Listen to Steve Tobin discuss the wonder and imagination evoked by these sculptures.
Steelroots is my most recent series of monumental sculptures that make icons from nature. They are the first of my works in the modernist tradition, with my earlier works in bronze being naturalist in appearance. The icon and metaphor of Steelroots are the same as my bronze Roots series, but the aesthetic and visual impact are radically different. They have gone from literal to an ideal.
The roots evoke communities, families, unseen power, networks all coming together for a shared purpose. They gather energy and send it upward in support of the "tree" that is not visually apparent. The curvilinear geometries between the roots frame the view creating landscapes in the negative spaces that ebb and flow as the viewer moves around and under the piece. The legs are anthropomorphic, suggesting images of people dancing or huddling together in embrace and collusion. They create a sense of gathering.
The process of making roots sculptures out of steel instead of bronze is also vastly different. Whereas the bronze roots involved the excavation, collection and sorting root systems from dead trees, then turning them into bronze followed by thousands of hours of welding them onto an inverted, bronzed tree stump, the steel process is equally labor intensive although not at all entrenched in the detritus of nature. The transformation and bending of (recycled) steel pipe into animated root forms that appear alive and moving is a task that takes thousands of hours of forming, refining and welding. There are figures in the root forms circling each other coming together at the top.
I feel that the Steelroots works have infinite possibilities in terms of form and scale. Whereas the bronze Roots were a reflection of nature, the Steelroots are an expression of movement, social interaction and even architectural traditions, from Gothic to minimalism. In the three years since I began the series, we have already achieved pieces as high as 50 feet. Bronze Roots were limited in scale by their construction as well as the cost of labor and material.
The last bronze root sculpture that was produced in my studio was the Trinity Root, the first and only art/sculpture memorial in the vicinity of Ground Zero that commemorates the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Permanently sited on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway in Lower Manhattan, the Trinity Root reaches 20 feet high and is composed of more than 200 separate bronze castings of the historic "sycamore tree that saved St. Paul's Chapel" on that fateful day. Installed and dedicated on the four-year anniversary of the attacks, I simultaneously decided to make the transition into steel with the root forms.
The Calgary Steelroot was designed to fit under a 25-foot overhanging roof. It is 24 feet high, allowing bystanders to walk through the roots. In addition to Calgary, Steelroots also have been exhibited in 2007-2008 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, as part of the City of New York's "40 Years of Art in the Parks" exhibit, as well as the recent installation in Miami in advance of Art Basel 2008 at the new Frost Art Museum, in San Francisco at Sculpturesite Gallery and a permanent installation in Osaka, Japan, among others.
Steve Tobin at work