Copper in the Arts

December 2011

Richard's Gill: Emotion and Form Through Copper

By Jennifer Hetrick

Richard Gill Richard Gill with his title sculpture Victory in his series Signs of Our Time.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Gill

Richard Gill gravitates to people in a way all his own, shaping jarringly lifelike and emotive figures out of copper from his lifetime of personal observations.

As a jazz musician looking for work in the 1960s when rock and roll began to take America by storm, he found a job as a truck driver in a metal fabrication shop in the San Francisco Bay area. One day, he glimpsed a cut piece of steel dropped on the floor, and it quickly gave him an unexpected inspiration of what would eventually become wings.

He got to work, and after constructing a large bird out of the steel, Gill showed the sudden sculpture to a neighbor well-schooled in art. Her raving reaction prompted him to consider other possibilities in metal.

But it was only when he first delved into experimenting with sheets of copper that Gill knew he'd found his medium.

"Copper is a precious metal to me," Gill says. "I won't use anything else. I've tried to use other materials, but I just have this love of copper. I like the look and feel of it, and it does exactly what I want it to do."

Today in his Nevada County, California studio, Gill often finds himself fusing sculptures of people born from old Western inspirations.

"I like that period, and the copper matches it," he says. "It's not that easy to work with, but when making people, the bends are softer, and you can make it look like fabric."

Room for One More Room for One More, part of Richard Gill's Signs of Our Time series.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Gill

Gill orders his copper from E. Jordan Brookes in Los Angeles, having had his work featured in the James Harold Galleries in Tahoe City, California.

For Gill, a face is the last piece he welds to life. He begins with the feet, working his way upward.

"I can get the feeling of the person," Gill says, focusing often on cowboys, musicians, and those whose faces have had time to wear, as aged people are often his characters.

A decade in the making, his series Signs of Our Times combines figures shaped with faces and forms indicative of hard lives they've lived in America today.

He juxtaposes the telling sculptures with performance poetry he's written to speak and stand on its own, much like the sculptures do. Gill travels around the region to bring the series to life whenever a request comes in for his hard-hitting and expressive routine giving attention to themes like homelessness and war.

"I look at somebody walking down the street or sitting on a bench somewhere, and to me, that person is a character, intriguing me," Gill says, knowing each has a story he wants to tell. "It's in stop time, sort of like a photograph. I want my viewer to know what that piece is and how he feels."

Resources:

Richard Gill, Nevada City, CA

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