Steve Ferrera’s Enlarged Energy Circulators

It was around 1870 that French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi debuted his feminine form, the 19⅜-inch tall terracotta maquette’s billowing robes destined for a grander scale. Partially funded through the sale of smaller models, Gustave Eiffel‘s factory and other various contractors completed construction of the shape’s 46-meter tall copper rendition in 1884, its cross-oceanic journey and final assembly ending with a ceremonial unveiling in 1886. And this outsourcing for enlargement as employed upon La Liberté éclairant le monde, more commonly known as the Statue of Liberty, isn’t an uncommon one, though technological advancements have made aspects easier. For instance, KAWS (Brian Donnelly) designs and approves small models from his Brooklyn studio, sending the approved sculpture to a Netherlands-based foundry for 3D scanning and large-scale reproduction in wood, the finished 1½- to 5½-meter tall works hand-finished in nearby Maastricht. Then, once done, works like 2013’s Along The Way, At This Time, Final Days, and Small Lie are shipped to their final destination. But Steve Ferrera desired a more hands-on approach to sculptural enlargement, the artist opting to accomplish as much of the 1¼- to 1½-meter tall upscaling of his forms as possible without outsourcing.

Who is Steve Ferrera?

While attending the University of California, Santa Cruz and San José State University, Ferrera admits that he “was always at this crossroad where I thought I wanted to pursue fine art, toy making, or furniture design”. Respectively receiving his Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees from those institutions, both with an emphasis in sculpture, his direction was firmly set towards the fine art world, though “my work [at the time] was all over the place”, he recalls, “an overflow from my art school stuff”. Employed at a metal foundry, it was here that Ferrera was exposed to “a crazy efficient mold shop that I fell in love with”, a discovery that began the artist’s journey “from traditional materials into a more immediate process like cast resin”. Taking his first firm steps in this direction five years ago, the artist unifying his works through “one particular style and process”, Ferrera’s aesthetic merges his youthful flights-of-fancy fueled by Henson, Lucas, and Tolkien with his long-running fascination in the mythology and folklore of Earth’s various civilizations, past and present. “A lot of my [sculptural] characters are inspired by common archetypes of these cultures, or a synthesis of several”, Ferrera divulges, using these as a basis in synthesizing his own narratives and concepts. “There’s definitely categories of mortals versus gods and deities, and an animal kingdom”, he elaborates regarding his own work, noting that a “lot of the categories live in the spirit world, both above and below, and have connections to common archetypes: the guide, the gatekeeper, the oracle, observers, destroyers, and creators”. For instance, “The Watchers were inspired by Native American deities who had these longs necks that went way up in the clouds because their duty was to watch over and observe their people”, Ferrera reveals.

But forming his imagined mythology, Ferrera admits that there is “a lot of cross-pollination between series”, the artist explaining that there are “a ton of molds and random parts all over my studio so they’ll sometimes breed”. A whimsical way of indicating that specific aspects from his creations become repurposed in other sculptures, though the significance of these elements tends to remain unchanged. In example, The Conduits of the Gods series was “inspired by this idea in Meso-American and Native American cultures that antlered animals had a spiritual connection to the gods”, the artist recounts, “as their antlers were antennae devices that communicated with them”, which Ferrera re-envisioned as head-adornments (including hands) reaching upward. This was followed “a couple years later” by the Energy Circulators design, whose “bodies were more shard or gem-like”, as Ferrera explains, their shape meant to “keep the good energy flowing in whatever room you put it in”. Then, “at some point, the Conduit [of the Gods]‘s hand antennae made it onto the Energy Circulator‘s bodies”, the artist admits, noting how “if the hands are stretched up, it’s a Conduit [of the Gods]. If they stretch out more, [then] it seems like it’s focused on the surrounding energy”, thus an Energy Circulator. And, with their hands forming a sideways Y-shape, it was a pair of Energy Circulators that Ferrera decided to enlarge from the standard 8-inch height to 4- and 5-foot tall renditions.

Steve Ferrera’s Enlargement Process

Not a stranger to large-scale works, such as his 7-foot tall creations for Transmission Gallery‘s inaugural Open exhibition in 2012, Ferrera eschewed this previous sculpting-from-scratch method for enlarging his Energy Circulators. Selecting this design as he knew “that it had a solid center of gravity”, Ferrera explains, he contracted Scansite3D to digitize his design which was then inputted into CNC foam cutting machines at Foamlinx. And while the outsourcing of these aspects seems similar to the methodology employed for KAWS’ wooden sculptures, Ferrera used the resulting form as a base shape, the artist noting how he “wanted a piece that had a lot of texture [that] I could sculpt in and dry brush”.

“Originally, I was going to sculpt over the entire piece with Magic-Sculpt”, Ferrera admits, though he ultimately only employed the two-part epoxy clay on the “mask-portal” area. “With a lot of pieces, I try to distill the necessary information down to its simplest form”, the artist states, “so the face often ends up as a circle or oval and dots for eyes”, this recessed aspect lending itself to dry brushing, leaving “a nice circular shadow of whatever color I use for the base washes”. While a deceptively simple element, Ferrera divulges that he can “get pretty obsessive about shape and proportion”, noting how “the slightest movement of something can really change or dictate the personality [of the piece]”. Coating the majority of the form in fluffy wool, a textile that softens the creature’s appearance considerably, the artist confesses that this “was kind of a last-minute decision”, one made well before these memorable profiles debuted at 2018’s DesignerCon.
Of course, in order to be proper Energy Circulators this pair of enlarged forms needed to have antler-like arms affixed to them. “The original hands were molded from a porcelain doll”, Ferrera reveals, “[and] I wanted to see if the delicateness translated to a larger scale”. Satisfied with their appearance, Ferrera painted them to resemble “tarnished metal” not in reference to their conductive abilities within his mythology but as a tribute to “Buddha statues and their giant hands”, professes the artist. “I got to travel around China and Japan a bit and visit a lot of temples and shrines”, he continues, elaborating on the origins of his encounter with this aesthetic. “I think an open or outstretched hand is just a universally powerful symbol”, Ferrera ultimately states, thus potentially explaining why he grants multiple meanings to the reoccurring appendage, whether they are to harmonize the surrounding environment or a conduit of divine understanding.

Steve Ferrera documented the process of enlarging his Energy Circulator sculptures, a series of step-by-step videos of which can be viewed at: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four

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