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2013 Master of the Southwest Robert Wick - Living bronze sculptor

Author: Terri Feder
Issue: March, 2013, Page 130
Photos by Art Holeman

Sculptor Robert Wick is surrounded by works in progress at his Bisbee, Arizona, studio. Here, he spends many an hour and day chiseling and carving away at gargantuan plaster sculptures that will later be cast in bronze. Among the artist’s new works is a large portrait sculpture of his wife, Estellean.

Robert Wick’s living sculptures transcend time and season

Somewhere on a stretch of 2,800 acres of rough-and-tumble desert in the Mule Mountains of Southeastern Arizona is an enchanting property called Wick Way. At the end of a six-and-a-half-mile bumpy dirt road is a home comprised of three primary shapes—a pyramid with a glass wall, a right triangle and a trapezoid. This is where bronze sculptor Robert Wick lives, dreams, draws and creates.

Off the grid, far from the cacophony of the city, Wick Way embodies the sculptor’s dream of unifying land, art and architecture, and provides a tranquil, natural setting where ideas and shapes can bubble up in their own time. “Wick Way gives me access to many manifestations of life,” states the Master of the Southwest, who likes to take walks in the surrounding mountains—a place that he says never ceases to bring him ideas and inspiration.

Along the winding road to Wick’s home are some of the “living” sculptures the artist has created. It is the plants and trees that sprout out of and grow off of the artist’s 7- to 15-foot-tall sculptures that render the bronze works “living” and make them unique. Wick likens this relationship to what he sees in the surrounding terrain. “A mountain crevice; dirt, dust, a seed gets in there and it grows, nourished from what’s within the mountain. The same thing happens with my sculptures.”

A suite of Robert Wick’s living bronze sculptures is set among the desert terrain on the artist’s southern Arizona property. Pictured from left are Water Figure, Chinese Circle, Vertical Still, Cornucopia, and Earth Wave.
Though Wick began drawing objects three-dimensionally in first grade and was aware of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture by fourth, he did not begin his professional life as an artist until much later. Born into a newspaper family—his father, Milton, and uncle, Jim, founded Wick Communications in 1926—Wick first studied journalism at Kent State University, graduating with a BS in journalism. But one Christmas, while in his hometown of Niles, Ohio, he went to Woolworth’s and bought some Play-Doh. When his Aunt Doddee saw the clay, she encouraged him to make a portrait sculpture of her husband, Wick’s Uncle Jim. The young journalism student decided to chuck the clay and go for something more enduring.

He sought out Kent State’s art department and had a teacher show him how to make the bust in bronze. When Wick saw and held that first creation, he could not deny the artist within. He went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Kent State and won a prestigious Carl Milles Scholarship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a place Wick says, “Didn’t just bring me an art education, it brought me a landscape.” He left Cranbrook with a master’s degree in fine art, got married, started a family, and began teaching drawing and sculpture at the college level—all while continuing to sculpt his own works at night or on weekends.

Chiricahua, as this 14-foot-tall walking figure is known, features cholla, ocotillo, mescal and prickly pear bursting forth from its bronze body. Many of the plants Robert Wick incorporates have come at the suggestion of his friend and long-time gardener, Lalo Leal.
In 1975, Wick came to Arizona to work part-time at his father’s newspaper in Sierra Vista. It was then that he became enamored with the desert landscape and began buying up the land he now calls home. There, he planted thousands of seedlings. “Watering many of the seedlings by hand was a cathartic process, which drew me more intensely to nature, its magic and wonder. More importantly, I began to discover at least part of the ideas that imbue my artwork today,” he explains.

It was while working on a series of six masks that Wick first came upon the idea of adding living plants to his sculptures. He placed an ivy in the split of the fourth mask. “I saw the ivy as a sign of creativity. From that point on, I could not consider creating sculptures without living plants, trees or vegetation of some kind,” notes the artist. “If you want the plant in this sculpture to live, you have to take care of it—just like this Earth we live on.”

When asked why he works in bronze, the artist replies, “Primarily because I love the organic nature of it and that it’s wonderfully durable. I want my works to inspire people long after I am gone.”

In this close-up of Chiricahua, carved lines emblematic of Robert Wick’s style can be seen. He compares them to layers in Earth’s crust. Wick’s sculptures take anywhere from six weeks to six months to complete from their inception as a pen drawing, to an initial 2- to 3-foot model in bronze, to the full-size work. Wick’s labor-intensive process involves hours of careful sanding, filing, carving and refining. Helping the artist realize his works are his assistant, Justin Herbaugh and fellow artist Phillip Estrada.

This 11-foot-long bronze sculpture entitled Earth Wave “floats above the Earth much like the natural land bridges of northern Arizona and southern Utah,” explains Wick, and features a rust-colored patina.
A crown of spiked yucca protrudes from a tall, lean sculpture known as Mexican Mask.

This model of a recent work entitled Venus de Plantis carries a Japanese garden juniper in the head of the figure, which springs from a bowl filled with periwinkle.
This 12-foot-tall fountain called Spring speaks, in the words of the sculptor, “To the spring of life within each person where the waters of the heart and spirit burst forth"
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