Interview with Sculptor Rick True

Interview with Sculptor Rick True

On July 16, 2019 the Happy Valley Rotating Sculpture Garden Program unveiled six new sculptures outside of City Hall. Joined by City Council and art enthusiasts, residents toured the installations and met 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 sculptures, Upwardly Mobile Droopy Cactus and Tumblepod Seeder.

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 three 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: Currently I am totally immersed in kinetic sculpture. I find it to be technically challenging with the possibility of unique forms. Each new sculpture advances and improves aesthetics and techniques.

Alexander Calder created his first “mobile” in 1930 after visiting Mondrian’s studio. Calder’s forms were elegant and simple. He created most of the early works with pliers and tin snips.  You can see the growth and change as he explored kinetic art over the next two decades. I feel and understand his drive in myself.

I’ve always been inspired by nature and tend to make flowing organic forms. Forty years ago, I made intricate bend wood sculptures; some were large-scale wood and steel forms you could walk under or into. Think Audrey 2 in “Little Shop of Horrors.” You would be ale to see some similarities in the older work and the new mobiles.

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. I have enough ideas for my current kinetic series to take me well into my eighties. The ideas seem infinite.

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.

Both Upwardly Mobile Droopy Cactus and Tumblepod Seeder were inspired by your childhood in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Both of these sculptures measure over 9 ft. tall and include moving elements. Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind these sculptures?

RT: Cheyenne might be the windiest city in the nation. There are often winds 60 mph or more. There’s often blowing dust that is like being sandblasted. Maybe I’m trying for some payback from my windy youth by attempting to harness the aesthetics of wind. The sculptures on display are examples of constantly adjusting the amount of movement I want to achieve. I use a shop fan and leaf blower to gauge the rotation speed of the elements. Wind is still my nemesis and I’ve had to redesign and reinforce sculptures after a powerful storm. I had to reinforce the leaves on a sculpture I installed in Washington. It accumulated heavy snow and bent the leaves. Nature always creates challenges to harvest its’ energy. Even giant wind farm turbines can over rotate and burn up. These challenges drive my experimentation and creativity.

How long did it take to design and fabricate each sculpture? Did you have an artistic process?

RT: I’ve looked at many books on plant life, morphology and mechanics. I sketch out many ideas, filling pages. When an idea gels, I Make a large charcoal drawing to get a sense of scale and to create patterns for the shapes. Each sculpture on exhibit took about 200 hours from concept to finish. This includes designing, accumulating materials, equipment maintenance, shaping, welding, grinding, and patinas. I like to say; “Each sculpture took 50 years and 200 hours”.

What message do you hope to convey to Happy Valley residents with your work? What reaction do you hope to receive?

RT: I want my work to be fun. I want people from all walks to enjoy these forms. I have a yard full of kinetic sculptures and I have compliments from people almost every day. The forms should be beautiful whether stable or mobile. A viewer’s unique visual experience is my goal.

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. Upwardly Mobile Droopy Cactus and Tumblepod Seeder have been on exhibit at City Hall since July 2019 and will remain through June 2021. For questions and purchasing inquiries, please contact Jaimie Huff, 503-783-3828, [email protected].

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


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