Copper in the Arts

January 2013

The Bronze Touch: Classic to Contemporary Sculpture by Michael Alfano

By Nancy Ballou

infinite mind Infinite Mind bronze sculpture by Michael Alfano.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Alfano

For decades, sculptor Michael Alfano has crafted some of America’s most iconic figures in bronze, bringing local legends and landmarks to life. Alfano's intention and signature style draw people in, providing viewers the surreal chance to touch a moment or place in time.

A life-size bronze statue of sports great George V. Brown is one of his most well-known sculptures. Every year, it draws thousands of runners from around the world to pose for photos with The Starter at the Boston Marathon. From 1905-1937, Brown fired the pistol that kicked off the race so depicting him in that stance seemed natural. The sculpture also entices people to get closer, linking today's participants to the event's history.

This lure is also experienced in his contemporary work. For Peace Offering, a popular bench on the Harborwalk in Newburyport, MA, Alfano uses oversized hands that no one can resist sitting on. "Once there, they notice the hands are wings of a dove, then discover the tail transforms into a hawk,” he says. “The functional sculpture fosters reflection about the struggle to attain both personal and world peace."

Alfano's sculpting roots are in classic realism, which he first studied at the Art Students League in New York City twenty years ago. He has always enjoyed taking the figure beyond the literal in surreal compositions to express philosophic ideas.

"I begin with a  small-scale model (maquette) to work out the design, then sculpt the full-size artwork in clay," he says. Then, he makes a mold and casts the sculpture in the final material.

Bronze is his medium of choice.

"The bright light and beautiful dark tones of bronze create wonderful variations of color,” he explains. “Its durability guarantees I can create a work of art that will be around forever.”

Typically, Alfano works with the New England Sculpture Service foundry for casting.

George Brown sculpture George V. Brown bronze sculpture.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Alfano

"When a project lacks the funding to be cast in bronze, I have used cold-cast copper, a very fine copper powder, mixed 50% by weight with a resin,” he says. “It's the Forton MG product from Ball Consulting. The sculpture can be made in bronze later, if desired."

That was the case for a 9/11 memorial, One World United for Peace, which features thirteen figures sculpted into a tower that surrounds a globe and depicts different reactions to the attacks. At the time of installation, it was made in cold-cast copper. For the tenth anniversary, the 7-foot monument was recast in bronze.

Alfano's most controversial piece is probably Stand up, Speak Out, his sculpture for the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving. His figures are 120% life size in cold-cast copper and represent the victims, caretakers and activists. First installed at the Nassau County Courthouse in 1997, defense attorneys feared the artwork might promote jury bias so they forced it to be moved. Today, it is with other public monuments at nearby Eisenhower Park.

Cubed, a clever ten-times-life-size puzzle made of resin, consists of nine double-sided pieces (male/female) that viewers can assemble. "This involves the public in the design process,” he says. “The maquette is a sculpture in its own right and I cast it for collectors in resin or bronze. People like to rework the puzzle in different ways."

Alfano offers many smaller pieces for collectors in a choice of materials. "Not everyone can afford a bronze sculpture they like, but nearly anyone can own it in cold-cast copper,” he says. “I sign and number these limited editions of my work.”

Alfano has won prestigious awards, received numerous grants and created portraits of  Anwar Sadat, Ted Kennedy and other notables including Walt Whitman at the East Meadow Public Library in NY, near the poet's birthplace. His artwork can be found in public venues, museums, galleries and private collections around the world.

Resources:

Michael Alfano Sculpture, Hopkinton, MA, (508) 435-4613

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