home sculpture statement biography resume contact AARON QUINN BROPHY
Interview AARON QUINN BROPHY
text is the transcript of an interview for the July 2004 issue of
The Washington Spark Magazine
click here for full color images of actual magazine pages
Interviewer: Mark Cimino
SPARK: Why do you sculpt?
AARON: Making sculpture is a visceral
process of creation that I find fulfilling. I'm
not sure what I would do if I weren't a
sculptor. The human corporeal existence is
inherently self-referential. As we encounter
other beings and objects in our world we
perceive them as a function of our own volume
and mass. I enjoy the one-to-one scale
of life-size figurative sculpture…making
forms that other people need to physically
interact with. Often the viewer is drawn in
and compelled to touch the work. Even the
process of avoiding a sculpture by walking
around it is a reaffirmation of its existence.
I enjoy witnessing the acknowledgement of
shared space between the viewer and a
SPARK: How does the first idea for a
sculpture come to you? Is there a typical
where and when, e.g., dreams, a
philosophical concept, a mood, an
image in nature?
AARON: Inspiration usually doesn't hit
me over the head. I just work through it.
The process of making often reveals the
form of the figure for me. Sometimes I see
them in my mind beforehand, but they
rarely look the same by the time I am finished.
My next sculpture is usually a
response to the one before it. By incorporating
wood and found objects into my
sculpture I have been borrowing quite a bit
from nature lately.
SPARK: How much of your day is
involved in this? Do you turn it off at
AARON: Being a sculptor is a 24-hour
experience. I am fortunate enough to have a
studio at home so the commute is only a
flight of stairs. I've had a few sculptures
keep me up at night. That is usually when I
do my best work. When I am away from my
studio, I usually have a sketchbook nearby
to record a visual thought. When I am traveling
I take a lot of pictures and then make
drawings after the fact.
SPARK: Do you have dry spells? Do
you have unfinished works? Do you
mind selling them? Are there some you
will not part with?
AARON: I am usually working on at
least 10 sculptures at once. This can make it
challenging to focus on individual pieces
and bring them to completion, but otherwise
I would get bored. Sometimes I am
overwhelmed by all the unfinished figures
staring at me from the corners of the studio…
and I'll respond by starting a new one.
That just makes for one more incomplete
sculpture. One of my best sculptures is
actually titled, “Unfinished Man”. There is
always the danger that if I finish a sculpture
it will stop breathing.
I've been quoted as saying that, "Art isn't
done until it's sold." I'm not sure if I agree
with myself, but it wouldn't be the first time.
I think that exhibiting and selling work is
part of the creative process. By definition,
art needs an audience in order to exist. And
artists need money to buy food. When
someone gives me money to do something
that I love to do…I don't mind that at all.
There have been a few seminal pieces
over the years that I have decided not to
sell, and some pieces just look really good in
my living room… but everything has a
SPARK: What helps inspire you?
What helps support you over time? A
community of sculptors, music, a story
you heard, a few colleagues?
AARON: Sculpture has no language barrier.
Even a blind man can run his hands
over my work and get something out of it.
My sculpture is a reflection of my personal
experience. I try not to push it on people,
but I enjoy watching others interact with it
and listening to them talk about it. It is also
fun to visit an exhibition anonymously and
listen to what people say. Sometimes the
audience gives me clarity as to what the
work conveys. I usually get so close to the
sculpture that I'm not sure what it will mean
to the viewer. Everyone
brings their own baggage
about the work and interprets
SPARK: Have you ever
made a sculpture in a
team with others?
AARON: Last year I collaborated
with Jenna McCracken. She is a ceramic
sculptor based at George Washington
University. We actually took turns working
on pieces simultaneously. We have a similar
sense of aesthetics and the work was exciting.
We are already planning future collaborations.
SPARK: Do you ever reach a crossroads
where you know the work could
proceed in two different directions? Is
not-knowing ever a part of your work?
AARON: The process of making my figures
is a constant improvisation. I react to
the materials and in many ways am a servant
to the process. I need to trust the process.
It is important to let the sculpture take its
own shape. Of course I add and subtract,
making aesthetic decisions that determine
the ultimate composition, but mostly I try
to stay out of the way of the material. The
clay, wood, bronze, and rust that I employ
in my pieces is inherently more beautiful
than anything I can make with my own
hands. I act on the clay, but I don't force it.
SPARK: Influences? Other artists?
AARON: As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy
the decayed figure sculpture of ancient
Greece, Rome, and Egypt. One particular
piece that comes to mind is the Colossi of
Memnon, overlooking the River Nile. These
seated figures have been resting there for
thousands of years. Witnesses to floods,
sandstorms, earthquakes, and acid rain,
these monolithic, fragmented figures exist
between disintegration and wholeness.
Of course Michelangelo, Rodin, and
Giocometti were not bad. I had the opportunity
to study with Stephen DeStaebler for
a semester in college. He is based in the San
Francisco area. He is an incredible sculptor
and a humble man. I am definitely indebted
to his sense of aesthetics
and figurative composition.
I also had the good
fortune of studying with
Doug Jeck. He is now
the head of the ceramics
department at the
Washington in Seattle.
Other contemporary figurative
sculptors that I
admire are Manuel Neri,
John DeAndrea, and Antony Gormley.
There is a section of my website dedicated
to the works of these artists.
I think that the late Peter Voulkos
affected the sensibilities of anyone working
with clay in the last 50 years, but there are a
few lesser-known artists whose work speaks
to me no less than Voulkos' does. Ray Chen
and Kristen Morgin are both incredible
contemporary sculptors who will influence
generations to come. Chen makes large
ceramic forms that look as if they have
been ripped from the earth. And Morgin
creates objects that have an ephemeral,
decomposing beauty that I find irresistible.
Images of their work can also be viewed on
my website, in the SOMA gallery.
SPARK: You mention decay in your
statement - does this theme come from
an anthropological experience or a personal
AARON: At the age of 19 I vividly
remember seeing the Belvedere Torso in the
Vatican Museum. It is a fragment of an
ancient figure that I find more compelling
than any complete figure I have ever seen.
Ancient sculptures, toppled by earthquakes
and scarred by lava flows, have faced the
ravages of time. Even wind and rain leave
their marks on these archaic figures. The
sculptural decay of these works is visually
alluring to me.
When my work is most successful it
speaks to the ephemeral nature of our
physical existence. I think many people
spend their lives grappling with the illusion
of the control that they have over their life.
It is important to recognize that our life is
nothing more than collaboration with time.
My passion for sculptural decay
should probably be separated from my preoccupation
with bodily decay. The latter
has its roots in more personal experiences.
My father died of leukemia when I was a
teenager. I witnessed his body deteriorate
slowly over the course of nine years. My
early figures dealt explicitly with his corporeal
existence. I was trying to make beautiful
death. It was like a celebration of suffering.
These works utilized fragmentation
and amputation as symbols of disease and
helplessness. As I began to incorporate
more bronze and wood into the figures I
was able to put some distance between my
figurative compositions and that explicit
narrative. As time has passed I have found
more subtle ways of addressing the frailty
of the human condition.
SPARK: How long does a work take
to create - how many sessions? Do you
work over a few weeks?
AARON: My sculptures evolve over
time. Some figures take a week, while others
take years. I bringing various elements
together, hoping that the materials will coalesce
into a form that is greater than the
sum of its parts. “Unfinished Man” is a
good example of said evolution. I made his
left foot in 1995. It originally belonged to
the reclining figure titled “Fragmented
I cast his right foot in 1997 while still a
student in upstate New York. The wood
block pedestal was found at a boat yard in
Baltimore in May of 1997. I created his
torso in 1998, which was subsequently broken
while being shipped to my studio in
Wyoming after an exhibition in Georgia. The wood of the figure's left leg was procured
in 1999 from a fallen tree in Washington D.C. The right fiberglass leg was cut from a
mannequin that I bought in New York City in 2000. It was not until 2001 that all of
these elements coalesced into a coherent form.
It goes without saying that I have embraced deconstruction and reconstruction as part
of my creative process.