Bernard Hosey is a steel sculptor working globally from his studio in the Methow Valley. His work has been exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in Manhattan and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian.
Ray Johnston: What led you to work in steel?
Bernard Hosey: I didn’t have to learn it. On my dad’s side of the family, blacksmithing goes all the way back to Ireland, Spain, Damascus. It was a natural thing for me to do.
I’m familiar with the modes of your work that involve towers made from three or four shapes, and I’m familiar with your spheres. Have you always been working with these forms?
When I first started seriously working, it was with body jewelry adornment, but it got really big. A six-foot earring—it’s now hanging on a building in Wisconsin. I was exploring the material, seeing what I could do with it. I think my first sculpture dealt with directional thrust.
That was a kind of theme?
Yes, for a long time, I was working with directional compositions—reaching vertically or horizontally…until the spheres.
Yes, how did the spheres come around?
Union Carbide has a scrap yard, and I was rooting around. I found these dies that were each portions of a sphere, not very large. I started pressing the dies into spheres. They were quite lumpy, but compelling. Spheres are natural forms with feminine and masculine energy. Everything is a sphere. Spheres are the first things we play with. People relate to them.
You seem to add meaning or transform that shape into something people think about in additional ways.
I go to the essence of it. Each sphere is different. My ultimate goal is to be the grand master of spheres. I started in 2003 and have made 80. They are in China and all over the United States.
What is your process like? You start with this simple form and find ways to communicate complicated ideas with it. Some of your spheres have a surface character, but there is something implied about what’s underneath; with others, the surface is only implied. How do you get to these expressions?
When I start a sphere…I just see it in my head. It becomes three-dimensional when I do the armature for it. The sphere is defined, has a circumference, a volume. And on that surface, I pick a point and we start working together. In my head, I can walk around it, touch it. When I do a sphere without a skin, I touch it on the inside first, then I start working on it and pull it out. The first of this series is Uno: it comprises one line, 120 feet long. The next one, Chris Cross, is more complex. But I think I’m done with that. I’m moving into this new order. I want to defy things or define things differently within the spherical form. The form is important, but the energy is in pulling it apart, something deeper, strong, not just this visual hit…like defying gravity. So now I am defying gravity.
You felt compelled to shift away from the single line spheres that imply a surface—you felt done with that?
Yeah, it died. Literally, I just slammed against a wall and couldn’t work anymore. I was tired. I had been in China for three months and came back and went into my studio and nothing was happening. Usually, when I finish a series, I get bored. This time I was more than bored, I was empty. It might have been the first time I’d felt that way. I guess the writers call it writer’s block—not an uncommon thing. But my artistic life just ended. I had to bring it back, give it a new life. So, I did. I had three days of heavy duty frustration that turned into anger. I couldn’t pull anything out. So I started working with the sculpture marking the entry of the town of Twisp. That was number one, the first in a series; in the second version I started playing with the Twisp Sign ideas as a reference point. I took it one more step and then started to deconstruct it, taking the energy and breaking it down, moving it around. This sequence led to a two-piece sculpture, the first time I had done that. I pulled the two pieces apart and discovered a new kind of dynamic in the work. There was a relationship between the two pieces that had all kinds of energy.
So, I was OK then, I wasn’t dead anymore, I had climbed over the wall. At that point I was ready to go back into the spheres. I started laying up lines and laying up lines, a complete sphere or an implied sphere, then I started adding these blocks hanging in there and then I rotated it all and the base was no longer a base. It changed, it came together.
So as you were coming out of that period, there were new elements to your work. At any point did you feel a sense of risk? That you might be going down a dead end?
No, I don’t look at things that way. It’s not a risk to go anywhere. It’s a danger not to go there. I didn’t have a plan in the first place: Mistakes are learning experiences, they are not wrong, especially for emerging artists who can make a lot out of scrap. My work is just an evolving thing: There is no fear. The risk lies in walking away from it all.
This is a kind of risk I hadn’t thought of: Even more so than blowing it, denying the opportunity to blow it is unacceptable.
That’s the essence. That’s the toughness. That would be a nightmare—not having the opportunity to explore. That’s like quitting and going fishing. People do that. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t want to go there. You pursue all kinds of things that are important, building a 747 example, and then you don’t have a 747 to build anymore. Maybe then it’s time to give your knowledge away in a loving manner.
And now, you are exploring this direction where gravity is unhinged?
Yes. I asked for the first version to be returned, which I had sent to China. I am thinking I can play with light, color, form and then, arrested motion in one piece. They are getting really complex. They are suspended. Something is happening and it stops in progress. It defies time.