When Michelangelo began creating a sculpture, he would travel to Carrera, Italy, where one finds a homeowner’s dream: Carrera marble. While there he would feel the marble and intuitively find the perfect slab. His process proved methodical because he believed the sculpture already existed and it was his job to free it from marble.
Michelangelo’s viewpoint toward liberating imagery is still pertinent today. Although we do not often see people chiseling away at marble, sculpture, like every art form, has evolved. Artists use contemporary materials to represent the changing world around them.
Two prolific local sculptors, Dumay Gorham and Michael Van Hout, abandon the hammer and chisel in favor of welding machines or twistable material, as well as paint. They will present “Abstraction” this weekend at ACME Art Studios.
Sculpturally, the welding process conjoins hardware by melting down pieces and adding a filler to form a pool of molten material that cools to become a strong joint. A complex process, Gorham has become a pro making whimsical sculptures from welding, all of which decorate Wilmington. A sea serpent fills the pond at the Arboretum, while other works can be seen at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and UNCW’s Center for Marine Science. He also created sculptures for the City of Wilmington.
A native Wilmingtotnian, Gorham graduated from New Hanover High School in 1987. After attending NC State University, he went on to earn a degree in Industrial Design Technology from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He then moved to Atlanta and worked for a firm as a product design consultant.
Returning to Wilmington in 1998 to work as an assistant fabricator, he met local metal artist Karen Crouch. “Karen and I would talk, and I picked her brain about a few things,” Gorham tells. “She was nice enough to let me play around, and the first couple of pieces I made with her welder. I got my own [tools] for Christmas.”
Metal work and welding somehow always permeated Gorham’s life. He once took a job in construction on a large-scope industrial site. “I was just a laborer,” he states. Although he didn’t set out to become an artist, thinking perhaps he wanted to teach, the path opened organically.
Examining his oeuvre of artwork today, figural and animal sculptures feel like animate rather than inanimate objects; it shows his destiny always pointed toward metalworking. His sculpture of the sea serpent at the Arboretum literally looks alive, like it’s slithering through the water. The metal’s otherworldly material seems completely changed and manipulated.
Michael Van Hout is most well known for three-dimensional wire sculptures that more closely resemble drawings. Van Hout’s aquatic installations can be seen in the education building and library at UNCW. Two of the state’s aquariums feature his underwater creations. As well, installations are displayed at several elementary schools: a map of the world at Forest Hills, sea life at Ogden, and a tree of life at Winter Park. Museums and gardens display his work, too, including the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, Airlie Gardens and Greenfield Lake.
After leaving NC State University in the ‘70s, Van Hout began working on a grounds crew, where he would take pocket wire used to secure pine straw. After work each day, he would twist the wire to create a series of different figures. This led him back to school to secure a degree in sculpture.
Finding his place in the artistic culture of UNC Greensboro, Van Hout strengthened his artistic foundation. Eight years out of school, his focus remained on painting; sculpture seemed of a secondary priority. Today, he keeps his work simple and sticks to hand-built techniques.
“I do not use welding or anything high-tech,” he says. “It’s all based off folk art. I like to keep it simple.”
Although Van Hout is most well known as a sculptor, he really wanted to return to painting. “The art comes too natural; there’s a kind of playfulness to it,” he remarks. “Painting’s a little tougher, but it’s something I really aspire to get back to [doing].”
Thus, painting will be included in Gorham and Van Hout’s upcoming exhibition. Featured on their exhibition flier (above) is a very geometric painting of a cubist sculpture, resembling what Van Hout could bring to life in 3D. Instead, he proves his hand with a canvas just as illusionary and captivating. Gorham’s work falls in line as abstract metal sculptures. Using a variety of colors, both display vast talent.
“Abstraction” will open with an artist reception on October 25th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in conjunction with downtown’s Fourth Friday Gallery Walk.
Fourth Friday Gallery Walk
October 25th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
ACME Art Studios
711 N. 5th Avenue