Q and A with 2013 FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist Peter Martin Morales

FSP/Jerome Fellow Peter Martin Morales from St. Paul, is working on his first fabricated-steel sculpture “Eggsail Saga” to install at Franconia Sculpture Park. The sculpture is composed of three distinct pieces; a boat, modeled after Viking ships, an enormous, antlered egg, and a large stone on which the first two sit. Like Alex Lindsay, the Fellowship artist featured in the most recent blog post, Peter has been in residence at the park this summer and fall, working along side other FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artists, Open Studio Artists, Hot Metal Artists and Intern Artists.

Peter was born in Guatemala, the son of two archeologists, and raised amidst tropical rainforests and Maya city ruins. His sculptures and public works shown in and around the Twin Cities, are evidence of his interest in storytelling and zoomorphic forms, influences born from his childhood in Guatemala, and furthered through a BA in Science, and an MA in Hispanic Literature and Linguistics. He also cites pop culture icons such as Mickey Mouse and the science fiction genre as sources of inspiration.

Morales is constantly tangling and untangling language and culture in his work, creating an idiolect, or a unique language patterned by a conflation of familiar forms, embellished or altered by his own imagination.

The following sculpture “Water of the Doodem Spirits” was commissioned by the city of Minneapolis to celebrate the abundance of clean drinking water in the city. It is located in the American Indian Cultural Corridor of Minneapolis, and references the Native and Meso-American stories of Turtle Island. Some versions of the story recall North America emerging out of the ocean like a turtle surfacing. The Raven in Morales’ sculpture is a reference to Ojibwe origin stories, and signifies a watchful eye, a guardian that makes sure the water spouting from the turtle’s mouth is used consciously.

Meanwhile “El Duende Transibereano” or the Transiberan Gnome evokes a different visual language entirely. The antlers of the gnome sharpen in to hatchets, animating a tool-like form. It recalls cold climates and Eurasian roots.

In a recent conversation, I was able to talk with Peter about his artistic process, his experiences at Franconia, his current project, and how this piece relates to his body of work.

Q: When you’re making sculpture, what is your creative process like? Do you draw first and then transition in to three dimensions? Do you jump right in?

PMM: I do all of the above. Sometimes its easier to draw, sometimes its easier to jump in and start making things. I use clay or foam to figure out stuff in small scale. I often like to do little trials. For “The Voyage” I made some drawings and then I created a small-scale maquette, I battled with several versions until I figured out how I was going to proceed. Once I started making the full scale ship I had a pretty good idea of how I was going to get the shapes I wanted. I still had to figure out how everything was going to be attached and all but I was able to pare down to essentials and not overwhelm the piece with all kinds of extraneous material. As far as the overall shape, there were some problem transition areas that I was totally aware of going into it and so I knew where I had to really push it and where I had to step back and let things come. I used a lot of templates. There are advantages and disadvantages to using templates. They allow you to work faster but they also hem you in. Most of the templates were made to scale but some of the initial work was done with templates that were scaled up. I would do that differently, I would not depend so blindly on the scaled up ones, I would use them as a point of departure but spend more time getting the lines that I needed at scale and not just go with whatever I derived from a smaller scale.

Q: What inspired your current project?

PMM: Viking boats have these dragon heads on them and I always like to make objects that are animated by reference to a fantastic creature of some sort. Also the boat is a vessel that can be used to convey and contain whatever. I thought it was fun to spend so much time on what is the frame for the central figure – the egg. The egg is not as complex, it is simple, contained —a vessel itself— but suggestive of possibilities. This is obviously a birth boat. The egg is antlered because it is coming into a world fraught with nuttiness and needs all the help it can muster. My partner and I are expecting a child sometime after the winter solstice, I guess that was on my mind.

Q: How does “Eggsail Saga” relate to the rest of your body of work?

PMM: There is the continued interest in animating objects, here the egg represents a pared version of a lot of works that I have done before and the boat is new opening up possibilities for new types of objects to animate and allowing me to further refine the story-making aspects of my work. Also, I had not worked in fabricated steel as a medium for sculpture and that was great.

Q: Who (or what) are your greatest inspirations as an artist?

PMM: Stories. I consider myself a storyteller manqué. I am still in the process of developing a language.

Q: Why did you propose your project to Franconia and what does this environment offer to your artistic practice?

PMM: Franconia offers opportunities to make large-scale sculptures that are not readily available in the area. I needed financial assistance to purchase materials and the freedom to make whatever I had to make. It would be hard to get this kind of support anywhere else. There were some other, logistical reasons too; I don’t have a welder and I’ve never made a fabricated steel sculpture before. I needed to bounce ideas off other artists and Franconia is the perfect spot to do this. There’s always a great mix of new and returning artists working, sharing ideas and learning. Franconia is my graduate school.

Bonus question: If you could save any sculpture in the history of the world from certain destruction, which one would you choose, and why?

PMM: Sargon the Second’s Five-legged Winged Bull Guys. Sargon was an Assyrian Emperor from sometime back in BCE times. I don’t necessarily agree with his politics (invade, conquer, disperse the tribes, burden the people with debt, have them do amazing sculptures for free to get out from under, etc) but these bulls are freaking awesome! Also, check out the lion cub (?) the other guy is holding.

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