Given that Grand Rapids’ iconic symbol, La Grand Vitesse, is a sculpture, it should come as no surprise that a sculptor can thrive here.
That’s especially true if you’re Andrew Kline and you get to work at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. As preparator and assistant conservator, Kline helps install and maintain the sculptures at what he calls a “gem of the U.S.” He also maintains the downtown LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana.
Kline said he “can’t emphasize enough” how lucky he is to be where he is, meeting his idols that come through and doing something he’s passionate about at “the place for outdoor sculpture” in Michigan.
There is some serendipitous timing involved, with Kline originally taking an internship at the sculpture park that happened to line up with a full-time position opening, but he’s more than proven himself then and now. He’s now had his own sculptures installed in Elk Rapids, Crystal Mountain, Grand Rapids and more. Cedar Springs just bought one of his pieces, Springs Eternal, as a permanent installation near its amphitheater.
While walking around the gardens, Revue talked with Kline about how his sculptures come to life and what inspires him.
How did you get started with sculpture, a fairly unique art form?
In the summers, I always worked at a gravel pit in Kalamazoo. That’s where I learned how to use a torch and how to weld. On a whim, I took my first sculpture class at Western Michigan University and they said, ‘Here are the tools we’re going to use’ and it was a torch and a welder. It was the first time I was ahead of the rest of the class.
I could really relate to the professor, Al Lavergne. He had a passion for sculpture and he didn’t look like any of my former art teachers — he had steel-toe boots and wore leather and worked with fire and electricity. I really credit him for saving my life and giving me a purpose again, giving me the passion for sculpture.
Now that you’re in it, what do you like about the process of sculpture?
The materials that I choose, steel is my number-one choice. It’s created to stay true and stay strong. If I can manipulate that, I find that really empowering. I can take an I-beam that’s not meant to be manipulated and harness that and make it my own. So I like to use industrious material. It’s not easy at all. It’s hot, it’s smelly, it’s dangerous.
Working with all those heavy metals, do you listen to a lot of heavy metal?
Do you have any favorites?
Anything fast and loud. I like extreme things — you know, fast cars. I like stuff that gets my blood pumping.
How does your creative process work?
The majority of sculptures that I make have no preliminary vision or inspiration. It’s an intimate dialogue that I have with the material. So I go in the garage, I sit down with the material and I sort of put my hands on it and let it speak to me. More times than not, it tells me what it wants to be. It’s really spur of the moment. Sometimes I feel like I’m along for the ride, like it’s the sculpture creating itself.
If you make an artistic decision, how long does it take to execute that?
One of the things about steel that I like is that it’s immediate. You weld a piece of steel to another and it’s done. You can grind it, you can paint it, but as far as the building process, it’s done. Something that differs greatly from steel is bronze. You either do it first in wax or clay, and then you have to make a mold, and then you have to pour the bronze, and then you have to break the mold apart, and then you have to remove all the screws, and then you worry about the finish, and then the patina — it’s just a never-ending process. But with steel, bzzt, it’s done. You can keep up good momentum working with it.
What are some of your artistic inspirations?
The number one is God and his nature. Basically anything that any artist can come up with, you can probably find it already done in nature. Any form, any symmetry, it’s all been done before. There’s nothing new, you can just show new ways of it being done.
The idea of the heavy metal sculptures in some ways feels so different from nature.
It does, but if I’m able to take an I-beam and make it feel light, I consider that a successful sculpture. That’s what makes it so hard.
We’ve mentioned the Cedar Springs sculpture. Do you have any recent projects that you’re proud of?
I have a sculpture that I just installed in the Elk Rapids Walk of Art, right on the lake. It’s bent I-beams all bound together in the middle with rebar. It’s called Bouquet, so it’s like a bouquet of flowers. There’s also an upcoming exhibition in Lowell that’s called the International Society of Experimental Artists. Every year, they pick one spot in the country and this year it’s in Lowell. I’ve got a piece there (Captivates) that’s actually a concrete block made out of wood. Then I took that carving and placed it on sun-sensitive paper and left it out in the sun for a bit and then you develop that in water and it seals the image, so it’s a shadow of that. You look at the carving and your brain says ‘concrete block,’ then you get closer and realize it’s made out of wood. It’s an echo of that shape, then I took it one step further and there’s the shadow of the shape captured on paper. It’s like an echo of an echo.
Is there anything you have your eyes on for the future?
I’m just loving being in Grand Rapids. It’s an awesome place for art, especially if you think about sculpture. Two of my favorite artists are Alexander Calder and Mark di Suvero, the tire swing sculpture (Motu Viget) creator. So to be in a town that embraces the arts, I’m very lucky to be here.
What do you want people to see in your art?
I’d much rather raise questions than give an answer. I’d much rather the viewer find themselves in what they’re looking at than me tell them what they’re looking at. I don’t want to tell them, ‘This is what it is.’ There are no wrong answers.
Find Kline’s work at heavymetalsculpture.com or on Instagram at heavymetalsculpture.
Left to Right: Springs Eternal, Captives, Bouquet. By Andrew Kline