Swords into plowshares

Ebb and Flow, Arthur Dworin

Ebb and Flow, Arthur Dworin

Arthur Dworin’s current constructions on view at Viridian are an exploration, in three dimensions, of forms that have occupied him for many years in his paintings. The organic and geometric shapes that populate his colorful work in the recent past are raised off the surface now and coated with an iron-rich medium that he then rusts to produce a more uniform brown that ranges from sienna to orange. Like Kandinsky, Dworin’s improvisations with form and shape are meant to resonate with his own spiritual explorations, in his case yoga. As he puts it, he hopes that, “The spirit in these works will act as a key to awaken what is already deep within the observer and anew with each viewing, bring a greater awareness of our inner and outer universe.” One of his collectors, Peter Selz, former curator of painting and sculpture for MoMA, has said of his paintings, “Abstract as they are, they bring a new sense of visual order to organic forms of nature.”

After the Viridian board meeting a week ago, I had a chance to ask Dworin a few questions about his work.

How do you build up the surface exactly?

There’s something called Magic Sculpt which is a safe, two-part putty and it hardens like a rock . You can carve it.

What do you use for a support?

Masonite, with one-by-two poplar. The surface is gesso-ed and then there are areas taped off before I put in the texture with Golden molding paste and Golden matte gel. The blocks are pumice and then there are areas where I put the paint on and shred urethane foam into it to get the texture. Finally, I spread on a high-iron content coating.

Which rusts.

Yes, I call these Swords to Ploughshares because it looks like rusted iron. I worked on these for about six months. I started with a small piece that didn’t have this level of relief. I spent a lot of time doing sculpture as a boy, about nine or ten years old and I loved carving, making shapes.

When did you start making art?

As a young student, I actually took classical life sculpture where you use calipers and make measurements with terra cotta as a medium. We used tools similar to what are used for carving. I carved with those wonderful Italian sculpture tools. The last one I did was Remarkable Journey. It has an almost Pacifica feel to it. Almost like Maori artwork. Very oceanic. In these new pieces I try to marry what’s new and what’s ancient.

What did you study in art school?

I started art school when I was seven. In my first class they were playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. They said just take the colors and interpret what you hear and it was taught by this tall thin woman who looked like a Modigliani. She had this very old face and her hair pulled back and striking blue eyes. We did exercises like, take charcoal and then cover the paper with it and take your chamois cloth and start pulling out images. And I started drawing from the figure when I was 15. I revisited it in the 90s, did a lot of sketch groups.

When I was in high school I did a portrait of a girl who went to the Institute of Chicago and she studied with a student of Hans Hoffman. She said “I showed the teacher that portrait you did of me and he asked if I’d studied with Hoffman.” There was a lot of push-pull in it. When I was in art school, they taught us to use warm and dark to establish a plane and create a sense of a things receding with color. One teacher said take a three-by-five card and cut a square out of the center and place it on the edge of a figure and see which color is in front and which is in back. You can bet the color around the edge is moving forward to make the edge of the figure curve back.

I went to a school in Detroit, the Society of Arts and Crafts. Then I got a summer scholarship at the Art Students League in Woodstock. I did a lot of abstract painting. I went off to Mexico and painted in Mexico by myself for a while. Then I came back here and got into scenic art.

That’s been your day job, basically for most of your career.

Yes. I took the test to get into the Scenic Artist’s Union. It represents everything from house painting to painting backdrops for films. I did a lot of work on props. That’s where I first made faux rust. For props in films. I worked on a lot of television stuff.

I did scenic art for thirty years. I was always using many of the same skills. I didn’t lose my sense of alchemy. On most jobs I had to think of materials in an alchemic way. I often had to make something look as if five layers of paint had peeled off. Some of what I’m doing with this work is just chemistry. I actually rust it. I could paint it to make it look like rust, but it’s actually rust. High iron content in the surface. I use a good rust-inhibiting primer so the rust doesn’t soak down through the surface.

How did you think to start doing this?

I had a studio in Yonkers and there was an artist who was making these art sculpture speakers. Some of them had this finish on them. He showed me how to do it. The shapes and the designs have some similarity to my earlier work, but because of the texture there isn’t so much in reference to sky and space; this is earth. It’s different and a departure but part of the same kind of thread. I’m still including the symbol for DNA in my work but I carve it as a ribbon here.


1 Response to “Swords into plowshares”

  1. Robin Sherman

    What a fascinating piece of writing about a compelling body of work! Wonderful to see this artist’s progression from 2 to 3 dimensions and back again throughout his life.
    Dworin clearly has an innate gift for the beautiful rendering of reality.

    We viewers always want to know how artworks came to be, but we rarely get as much insight as you’ve managed to achieve in this interview.

    Thank you, Dave Dorsey. Thank you, Arthur Dworin.