Savagings, 2017. Concrete, roller chain, steel, dye. 26" x 36" x 36"
SAM PASAPANE's concrete and steel sculptures range from dense, heavy masses to meandering, curvy networks. Visual references to both urban infrastructure and nature sit comfortably next to one another in her process and material-driven practice. Sam earned her BFA at Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her MFA at Rhode Island School of Design, where she is now an Adjunct Professor. She was an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and Franconia Sculpture Park (2010-2011). She has exhibited in To the Moon (2016) at The WURKS (Providence, Rhode Island) and as part of the City @ Casket program, established as an urban extension of Franconia Sculpture park at Casket Arts Community Complex (Minneapolis). Sam lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You mention in your statement that your
grandfather was a steel worker. How does personal history and history in
general inform the work you make in steel?
Sam Pasapane: People usually call me Sam, not Samantha. The reason is because my grandfather also went by Sam Pasapane. We were very close, he taught me how to throw a ball and would play catch with me and shoot hoops. Never once did he tell me that I couldn’t play baseball or basketball because I was a girl. I was a catcher just like him, played basketball just like him and was a swimmer just like him. Then I went to an art college—not like him.
I felt some loss of connection; but one day I walked into the metal shop and finally found my place and my people. When I told my grandfather that I was learning to weld and using steel as a material, I found out that he worked at U.S. Steel, which I never knew. He was the type of person that loved to tell stories about his family growing up, not work and not the war. I was amazed and it felt right. In my second year of grad school my grandfather passed away, which was really hard. My use of steel had been receiving a lot of push back in grad school. But at that time, my need to stay connected to him and my love for the material kept me working with this material.
Unfolding, 2013. fabricated steel. 37”x 29 ½” x 38½”
OPP: What kind of push back?
SP: Some people don’t consider steel a contemporary material. I have been told that Richard Serra ruined the use of steel for artists, and that no one but him can use it anymore. So, the critique I have received is how can my art be contemporary, if my material is not? The word Postmodern got thrown around a lot. This criticism was both frustrating and helpful. It forced me to question and then to justify my material choice, while recognizing that some people will always have criticism, and I have to make art that is true to me.
The history of steel is important as well. The advent of affordable production of steel marks the rise of society as we know it today. It made the railroad possible, which pushed the expansion of this country. It enabled the construction of the major cities; skyscrapers could not stand without it. The rise of production of steel marks the beginning of the rise of American economy and America as a powerhouse. The end of steel production marks a time of transition, and economic instability. I don’t hold steel production on up a pedestal; the production process is dirty and America’s expansion was genocide on the native people. But it is deeply connected to us; it is both a literal and metaphorical foundation of our society.
OPP: Can you talk about rendering soft-seeming organic forms in
hard materials like steel and concrete? Have you ever been inclined to
work with a soft material?
Inflations Inflamed, 2014. Forged steel, silicon rubber. 90" x 50" x 56"
SP: I actually do work with
silicone, which is a newer venture for me. I take molds off of my
manipulated steel forms and then cast them in silicone rubber, coloring
them to look like steel. I’ll insert these sections back into the steel
structure. With my sculpture Inflations Inflamed, there is an air
compressor in the base of the sculpture, so parts of the sculpture
slowly inflate and deflate on a timer. This is new, I’m still working
out how I feel about it.
Other than silicone, I have made attempts to use soft materials… a result from being in grad school. To a person who doesn’t have the experience working with steel it would seem that I could create sculptures faster using softer materials. But I am able to work intuitively with steel. It is very direct: you heat it, squish it, weld it, done. Concrete is similar, you can cast it or build with it like clay, but instead of having to fire it you just let it cure. When I have tried using softer materials, I hit a wall. It was more tedious to get materials to behave the way I wanted, and attaching them together is frustrating. I do like to create artwork that is durable. I have been given the suggestion to just “dip tube socks in resin,” and if I wanted to make artwork involving socks maybe I would… who knows I might one day.
My reasoning for pushing these rigid materials into soft-seeming forms is that these materials have the physical capability to do so, which usually goes unseen. Most people observe these materials when they are in their solid state. I manipulate them when they are in-between being a liquid and a solid, and capture that physical state. I’m interested how much I can exert myself onto these materials to bring them back to a “natural” form. Steel and concrete both derive from nature and have been manipulated by man to be rigid, industrial materials.
I Squish ‘em, and Stack ‘em, and Squish ‘em (detail), 2014. Forged mild steel. 66-1/2" x 20- 3/4" x 20 3/4"
OPP: I see images that evoke nature—tree stumps in some early work and, of course, the pothole pieces—as well as references to urban infrastructure, as in Inflations Inflamed
(2014). Are your abstracted forms more inspired by things in the
physical world or by the processes you use to manipulate your materials?
SP: My entry into sculpture was definitely influenced by nature. I remember looking at natural formations and thinking, “man, art can never capture that beauty.” It literally took tens of thousands of years for some of these landscapes to look how they do. But I tried anyways, creating objects from man made materials that were originally from the earth. I was interested in how we interact with them, walk around them, touch them and feel overwhelmed by them.
But over time, I have definitely become more influenced by the processes used to manipulate materials, which is a result of becoming more skilled at my craft. Conceptually, I’m still influenced by organic forms that exist, but I have been thinking more about urban infrastructure. My hometown is a small city in New Jersey, outside of New York City. When I was growing up, the town was depressed; stores were moving out to the malls and most restaurants were leaving. We were left with banks and some restaurants. When I was in college, bars and stores started popping up. And then the construction began, and it has not stopped. At first this was uplifting because more people were coming to town, and it was coming back to life. Every time I go back to visit my parents something has been torn down, and something new has been put up. Buildings are getting taller—the town is literally getting darker from the buildings casting shadows. There is something alluring about a town that is full of life: people walking everywhere, eating outside, enjoying the town. But when will it end? What if the economy of the town tanks again? What happens when the new apartment buildings become dated? Will they be allowed to become run down? The best part of my town growing up was the cultural diversity in the town, I know that will be pushed out if this need for expansion doesn’t stop. So, this is something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.
Into the Pothole, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 54 1/2" x 24 1/2" x 40"
OPP: A practical question: how do you store your large, heavy works?
SP: Hah, yeah that is a good question. I have learned to make my sculpture so that they come apart and can be stored in sections; with the intention that I can manage to carry a section by myself. My studio is big enough that I store my work there.
This did not happen with Savagings; it does come apart into two sections, but it’s like 300 pounds. So even in two sections I need help moving it. In my brilliance, I made the perfect form that is a pain in the ass to grab. Your hands just slide; there’s no where to get a hand hold on it. . . ugh! I do this to myself.
I live in a postindustrial town in northwestern Massachusetts because it allows me to be able to afford a big enough studio to make my work. So I don’t live in New York City because I can’t afford it. There’s no way I could get a space large enough to make what I want to make. I do feel isolated sometimes, but luckily I teach sculpture at a couple different colleges out of the area, so I get to leave. . . and interact with artists
Bridging the Gap, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 7'-5" x 16'-8" x 9'-4"
OPP: Does the size or weight ever inhibit what you make or where you exhibit?
SP: As far as showing work, I entered the world of sculpture via public sculpture, and I managed to get a couple of them to be permanent, thankfully. My work has downsized since I make work to be shown indoors now, so that is part of it. The other part of it is practicality, I will make big work again if I get paid to do so and if the sculpture stays at the intended location. I am more restricted in terms of the location because shipping is so expensive. But I do have a truck, so if I can drive it then I can show there.. But generally, I don’t feel too limited for where I can show because my sculptures do come apart in sections. However with the new series I’m working on, if the gallery space is not on the first floor and there’s no elevator, I would be hesitant to exhibit there. Like I said, Savagings is a heavy one.
Extinguished, 2013. Concrete, steel rod, steel washers graphite. Variable dimensions.
OPP: Savagings (2017) is my favorite piece. I love the
combination of roller chain with dyed concrete, and I’m a sucker for a
good representation of a void. How do you think about the void in this
SP: Thanks. It’s my first sculpture in awhile that I’ve been happy with. The idea of the void was the impetus for this sculpture. I love voids as well; I am continuing to use the void for the current series I’m working on. I was making more linear work before, and I wanted to break that structure. I started thinking about this sculpture with my hometown in mind. When does the construction and development stop? For an outsider driving through, it reads as a really nice urban town, full of businesses and happy people. There is a macro and micro view of the situation, both sexy and disturbing.
I was thinking of machinery, the caterpillars ripping up the earth, razing buildings. At first I wanted the void to be made with caterpillar treads, which led me to using roller chain because the treads run on top of roller chain. I will also admit that I was creating this sculpture during the presidential election. So at the same time that I am thinking about the gentrification of my home, I was drawing mouths and sculpting them out of clay. These two ideas fused in the creation of this sculpture. I’ve been told that it reads as being of the body, and we are living in the age of the sphincter, so that’s appropriate. I feel that we are standing on the edge of a precipice and we don’t know where we will end up when we get to the other side.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.