January 30, 2020 | By Amanda Sieradzki
Inside the World of Public Art
with Mark Aeling
Through March 7
On January 24, Florida CraftArt launched the Inside the World of Public Art exhibition which displays the monumental contributions of eight area public artists. . . Mark Aeling, Xenobia Bailey, Janet Echelman, Heidi Lippman, Nathan Mabry, James Simon, Catherine Woods and Michelle Weinberg.
Curated by Ann Wykell and co-sponsored by Creative Pinellas, the exhibition features studio tours, talks and workshops. Master sculptor Mark Aeling will speak about his journey into public art at 6 pm on February 4.
Aeling is the owner of MGA Sculpture Studio and serves as board president of the Warehouse Arts District Association. A major voice in advocating for the arts community, Aeling has been actively involved in shaping the landscape of St. Petersburg and supporting the creative endeavors of the local arts community.
His work, Gladiolus Blossom, is a featured piece in the Florida CraftArt exhibition. The 10,000 pounds of stainless steel was constructed for the entrance of the St. Petersburg Police Department and represents an ancient flower that gladiators wore into battle.
The Creative Pinellas Arts Coast Journal spoke with Aeling about his recent commissions for the Northern Colorado Law Enforcement Training Center and the new St. Petersburg Pier.
What can we look forward to at the Florida CraftArt exhibition?
They have made an effort to show how the creative process is generated — how it evolves, how skill is refined and how that refining of skill is reflected in the public art projects that the different artists have executed.
So, for people like me — I am a process freak — I really like how [the exhibit] shows that problem-solving component which is an aspect which I am particularly fond of.
What are challenges you’re working through now with your current projects?
I have learned to think like a structural engineer because when I’m conceiving an idea, the more closely tied to that process I am, the truer my end product will be to my original intent.
I have found it necessary for the way that I work to have an idea of what the structural integrity of the ideas are, so I can conceive within the boundaries of what engineering will allow. My favorite part of that is the problem solving. To have an idea and to manifest it — and the challenge of what does it take to do that.
Gladiolus Blossom is the culmination of many other iterations of pieces that have been an investigation of how to use materials as efficiently as possible. And to do that really efficiently on a large scale is very complicated.
The piece I am making for Colorado, [Acumen] is a progression of that way of working. The end concept for is a sculptural rendition of an ammonite, a fossil of an ancient sea creature that is the predecessor of the nautilus.
I did a lot of research into training and focused in on this idea of training as being a repetitive process that hones skill, so your responses to conditions become programmed or instinctual. I found metaphor or parable in the way an ammonite or nautilus grows. They have these chambers that grow layer upon layer and relate to something that fascinates me — the inherent math that is found in nature, the Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio.
The project for the pier [First Flight] is its own engineering challenge in that we are making a life-size version of an airplane — and we don’t want it to fly.
It’s a unique challenge to stay as true as possible to that historic object but to manifest it in a material that is very durable and will allow it to be around even in the worst of conditions.
Oftentimes the more you restrict the variables the more creative the solutions get.
Why have you chosen sculpture as your medium?
It is one of those things I had a very visceral connection to at a very early age. I still vividly remember an experience when I was eight years old in third grade in an art class playing with clay and making a small playground-like object. I had a transformative experience when doing that where I lost track of my body and physical space and was transported into that place where scale disappeared. I felt connected to something greater than myself in that process.
It’s a sensation that’s been repeated throughout my life when I’m making things and it’s something I want to experience as frequently as possible.
So, why create public art? What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
For me, sculpture is a visual form of communication that communicates an understanding of an experience that transcends the everyday set of experiences. So I want to communicate to the viewer something that makes them feel connected to something greater than themselves.
Explore Mark Aeling’s work here
You can hear Mark Aeling talk about his inspirations and
creative process on Arts In, the Creative Pinellas podcast