The Rapidian

The Seeds of Labor: an ArtPrize Artist Profile of Gene Sowles

/Gene Sowles

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Two years ago in a brief but tumultuous visit, hurricane Ike came to southern Ohio. On one day in particular hurricane force winds wreaked a terrible vengeance upon a large tree in Gene Sowles yard. Unbeknownst to the storm or Gene this act of nature planted the seed of an idea. It was not until the tree had to be cut down due to safety concerns that the seed began to germinate. Cutting down the tree himself, Gene allowed an idea to take root and flourish: with his own manual labor and the by-products it created he would shape "Grunt."

For Sowles this experiment in using products from one's own environment to create is all about seeing hard work expressed through the physical act of creating with one's hands. "Grunt" is not just a product of Gene's environment but also each environment it has been displayed in. Gene explains, "It's form is dictated by its environment. It has been set up differently each time it's been displayed.” At its ArtPrize location it's formation was changed several times due to the unevenness of the ground and concerns for the safety of the public.

Located in Bostwick Commons on Grand Rapids Community College's campus, "Grunt" stands as a mesh between the concrete behemoths of the buildings and the trees that line the walkways. Three towers of concrete and wood stand five foot, ten inches tall, the exact height of the artist. “I had no intention of making them this height. It just worked out that way in the end,” Gene remarks as he leans on one of the pillars. "Grunt" is made up of three stacks of cubed concrete, each with a piece of the original felled tree jutting out of one side. The concrete cubes have imprints of the many logs used in the process, as well as various grass clippings and wood refuse from his yard that Gene worked into the concrete mix.

When viewed from a distance "Grunt" appears to be nothing more than concrete cubes with wood pieces stuck in them, but as you come closer you begin to see the meticulous care that has been put into each individual cube, each piece of wood, and the texture of the dried concrete. This sculpture can only be appreciated fully by an up close and personal viewing.

ArtPrize 2010 comes at a new starting point in Gene Sowles' life, not only as an artist but as a person. Having recently completed a Master's degree in Sculpture, his immediate attention has now turned to teaching sculpture at the college level. “I am at a point in my life where I feel I have all this knowledge and experience about art and life. And now I need to pass it on to others,” Gene says with the shine of purpose in his eyes. With employment opportunities scarce and sculpture teaching jobs virtually non-existent, Gene is looking to move to the east coast and more opportunities. When asked what he would do with the prize money should he win, Gene responds, ”I've got two daughters. I have bills to pay.” As a parent myself I understand this statement all too well.

Still, this contest is not about winning for Gene. “I don't make art with the intent that everyone will like it. It's about getting my point of view out through my artwork.” In the future he plans to focus on large outdoor sculptures displayed in metropolitan areas of large cities. ArtPrize is a good beginning, with a great public setting for any and all to come and see his work.

"Grunt" embodies hard work in every way possible. From its weight of nearly half a ton to the size of each pillar, this piece represents dedication and physical labor. If you want to see an artist's view point visibly stated in their work, "Grunt" is the work for you. Whether admiring the sheer amount of physical labor it took Gene to produce each cube, the number of hours he spent mixing his environment into each individual part, or the effort he put into each set up due to the difficulty and weight of his sculpture, "Grunt" does not disappoint. When I get close to "Grunt" I can almost feel the strain in my muscles and hear the grunts that Gene let out as he formed concrete and wood into a vision. If you wish to witness this accomplishment, "Grunt" can be viewed at Bostwick Commons on Grand Rapids Community College's downtown campus, at 143 Bostwick NE. 

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