Interview with Sculptor Rick True

Artist Spotlight

Interview with Sculptor Rick True

In 2021 the Happy Valley Sculpture Garden Program unveiled six new sculptures outside of City Hall. On August 17, residents and art enthusiasts joined City Council to tour the new artwork and meet program artists, who were present to share their stories and artistic inspiration.

Want to know more about the artists? We do, too! Read on to learn more about Milwaukie artist, Rick True, and his wind sculpture, Speckled Redside Chromie. 

So, Rick, tell me about yourself.

RT:  I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming; spent four years in the Navy after high school; attended the University of Wyoming for a year; the Chicago Art Institute for a year; married Connie, moved to Albuquerque where I received my Bachelor of Arts at the University of New Mexico. I received a Master of Fine Arts from Portland State University in 1982. I have two daughters and four grandchildren. I taught art for thirty years and retired from my teaching career as Chair of the Art Department at Clackamas Community College. I’ve had numerous shows throughout the Northwest and organized several large outdoor sculpture exhibitions.

What is your earliest memory about art or creating art?

RT: My father was an artist. The earliest drawing I remember: he drew a bald man with a beard and when you turned the drawing upside down, it was a man with a full head of hair and no beard. The eyebrows also became moustaches. I’ve made art as long as I can remember, drawings, paint-by- numbers, erector sets, home made kites. My parents highly encouraged my creativity, plus it kept me out of their hair and mostly out of trouble.

When did you know that you wanted to become a professional artist?

RT: All students had to meet with our high school counselor to pick a career before graduation. I told him I was going to be an artist. In Cheyenne, 1968, “artist” wasn’t a career option. He wanted me to be an architect, illustrator, or designer. I told him to write down artist. It’s all I ever wanted to be.

What themes or concepts inspire your artistic style?

RT: Nature creates lyricism, calligraphy, symmetry and random yet organized chaos.  At the University of New Mexico my professor was bending wood using gaseous ammonia.  He created beautiful flowing forms that were highly composed yet felt like they might have been created by nature.  This fish series is a departure from the organic, calligraphic, nature inspired forms of my past: Yet, it still is rooted in my deep love for nature and the beauty of all my experiences growing up in Wyoming with memories of camping and fishing with family and friends.  I try to honor the fish, nature and cherish life.

How has your artistic style changed over time?

RT: I’ve worked with bent wood forms. I did a series of large sculptures using body castings and forms in cement. I’ve made very large forms out of steel, Styrofoam and cement that looked like dinosaur bones. I’ve made large organic plant-like forms out of plastic coated Styrofoam. Each series led to the next. I get uncomfortable when I get too comfortable with a series and its techniques. I’ve always wanted to grow and explore. The fish series grew from the memories of my family and friends and uses techniques I learned from the wind series.

In addition to using vibrant colors, your sculptures frequently harness wind to create movement. Is there a significance to your use of kinetic elements? 

RT: I started the wind series when my friend asked me to make a sculpture above his front door. I made copper branches with dangling copper twirling leaves. This started a lot of exploration with swivels and bearings. The earliest work was inspired by the BBC series “Life” episode about plants. There’s a tree in South American that drops pods with three propellers. The pods twirl through the forest to reseed. This led to a series of copper mobiles inspired by plants; tumbleweeds, cacti, sprouting plants and seedpods. There is a real elegance to the dance that happens when you blow on a mature dandelion and it’ seeds twirl and float away.  The fish series uses the wind like water currents to move the fish around. 

One of your sculptures, Speckled Redside Chromie, is currently on display at City Hall as part of the 2021-2023 Happy Valley Sculpture Garden program. In this piece, you have depicted an extraordinary 12-ft trout as it chases a tasty morsel. Not only does Chromie change color based on the light, but it is also mounted about 9-ft in the air and spins in the wind! Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind Chromie?

RT: Covid, March 2020; I’m reflecting on my family, friends and fish in 63 years of fly fishing.            This fish series is a tribute to all these beautiful memories.  I wanted to honor the fish by making them large and magnificent.  The observer’s point of view is below the fish as he rises to take a mayfly.  The large scale shrinks you to the scale of the fish as if you’re another fish below.  It spins in air currents as it might in water currents.  I developed the vinyl application from experiments with wind sculptures.  The vinyl is used to wrap cars and is also sign vinyl, it comes in vibrant, holographic and transparent colors and will change dramatically as the light changes.

What is your favorite memory of flyfishing?

RT: In my younger years I would fish the upper Clackamas for Summer steelhead.  There was a lot of wading and casting for one or two bites in a morning.  I hooked up now and then and rarely landed one.  Once I had a large steelhead on and had to wade through deep water to keep up with him.  I swamped myself, waders filling with water, and hung on.  After nearly twenty minutes I had him close, almost landed.  He wrapped around a rope from a crawdad trap; spit the hook and swam away.

Fly fishing has a lot of anticipation and imagination.  I calculate depth, hatches, line speed and presentation in the hopes of a bite. As in many other things in life,  the one that got away grows larger and more magnificent in my memory.

Speckled Redside Chromie is no small sculpture. How long did it take to design and fabricate this piece?

RT: I have about 700 plus hours into this one.  First I draw it to scale, fabricate a frame, then cover it with aluminum which is riveted and welded.  I smooth the surface with marine epoxy.  I give the fins a base coat of automotive colors then apply the many layers of vinyl.  This process is much like painting, trial and error, until I achieve the desired effect.

What message or idea should neighbors take away after interacting with or viewing Chromie?  Is there a certain reaction you hope to receive?

RT: I think almost everyone has a fishing story.  Many people stop by my yard that are captivated by the fish.  I hope to convey joy and wonder.  Fish are beautiful.  I’d like to think I inspire respect for the fish and spark good memories.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

RT: Seek many experiences. Don’t get comfortable, challenge yourself. Try new things. Find many teachers. Create excitement for yourself in the creative process. There is no failure in the process of art; strive to fail magnificently! DON’T GIVE UP. Your mantra should be, “I’ll make this work”. Believe in yourself.

Do you find benefit in municipal art programs? Why or why not?

RT: Sculptors that make large outdoor work are always challenged to find venues to exhibit. Your program creates this opportunity and brings culture, beauty and wonder to your community. You share personal and public identity.

The City thanks Mr. True for his contribution to the Sculpture Garden. Speckled Redside Chromie will be on exhibit at City Hall through June 2023. For questions and purchasing inquiries, please contact Jaimie Lorenzini, 503-783-3828, [email protected].

To see more art by Rick True, visit his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RickTrueWindSculptures


About the Happy Valley Sculpture Garden Program

The Happy Valley Sculpture Garden Program was established in 2013 to enhance public land, enrich the cultural environment and encourage art appreciation within the community. Every two years, artists from around the Pacific Northwest are invited to show their work in several locations just outside of City Hall. While on exhibit, sculptures are on short-term loan to the City, allowing the Garden to feature many pieces over time. Sculptures remain for sale to the public while on exhibition in the Sculpture Garden. For purchasing inquiries, contact [email protected], 503-783-3828.