When you are working in large scale public sculpture, a support group becomes one of your most useful tools - like a smooth, hot welder or your favorite hammer and chisel. Chicago has had a really strong sculpture community for years, but it's been only since 2004 that we set it in concrete by establishing Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), a satellite organization of the International Sculpture Center (ISC). CSI is a member-supported non-profit group of professional sculptors and committed organizations and individuals that advance the creation and understanding of sculpture internationally, and with a regional emphasis upon the Chicago area. I sit on the Board of Directors of CSI, where we are building some serious steam with about 125 new local and national members and a working list of planned member exhibitions.
Sculptors are a rare breed of artists.....we hang out, we actually like and respect one another! I've heard people in the other visual arts disciplines make casual observations of this fact. We are inextricably bound together out of necessity due to the physical and fiscal demands of our mediums. We need cheap and reliable networks of transportation and installation, commanding workspaces, and efficient vendors of materials, supplies and new technologies, and finally, good business contacts. We share information like a plate of good cookies and we love to talk sculpture! We eat, live and breathe it......we have to, in order to maintain momentum.
I've often asked myself- why the hell do we do what we do!? It's expensive and beats the pulp out of your body. It is all consuming and most aspects of a normal person's life become subservient to our passion for making and exhibiting sculpture. Why do I do it? Because the thrill of building and unveiling new works is incredible (I fabricate my own pieces) and the results can be spectacular! And the process..........ahhh, the PROCESS. This is what I truly love! I came out of graduate school with a degree in painting and drawing, but as soon as a fellow sculptor showed me how to weld and cut metal.....that was it! I was HOOKED.
Take note of the breathtaking impact of Millenium Park. I cried when I first approached Kapoor's Cloud Gate. How could a hunk of metal move people so visibly? Sculpture is REAL and dimensional and interactive. It plays with the public as you play with it, and it makes a striking impact on its environment as it becomes one with its surroundings.
We also need to support exhibition opportunities because, well, sculpture takes up lots of space and is often difficult to ship and install. Not all sculptors earn one million dollars for their public sculpture designs like Kapoor! New sculpture gardens, parks and municipal sitings have sprung up like weeds in the last decade. Although exciting, sculptors are being exploited financially with minimal remuneration at some of these venues. We need to band together to support the integrity and healthy proliferation of our profession.
Most importantly, CSI gives me the opportunity to commune with like-minded, steel-toed peers to build a strong network of support and to make important professional contacts. There are always new tips and suggestions to glean from your peers. It is truly a life-long apprenticeship, with brand new media and technologies arising continually. In fact, whatever vision I have for new pieces, especially when it is a medium that I am not particularly familiar with, I can go to someone in our fellowship that has the knowledge. And to teach sculpture.....well, that's another topic!
Nicole Beck has been a vital part of the Large Scale Sculpture scene in Chicago for over a decade. She's added a warmer, more organic flair to this male dominated genre. Beck grew up in a Northern suburb of Chicago and did her compulsory stint at the School of the Art Institute before heading to Northern Illinois University for grad school. She taught at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida for several years in the early nineties. And more recently she has been one of the key artists involved in Gallery 37 and Urban Gateways in Chicago.