One Thousand Eight Hundred Degrees

December 07 2015

Fahrenheit, that is. It’s the temperature required to melt bronze — an alloy composed mostly of copper and a sprinkle of other ingredients. Not unlike the oxygen we breathe or the water that lives within the cells of our bodies, bronze at one time had a close relationship to humankind from birth to death. It’s more than a metal. It’s something to be respected. Perhaps even revered.

I spent many nights and early mornings working as a student monitor in the UC Santa Cruz foundry and metal shop, entering at night with a backpack full of PowerBars and Redbulls, and emerging when the sun came up, clanging shut the workshop doors with my clothes speckled with wax and an array of tiny burns. In the foundry, we would spend the first half of each semester building shapes in wax. I would sit quietly in the shop, imagining what my final sculpture would look like from the top, from the side. Would I be able to fit my fingers around it? How heavy would it be? Would it require two hands to hold, or one?

We melted wax into sheets, and added it chunk by chunk to a blob of wax. A sculpture would reveal itself. Was this the image I had in my head? Was I happy with this work? I knew that the wax would be replaced with bronze and be locked into existence for thousands of years. This object would outlive countless generations of my own family — this is an indisputable fact. Would I be proud of what I made here?

Twice each semester the entire art department would gather, like a tribe to a fire, to witness “the pour”. A crane lowered a crucible full of glowing liquid metal, like a bowl of stars, and pour the bronze into our molds one by one. And like that my piece transformed from a delicate shape of wax — so quick to disintegrate with the smallest dose of sunlight — to a thirty-five pound hunk of bronze.

Metal sculpture taught me the importance of having a strong imagination and vision. Vision is the ability to understand and take ownership of your present, to clearly see your future objective, and to plot a course backward outlining the steps you need to follow. I learned that without a mastery of vision, sculpture is impossible.

Leonardo da Vinci’s biographer, Giorgio Vasari, said, “he taught us that men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work least, for they are thinking out inventions and forming in their minds the perfect ideas which they subsequently express and reproduce with their hands”. He used vision when developing scuba gear, crossbows and parachutes.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau encourages imagination as a starting point when we says, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” It’s within one’s ability to plot a series of practical, actionable steps from the future to the present where vision demonstrates its power.

In my career and in life, I challenge myself to use vision to define my future. Where do I see myself in two years? Ten? What activities, causes and achievements will bring me a sense of fulfillment? Then, following Thoreau’s words, I devote each day to building that foundation, one brick at a time.

Sculpture and vision are one in the same - it’s simply a process of crafting the future, starting with today.

Chris Alexander
[email protected]
New York. NY

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