I’m not at a stage where I can send a truck load of people to go move something. I just have to go out there by myself and take it apart and, you know, I can only move so much stuff at once.
Comparatively, sculpture is quite intrusive when it comes to storage, especially if they’re as large as Jordans. We were imagining a large, picturesque field filled to the brim with his beautiful, organic pieces, and honestly, we weren’t too far off.
“[Most of my sculptures] eventually travel back to my parents backyard and live the rest of their life there. I’ll try to find a place that wants to hold onto it even if they don’t want to buy it or something. I’d rather it be out somewhere, anywhere, being seen than just serving as a bench in my house or something (which one piece did for a while).
What drew you to choose and stick with sculpture as a medium?
“I mean, [sculpture is] so many mediums wrapped into one package. You can be a carpenter, a painter, a welder, all these things simultaneously, and there’s just an endless void of possibilities that go along with that. I find myself having a hard time settling with one material and, sculpture just kind of lets you do anything.”
So why metal predominantly?
“It’s really durable, it’s really easy to manipulate with the right equipment, and it’s really forgiving as well. You can just weld big chunks and sections together and then polish them back down to where they look like it was cast that way.”
Nonrepresentational forms are usually derived from somewhere pretty interesting, and the source of Jordan’s inspiration doesn’t fall short.
“I’ve really been interested in things that happen on either a really, really small scale or really, really large scale to where we don’t really see it. I try to imagine what that would look like, because it’s not something we typically ever notice.”
He gives a few specific examples, including referencing images of what it looks like when “electrons become charged affecting their orbit around the nucleus of an atom. They jump energy levels, and sometimes they’ll have a wider orbit, and I just imagine what that path would look like. That’s how I had this idea of these revolving arcs with straight lines coming out of them which is always kind of present in my work”.
The idea of a hidden nucleus is ever present in his sculpture, providing an invisible focal point that acts as a strong center of balance.
What are the usual steps that you go through to get to that end result?
“I’ve got two main ways of formulating things:
1. “I’ll design something on the computer, usually in something like SketchUp. That’s really nice because I can do that anywhere, like if I have an idea when I’m sitting at home I can just start making stuff. I can get a lot of work out of the way during that process because I can see it from any angle I want and it’s not going to weigh 500 pounds. I can also use [the design] as a template so I can already tell that I’ll have all these different sized pieces that I need to fabricate before I can put it together. I can also price it really well based off of that.”
2. “I’ll do it by playing with smaller things that are easy to scale up to a full size model. You can see these piles of Styrofoam that I collect, I’ve found a lot inspiration [from them] ‘cause they’re already manufactured with these really interesting curves and lines. Also, sometimes I just find several interesting things and start welding them together, like the piece at the [North Charleston] Riverfront Park right now is kind of that way. That’s just a huge combination of scrap metal that I have from cutting out other pieces, so that was completely non traditional to the way I usually work.”
On average, how long does a sculpture usually take to fabricate once it’s planned out?
“I mean it really depends on my work schedule and my free time. If I have all the time I want I can make a large, full-scale sculpture in like 2 or 3 weeks but realistically, it ends up taking probably two or three months. Usually, the more time I spend on the design the smoother it’ll go; like one hour of designing could save me ten hours of work. When I make a huge mistake I have to get out the plasma cutter and cut things off for hours and then go back and clean it up and go back and weld it.”
Having the patience for meticulously planning a piece varies dramatically from artist to artist; it’s fascinating to see how much time is spent on the behind-the-scenes work before the artists even lies their hands on the materials.
What are your day jobs and how do they contribute to your work ethic and artwork?
“I work as the preparator* at the Halsey [Institute of Contemporary Art] and that’s a really interesting influence on my work. I get to work alongside a lot of up-and-coming as well as well-established contemporary artists and they have techniques and practices that they’ve perfected for decades. I get a really intimate view at some of them when installing or when I handle their work, so it feels like cheating almost. Their work ethic is very influential and it’s something I always think about afterwards and try to absorb.
“I also work as the studio manager of [the sculpture studio at the College of Charleston], which is really awesome since this is where I’m keeping all my stuff and where I get to work. I also get to teach constantly and be almost like a professor, but I’m definitely not one at the same time. It’s really fun and it’s definitely true when they say that the best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody. I constantly teach the things that I’ve learned over and over again and I always learn things that I didn’t even realize before.
Lots of times people have these ideas and they come to me and I try to help them achieve it, yet I have no idea how to do it, so it’s usually this process of learning how to do it along with somebody. They usually think that I know everything, so I can have to pretend like I do and figure it out. Then I discovered all these awesome things that I didn’t know and it just kind of goes into this vast pit of knowledge that can be used for other sculpture experiences.”
As a painter or draftsman, you can work in your bedroom if need be. What’s the deal with finding studio space as a sculptor?
“It’s pretty difficult, yeah. [Sculpture] isn’t something I can just do in my house. I mean I thought about trying to weld in my apartment and it’s tricky, you know (laughs). I’d have to put aluminum on all over the walls and stuff; it’s just not going to work.” (Please don’t let his dangerous ideas rub off on you…) “To have a space to do this kind of stuff, it has to meet certain codes and it’s much more demanding than just a painting or drawing studio. Even just a few months after graduating where I realized I couldn’t use certain equipment was a huge wake-up call because I’m using this massive amount of space and equipment [in the College of Charleston sculpture studio] and just to start from scratch is super hard.”
With all of these tools around, from welding torches to saws that can cut through steel, it seems like sculpting is pretty dangerous. Have you ever had any unfortunate accidents?
“Surprisingly, I’ve never really gotten hurt, just lots of close calls. This place terrified my mom.
“But I do feel like I became a man in here. I was leaning really, really close to the angle grinder and I got my chest hairs sucked into the little fan on the side and ripped a chunk of it out; It hurt really bad.”
But Jordan, grinding shirtless goes against every sculpture studio safety rule ever known, why was your chest hair out to begin with? (is something you should be thinking. We sure were.)
“I have this suit thing that I usually wear because I’ve ruined all of my clothes and it zips up, but sometimes after I’ve been working for a while, it unzips. I felt like I reached manhood at that moment.”
Mark your calendars, everyone. ‘Tis a proud day.
So what are your plans for your work and the future?
“I want to go to Grad school after this so I’m kind of just trying to get so many ideas and put them all out before I before I apply. I want to have this kind of nice collection of work and really trying to save up everything I’ve been working on to have a larger solo show somewhere in the near future.”
“I’ve also started really branching out with mediums; I’ve done a lot of sculpture but I’ve also been doing a lot of algorithmic art on the computer and I’ve been trying to find ways to display that. I’ve been thinking about ways to use a projector and lights, projecting onto the sculptures and also more installation based work as opposed to objects.”
Often created with the intention of being displayed for the public, primarily outdoors, Jordan has shown in Art Fields, the North Charleston Cultural Arts Festival and the Charleston Supported Arts.
*Preparator: Someone who hangs and assembles the exhibits.
For more of Jordan’s work, please visit: jordanfowlerart.com
Or email: JordanFowlerArt@gmail.com