Down among the industrial warehouses in Gowanus…
…bordering on the canal…
…is an old vacuum cleaner bag factory.
Today, there’s something very special going on inside:
This is the studio of artist Tom Otterness.
Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve almost certainly run into Otterness’s sculptures on the streets of New York (or in many other cities across the world). My favorite installation in NYC is his 14th St./8th Avenue subway station piece, which took 10 years to complete.
(photo by flickr user Nick Sherman)
Otterness’s work is always cute and whimsical…
(photo by flicker user DogFromSpace)
…wildly imaginative yet executed with simplicity…
(photo by flicker user DogFromSpace)
…and always slyly subversive – a sort of Walt Disney by way of Kurt Vonnegut.
(photo by flicker user M. V. Jantzen)
A tour of Otterness’ studio is being offered this weekend as part of the Open House New York program, and I was lucky enough to snag a sneak peek. For those who aren’t able to go this year, hopefully this will give you a look into the world of Otterness.
First thing you notice when you walk in: there are Otterness guys EVERYWHERE.
Pieces typically come to life as small, hand-made models (see the little guys above and below). A mold is created from these, enlargements are made if necessary, and finally, a bronze version is cast (you can find a far more detailed explanation here).
While some of the models were only a few inches in size…
…others couldn’t even fit in the room!
The leg pictured above is part of a playground Otterness is currently designing.
Pretty damn cool. Here’s a finished Otterness playground from 2007:
Meanwhile, the playground head was stashed in a corner:
When I noticed this, my first thoughts were admittedly of that giant penny Batman keeps in the Batcave.
Actually, this is part of a private installation for someone’s backyard (er, not Bruce Wayne’s).
On the opposite wall is a brainstorming sketch created by Otterness and the client, explaining some of the philosophies involved.
Near the front wall is his drawing desk…
…where Otterness’ creations first come to life on paper.
Next to it is a self-portrait sculpture of Otterness (which was sort of creeping me out as I was taking pictures after the tour – I must have looked over at this thing a dozen times thinking someone was in the room watching me):
Awesome prototypes for an upcoming installation at San Francisco General Hospital:
These two guys are the models for what will be Otterness’ first stone-carved sculptures (remember the size for when we get into the workshop):
Another model – note the guy stealing money from a slit in the money bag:
One of the things I love most about Otterness’ work are the unique colors he brings out in the bronze, achieved by chemical treatment and heat (no paint is used). Below, an early sculpture much darker than his recent work:
This model for a playground was created using a 3-d printer:
“Mother With Children” is also destined for San Francisco General Hospital, though it will be 8-feet tall when it arrives.
A few pieces of art on the walls: this pillow by street artist De La Vega…
…and a really unusual mask, among others:
As for the punching bag…
…and barbell, they’re not art – just what Otterness does for fun.
We then went into one of the workshops…
Below, a “negative mold”:
A filled mold, clamped tight:
Another addition to the hospital installation (my favorite):
Remember those little guys I said were to be his first stone-carved pieces? These are an enlargement of those, produced here in the workshop (and they’re just going to get bigger):
Tools of the trade:
Finally, we took a look in his storage area:
Lots of molds…
…and even finished pieces:
Walking around, I suddenly had a Night at the Museum moment: wouldn’t it be cool if all these little people suddenly came to life around me? They all seem so happy and innocent and fun…
Except, I have a sneaking suspicion that after I left the studio, I’d find that my wallet was missing.