Art in motion
Currier shows of George Sherwood’s kinetic sculptures
By Adam Coughlin firstname.lastname@example.org
George Sherwood’s sculptures, which are on display at the Currier Museum of Art until Sept. 19, come to life with a gust of wind.
Take Fusion II, an 11x6x6 feet tower of steel that when the wind is idle, looks like a dandelion. But when the wind blows it swirls and spins like the blade of a fan. But all of that movement is by design. Much like Sherwood’s life.
Sherwood has been an athlete since his youth. As a young man he played tennis and squash. Now he swims, at least three times a week, year round in the frigid waters off Ipswich, Mass.
“The first two minutes are excruciatingly cold,” Sherwood said. “But it is therapeutic. It is like being a sculpture moving through the air.”
When he left his 9-to-5 job in the research and development branch of LEGO to devote his full energy to sculpting, he said, he began work on a Monday morning in 1998 and he is still waiting for Friday.
“If you want something you have to devote a lot of time to it,” Sherwood said.
That devotion has always been part of Sherwood’s life. He has studied dance and mime, practices which he said helped his understanding of movement. And he juggled.
“I have two assistants now,” Sherwood said. “And one of the prerequisites is they have to juggle. It gives you incredible awareness of space.”
But long before he had assistants, Sherwood earned a Fine Arts degree from the Hartford Arts School. Upon graduation, he began performing physical theater. He would make elaborate kinetic sculptures out of cheap buckets and paper bags from hardware stores. Sherwood had his own show where he was the catalyst for the movement of his pieces. He performed in Burlington, Harvard Square and Boulder.
“I’ve always been connected to the natural and outdoor world,” Sherwood said. “While doing physical theater I was controlling the work with my body. I wanted to use another force that could animate something I was working on.”
He left the stage behind and got an engineering degree from the University of Vermont, which he later used for 10 years as he worked in Boston for LEGO Futura, which he described as the top secret creative wing of LEGO.
His position, in the 1990s, allowed him extraordinary access to technology and he worked with professionals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I was fortunate to learn a lot about technology,” Sherwood said. “At LEGO I worked a lot with multi-media, which later allowed me to have the skills to do my own photography, videos, website. When my computers broke, I fixed them.” Still, leaving his job at LEGO was difficult. Sherwood said in today’s economy, he doesn’t know if he would have done it. But he has never looked back.
He was inspired by Alexander Calder and George Rickey, two visionaries in kinetic sculpture, but felt most connected to Rickey who developed ways to control the emotion and movement of the sculptures.
Sherwood bought copper plumbing and began experimenting in his home workshop. He is not a trained machinist or welder and had to teach himself.
“I had to learn how to do these things out of necessity,” Sherwood said. “But that’s life. You don’t know what you’re going to do but you need to learn how to learn.”
Sherwood said he enjoys the mysteries of nature. He begins a project with a lot of sketches because his ideas are so multi-dimensional. He described his work as a marriage between the form of the object and the form of movement. Sometimes, he said, problems arise from the technology, other times the aesthetics. He loves the challenge of working against these obstacles.
Because movement is so central to his work and many of his pieces are outdoors, he wants them to flutter at the lightest breeze but also hold up against the gales of New England. This means the metal — Sherwood now works exclusively with stainless steel — must be lightweight yet rigid. For “Steel Life 1 and 2,” on display at the Currier, he had to use the lightest stainless steel possible without resorting to tinfoil. This piece looks almost like disco balls, with small rectangles and trapezoids of reflective metal, each custom cut, covering the sculptures. Features are suggested by the way the metal pieces are tiled near the eyes and mouth. There are 11 sculptures on view in the Putnam Gallery, two in the Winter Garden and two outdoors.
Such precision is truly a combination of art and science, but Sherwood thinks of his work as strictly art. He is not trying to show technology but use it to obtain an end result.
He hopes that result leads viewers to a discussion on the language of movement. He said people are often asked what is their favorite color, but rarely what is their favorite movement. For some it might be the flight of a bird, for others the grace of a dancer. In the end, the viewer is left asking: is his work, like “Flock of Birds,” 36 elements or one encompassing piece?
“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘What will that look like?’” Sherwood said. “And often times I don’t know. But I have to commit.”