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Creating a Flying Boy with Kinetic Sculpture

Icarus Ascends by John Carollo

Originally posted January 9, 2013.

One of the more surprising elements of The Figure As Vehicle at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts is overhead –Icarus Ascends, a dramatic aluminum, stainless steel and painted silk sculpture flying above the other artwork. Here is a bit of the story behind its creation.

Watermedia artist John Carollo has long had the goal of combining his distinctive painting style with kinetic sculpture to create large-scale pieces for atriums, hospitals, public spaces, transit stations and the like. With the premiere of Icarus Ascends at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, he has now completed his first physical example of how this concept could be realized.

An atrium space such as this is ideal for a floating kinetic sculpture

“When I started working with silk, I knew it held the potential for the large-scale constructions I had been visualizing, but there was no way to really convey the complexity of the idea in a sketch. It would never be able to capture the richness of color or ever-changing nature of the design, when viewed from different angles. I was going to have to actually build one for people to understand my idea,” says John.

When touring the gallery space with Marsha again several months before the show, the ceiling height was noted, and while something on this scale had not originally been considered for the event, John felt this was the time to attempt it. Then began a three-month journey to bring the concept to reality.

In order to work with the show theme, the piece had to be based on a human figure, but also needed to be abstract enough in form that it would not require a huge leap of the imagination for viewers to understand how a creation made of the same materials could be shaped in other manners. Perhaps a flowing aquatic animal, geometric shape, a continuous twisting ribbon, a cascading spiral, etc.

The first step was sourcing a material that would provide an attractive appearance as a base structure, be strong enough to hold a form for a full 16 feet of length, and also be as light as possible, so as not to put undue strain on its ceiling mounts. 1″ wide aluminum strips were found to be the perfect solution. Used in two different depths – thicker for points requiring the most structural support and thinner for maximum lightness and bendability. In a marked difference from John’s previous two pieces, the silk-based The Reach from 2012 and paper-based The Rapture from 2010, the structure in the new work was conceived as a full part of the sculptural form, as opposed to primarily being a base support system for overlaid material.

The Fall of Icarus

When considering subject matter for the piece, John quickly turned to his fondness for Greek Mythology and quickly settled on the idea of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. His father Daedalus was a master engineer and built sets of wings for the two of them, allowing them to fly. He carefully cautioned his son not to fly too near the sun, as the feathers in the wings were held on with wax. Icarus, thrilled with the feeling of flight and becoming overconfident soared too far above his father, causing the wings to melt and him to plummet into the sea where he perished. It’s a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of excessive cockiness, which can so often lead to ruin.

In the artwork, we see Icarus ascending higher, with one wing raised above the other and becoming noticeably hotter. This coloration is also present in the head and upper torso, while the lower extremities, still a safe distance from the sun remain cooler.

Initial Icarus Ascends Sketch 1

Initial sketches were created, with some key conceptual ideas for how the figure would be constructed and points of emphasis mapped out. Some may find the lack of detail in sketches for what would seem to be such a complicated project surprising, but this approach is consistent with John’s traditional “controlled chaos” watercolor approach. He draws just enough information to give him a visual framework, and then lets the rest of the piece happen in real time, reacting to the material as he works with it. While some of the details evolved, and the finished piece is certainly more intricate than the sketches, the overall form is quite similar to what was first doodled.

Bending Aluminum

A several week process began of cutting and shaping aluminum, and fastening it together with many, many stainless steel screws. The main form and torso of the figure is created from a spiraling helix shape (think DNA strand, or the inside of certain seashells) and numerous strips are twisted in places to provide enhanced appearance/light refraction, as well as needed stiffening and strengthening to reduce sag and flex.

The next phase was silk painting, which spanned many weeks, with large sections of fabric completed based on general ideas of what sort of details and coloration was needed for various areas of the sculpture. All the painting was captured on video on will be added to John’s YouTube Channel in time-lapse format soon.

The Completed Metallic Form of Icarus

Once the material was steam-set for permanence and brilliance of color, the challenging step of choosing which painted areas would be most effective, cutting the fabric into shapes that would continue the dynamic flow of the sculptural aluminum, while filling out the figurative shape, and finally sewing and attaching the pieces began. In another evolution of approach from The Reach, wire was sewn into the edges of all fabric as it was being hemmed. Though this slowed down the sewing process and posed its own set of challenges, it gave the fabric the ability to be shaped and supported independent of the metal structure, so the two different materials could sometimes join and sometimes dance together from a distance. One of the main benefits of this was that more of the intricately twisted aluminum could remain visible as a great contrast to the colorful silk. The wings in particular have metal mainly at the top edges, with the rest of the fabric shaped by internal wire, giving them an extremely light, flowing and airy appearance.  The top of the sculpture has relatively little silk in relation to other parts. This is by design to allow as much light as possible to flow through to the underside, which is the area most seen by viewers as the piece hangs from the ceiling.

Painting the Silk

With a completed size of 13′ x 16′, Icarus Ascends is also light enough to be carried by one person, making this sort of artistic construction suitable for numerous applications and installation locations. The finished sculpture is suspended from the Art Center ceiling by thin steel cables and tilts slightly upward to emphasize how the boy is rising in the air.

The creation of Icarus has been a fascinating journey for John and he is planing future uses of this unique combination of materials in various sizes and creative forms.

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John Carollo’s Watercolor, “Emily’s Light” is the Poster for the 56th Annual Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival

FEBRUARY 18, 2015

WINTER PARK, FL  Orlando/Winter Park-based abstract watercolor artist John Carollo’s new work, “Emily’s Light” is the poster image for the 56th Annual Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.

Created specifically for the poster and as a signature image for the annual Festival, the painting is a unique interpretation of a beloved Winter Park icon, the Central Park-situated, Albin Polasek sculpture, “Emily,” a piece which holds special meaning to Carollo and his family.

Brought to life by the artist’s distinctive Controlled Chaos painting style, where the water and paint move freely to create unusual atmospheric effects, the work aims to help the viewer feel the sensation of being near the edge of the fountain on a warm, sunlit afternoon in the park.

Officially unveiled to the general public during a ceremony at the historic Casa Feliz home in Downtown Winter Park on February 5, posters and other items featuring the image will be available for purchase at the Festival, Thursday, March 20 – Sunday, March 22, 2015.

WATCH THE PAINTING COME TO LIFE

Creation of the painting, from blank sheet to finished piece can viewed on the artist’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/nakedeye32801.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

John Carollo began studying Watercolor in college at the University of North Texas under the
instruction of the internationally renowned artist Rob Erdle. Having initially approached the medium with a goal of producing realistic works, a summer study trip to Europe quickly cured those impulses. During the course of the journey, and continuing upon his return, John’s work took on an increasingly expressive, stylistic flair, meant to convey the mood, emotion, and essence of a scene rather than a literal interpretation of what the eyes might be recording. His loose, free-flowing style allows the water and paint to often move on its own with minor guidance, in a technique he calls Controlled Chaos. The end result showcases watercolor’s unique properties of translucency and atmospheric effect.

Since 2005, John has shown his work extensively in numerous venues in Texas, Georgia and the Central Florida area, including the CityArts Factory, Maitland Art Center, and Mount Dora Center for the Arts, as well as through collaboration with Voci modern dance company. In both 2007 and 2012 he was awarded prestigious United Arts of Central Florida Artist Development Grants, for his work with large-scale watercolor (over 6’) and 3D kinetic sculpture. The latter area has been a continuing source of exploration for the artist, with his work evolving from shaped paper and wire constructions to very large suspended pieces created from hand-painted silk, twisted aluminum and stainless steel. The largest of these to date at over 13’ x 16’, Icarus Ascends, premiered in 2013 and was designed for expansive atrium and transit center public art spaces.

Beginning in 2010, much of John’s creative energy has gone into The Figure As Vehicle, a travelling two-person collaborative exhibition with sculptor Marsha De Broske. Containing nearly 50 works by the two artists, all featuring the human figure in various interpretations, the show portrays the body as a vehicle for conveying messages to the viewer through mood, contemplation, personal connection and understanding. Ever-changing, the project highlights both artists’ ability to capture the essence of motion in their work, and has to-date been shown six times throughout Florida and Georgia at galleries, colleges and centers for the arts.

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival is one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most prestigious juried outdoor art festivals, consistently rated among the top shows by Sunshine Artist and American Style magazines. In 2013 and 2014 it was voted America’s Best Juried Fine Art Fair by Art Fair Calendar.com readers. Each year more than 350,000 visitors enjoy the show.

Every year about 1,100 artists from around the world applied for entry and an independent panel of judges selected 225 national and international artists to attend the show. The National Endowment for the Arts, The White House, Congress and many others have lauded the Festival for promoting art and art education in Central Florida. An all volunteer board of directors runs the annual Festival, now celebrating its 55th year.

The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival was started by a handful of enthusiasts as a community project to benefit local artists and art lovers. The first festival was held on Park Avenue in March 1960. The festival featured original works of art and, after being advertised for just three weeks before the opening, drew 90 exhibiting artists. Over the next decade, the festival grew to over 600 artists and was spread out over Park Avenue from Fairbanks Avenue to Canton Avenue and on all cross streets. For the past 30 years or so, the festival has been contained solely in the park area and currently features 225 artists and 3 emerging artists. A loving art community has created and nurtured a successful festival that looks forward to another 50 years in Central Park.

LEARN AND CONNECT

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