Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Conversation With Omri Amrany

Unless otherwise noted: all photos are copyright protected by Timeless Creations, Inc. and The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany.

(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Michael Jordan, "Magic" Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Harry Caray and Gordie Howe--Icons of American Sport. Each a Hall of Famer in their own right. All of whom have been immortalized in bronze by Omri Amrany. Mr. Amrany, an Israeli-Born American Citizen, is a world renown artist. Well known for a plethora of work in various mediums, but especially those of Bronze Sculpture.

Teaming with his wife, Julie Rotblatt, Omri, runs The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany in Highwood, Illinois. A not for profit studio for artists in training to Master their crafts. Additionally, Ms. Rotblatt and Mr. Amrany operate Timeless Creations, Inc--the commercial side of their business--which includes bidding for commissions around The United States of America and abroad for Civic & Sport related artwork.

(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Over the years, both Julie & Omri have completed commissioned works honoring The Detroit Tigers, The Detroit Red Wings, The Green Bay Packers and even The Chicago White Sox, among many others-although sport related commissions are far from all they have been honored to produce. And I am happy to say I was personally familiar with much of their sports work.
Photo by ARZ for Timeless Creations, Inc. (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Which brings us all to the point of this two-part story. Omri Amrany and Timeless Creations, Inc. bid on and successfully won the rights to produce the three statues of Washington's Baseball Greats at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. Yes, Omri is producing all three of those much awaited bronze pieces of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard. The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities granted Mr. Amrany the contract to develop, produce and ultimately honor three of DC's Most Favored Baseball Son's in Centerfield Plaza at The South Capitol Street Ballpark. The induction ceremony to take place some time this coming Spring of 2009.

But I would imagine that most every fan of Our Washington Nationals has wanted to peek at, get a glimpse of, what might be in store for their baseball viewing pleasure come Year Two of Nationals Park. Well, I am also happy to write that everyone is going to get their first opportunity right here. Yes, thanks to Gloria Nauden, the Executive Director of The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities; Rachel Dickerson--The Arts In Public Places Manager for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities; Andy Rotman-Zaid, The Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc. and Omri Amrany himself, Nats320 is going to take a inside look at what's in store for all Washington Baseball Fans this coming year.

This effort was a long time coming and included a tremendous amount of background work on Nats320's part. No, this was no small task.

First, we begin with the in-depth look at Mr. Amrany. This is time to get to know your artist. The man granted the contract to honor Our Stars. A few weeks ago, Omri and I talked for some time on the phone in an interview set up by Ms. Dickerson. Andy Rotman-Zaid and I conversed on more than a couple of occasions, beforehand, to make sure everything worked out well. And have continued to stay in touch many times since. In fact, Andy provided most of the photos for this series--his assistance has been immeasurable. Fortunately, the timing couldn't have been better, as all three pieces of Johnson, Gibson and Howard are at a development stage where they are all beginning to come to life. But, I want to remind EVERYONE, no piece of artwork is fully completed until the unveiling. Throughout every step of the process, changes and modifications are being made to enhance the final work.

Today, in Part One, the conversation will be about Omri Amrany--his background, his thoughts, what he looks to accomplish each and every time he challenges himself on a work of art. Mr. Amrany is a very interesting man. We talked for nearly 90 minutes, both of us engaged in the chat.

Then, in Part Two, Omri & I will concentrate on his work of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard. At that time, pictures will be released, exclusively here on Nats320, for the first time showing the sculptures in progress. Unquestionably, everyone will get a good idea of what to expect in Centerfield Plaza at Nationals Park in 2009.

With all that background now behind us, here's Part One of My Conversation With Omri Amrany.

Let’s start with your background. I know you emigrated from Israel. How old are you and when did you first get to The United States? (SBF)

“I am 54 years old. I was born in a Kibbutz in Israel in the Jordan Valley, very close to the Jordanian Border—about four miles south of The Sea of Galilee—just below the Golan Heights. The first time I came to The United States was in 1987 to get married to Julie (Rotblatt). We got married here.”

Then you met in Israel? (SBF)

“No. We met in Italy. I was 32 years old in ’85 and the Kibbutz I lived in sent me to be trained in marble. That was my choice (of profession) because where we come from, the society from which we grew up in, you first asked what you could do for your country, then for your society, and then your family, and then yourself last—always. It’s the opposite of the Western Culture here. And there was no question that you have got to grow up--give the best service that you can, serve the community, and serve the country. I was five years in education all over the country (Israel) before I had the chance to go in and take carving lessons and courses on my own. So, by the time I had the chance to get education in carving marble, I was into my 30’s.”

You consider yourself self-taught in your profession, but obviously, you had to learn from others along the way. How has your artistry developed over the years? (SBF)

“Even if I say I grew up in a social community, The Kibbutz, I grew up with generations of artists on both sides of the family which had masters in different ways of art, whether that be tapestry, carving of wood or ceramics or cross-designs, paintings, etc. So, my real school was the family schooling me in many ways. That was the direct effort (of my upbringing), but those types of questions always have us (artists) contemplating in artistic discussions. How one became what he decided to become--this person. And what guided someone to became an artist or architect or pilot, or businessman or whatever.”

“I didn’t think I would become an artist because I grew up in a community where the most important thing was to be The CEO of The Kibbutz. So, my art was kind of a hobby in the evenings. If you could create art, that would be terrific, but it would be on your own time. In later days in our society, it’s was recognized, artists arrive new in America to be an artist. So, artists were given three days per week to do art—which was a luxury. How many artists in the world can have three pure days per week for their artwork? So, in a way, the community grew up into the depths of understanding that art in itself is a field you have to master and art was becoming more a part of our society.”

Which probably explains why you have artistic talents in so many different areas? Having looked over your work the past couple of days, you have classical items, contemporary works, some very avant-garde art, is all that due to the many different artists you have been exposed to? (SBF)

“I can divide that into different subjects. Throughout my life I have traveled in many places where I have met lots of people. And at one point in time, I wanted to be a student of Salvador Dali. It was kind of a wish (on my part) that I almost fulfilled. Maybe it’s good it did not happen, maybe not. Or the chance I had to live in Italy for a year—adopted by a Master of the carving stone world. That was tremendous in itself because what I learned from him was to “Breathe & Smell” the marble. Throughout my life, I have introduced to myself new technology in the arts—like a Master in The Arts that came from Moscow to Tel-Aviv. Every single time I went to meet someone wanting to become a student—they always said you have done so much work already—why don’t you do it on your own? And just show us what you are doing? And this almost became a way of doing things.”

“The other subject I can tell you is I firmly believe art is a chain of experiments that’s mission is to extend the human link of knowledge. Therefore, if we are falling into the safety of doing the same old thing, we are creating “Dead Art” that already no longer exists. It’s like a fractal that is always in motion. And because of this, artists throughout their lives always must be a scholar and continue to investigate, explore and experiment because if you don’t, you end up doing the same old, same old. Therefore, I am dealing with methodology, with electro-forming and casting. We deal with the stone age—carving different stones through laser and granite. We are dealing with paintings, wall tapestries, with drawings and laser effects. We try to go in all directions.”

You mentioned something earlier that caught my attention. When you went to Italy to study you learned to “smell the marble”. I find that to be an interesting quote from someone who likes to be close to his projects? (SBF)

“We lived 13 hours per day, seven days per week, even on Sundays, I use to sneak into the studio and work on my own quietly. Because I knew I only had one year. After that, I had to go back to the farm (in Israel). So, I knew I had only one year. A year-long clock was in my brain ticking. At the end of the year, that would be it, so I lived with them. I worked with them. I went with them to the quarry to search for the marble. I learned how the stone behaved—down to the very last micro effect I could learn from that experience.”

When did it hit you that you would become an artist and it wouldn’t be a hobby on the side? It would become your life’s blood? (SBF)

“It happened a little bit after Italy. I went back to the Kibbutz, to the social community and I realized it was an end of an era and it was never going to be the same. This community is going to change into something that historically would never be the same. Well, I said, now I am on my own—what shall I do. And that’s when I became an artist.”
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

“One of your questions referred to where are you heading to? (There was a pre-interview before the actual phone chat. A get to know each other conversation-SBF) And for the last five years, what has really bugged me is how to advance the art using laser concepts into different elements—mostly based on mathematical functions. They are called fractals after Professor Benoit Mandelbrot, which is something that really began to roll in the ‘70’s and has very much influenced my art. And as you can see in some of the sculptures you mentioned, like Willie Horton (of The Detroit Tigers) and Ty Cobb and Frank Howard, the motion effect all comes from the 4th Dimension of Motion and slight changes which represent a lot of the images in fractals.”

Whether it’s painting, sculpture, drawing, tapestry, what have you, I get from talking to you is that your challenge comes from pushing yourself to do something more different and better than the last time? (SBF)
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

“Let me give you an example. I use to know a guy who has now passed away. A Mr. George Kramer who was a Vietnam Vet and who served as the Dean of The Art Department at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. At one time, we started to work on fractal geometry. And the question was whether we can use mathematical functions to develop (not just) level forms, but forms in which we can master. This is the cutting edge. I am doing this from my point of imagination as an artist. But by doing that, I know today that I don’t have to carve a granite. I can do any monumental piece with a laser. I can even sculpt with a laser. I don’t have to sculpt anymore with clay.”

“If we could push Michelangelo or Leonardo DeVinci today, would we be wasting their time today to paint a canvas or carve a marble, when they can do everything with a computer? I don’t know. Maybe so, maybe not. I still love to carve marble, but I want to use all the elements like the laser, the computer and the mathematical codes. I want to push the limits to the maximum—that is what I want to do.”

When you are challenging yourself to improve and create something different, how has the response been to that work? (SBF)
(Copyright, The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany)

“I will give you an example. In 1990, a year after we came (to America), I came to work on a sculpture called “Against The Wind”. It’s a sculpture of Dionisio Ceron--a Mexican marathon runner, a four-time world champion. After I sculpted the figure, I sculpted over a figure of leaves and eliminated the figure. Basically, I just left the leaves creating and representing the human form—you can see the human form through the leaves. Then, I went into experimenting with electroforming, which nobody in Chicago had ever heard of before. It was a terrible experiment, because everything collapsed and in the end we had to bond it, build it back up and put it in a show. I felt I had created the motion, the spirit, the spirit against the wind. In Hebrew, spirit is “ruach” (to breathe, air). The wind is “ruach”. It’s the same forces—the spirit against the wind that you represent in the art. And I called this: beyond the 4th Dimension—a Spiritual Dimension.”

“Everybody came to this show, looked at the piece and said: ‘Very nice.’ But nobody bought anything. After four years, I sold four pieces; one in Belgium and three in Chicago. The bottom line here is that we have been introduced to a electroforming manufacturer in Chicago that fell in love with our concept. They have already developed the process using plating elements—which goes beyond the original bronze casting. It’s a different form of plating and methodology. This company started to work with us in experiments and one day they took all of our photos and went to a manufacturer’s competition and ended up getting projects for helicopters for The U.S. Air Force. He showed (The Government) the work of the artists, us. And that’s how you see how positive forethought by an artist, even though society may look at you and say he’s a loony bin--suddenly comes to be recognized by just winning this little competition and helps create a principal manufacturing process in business. That is why I look at things in the form of what is the artists part to integrate and link into the human culture.”

It’s to be a part of life, not just passing through it? (SBF)

“Yes, exactly right.”

When you finally got involved in producing sports figures, is that an aspect of your profession you ever thought you would be involved in? (SBF)
(Copyright, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“Well sport is a part of life, I think one of the strongest elements that intrigued me coming to The United States and becoming a U.S. Citizens—if you look at World War II—this country was in a depression and used all their elements to create sports around which people would follow as a part of their lives. They became the fans of the sports, much like today. But back then, it meant a whole lot more to their lives. Every kid was in the sports field. They played the game. What you have here is a Western Society that in an ordinary way would not master the physical unless they were doing sport."

“I believe that the culture of sport was a massive power and influence which allowed this government to harness tens of millions of people to become so strong overnight--instead of just worrying about the daily survival. Sport was a very strong, spiritual engine, which helped create this. Just like when you look back into ancient times, like The Spartans, like Greece, in the same way. Now, I did not come from a sport culture, but the spirit in the sport always pulled me toward it. One day, in The Kibbutz, I walked to the lunchroom and I saw one of my friends sitting there with a sport magazine. I grabbed the magazine from him and said I need this. He looked at me as if I was nuts. ‘I thought you were not interested in sport at all?’ No, I need this photo on the front. I am going to use it in the artwork. ‘OK,’ he says. ‘But let me finish the magazine and I will give it back to you.’ So, I eventually took this photo and I put it into sandblasted plywood. I created this psychological form of energy of a soccer player on a form of plywood that only by allowing oneself to reach into the form—can you create such a spiritual element that no one else might see. Yes, we did sport. We sculpted sport before we came to The United States in a different way. But, when we went to The Chicago Bulls, the first thing that Michael (Jordan) asked us was: ‘Can you do this sculpture?’ So, I shoved in his face a photograph that I carved of the same size piece in marble. ‘See, we did this in marble! To sculpt you in clay will be no problem.’”
(Copyright, Timeless Creation Inc.)

That story does fit well into your belief you blend philosophy, elements and technique to create something in your mind. (SBF)

“Yes, I think it is all blended into some kind of Rubik Cube of Life.”

So, if you are constantly challenging yourself, doing different and more creative work, and I would take from our talk so far you are someone that would test any boundary—are you always happy with your work? (SBF)

“Am I always happy with my work? No, not always. But mostly, I will try to push myself to the maximum. That’s a very good question. When I do my personal artwork, I may not finish it and the public will never see it. But I push the limits. I push the envelope to the limit. And it’s also one of the biggest complaints I get—from the manufacturer--the foundry, the electroformer, anytime that we push the limits. Julie and I push to the max for everything we create. It sometimes makes it very difficult for one side, but the reason why so many sport teams fell in love with our work is because when they look—our pieces Fly The Best."

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

"They don’t try to understand the details and the elements. When they see “Magic” Johnson at 45 degree angle or Michael Jordan barely attached to the pedestal, or Wilt Chamberlain with a dipping effect--what they see is the recognized form and the energy. Take Gordie Howe in an 80 degrees tilt, which you don’t know how it’s attached, because it appears to be floating above the ice. If you look at the piece, you don’t see any attachment to the base.”

Is it difficult then to produce sport artwork in your style? (SBF)

“No, it’s not difficult. The difficulty is when you have to create a Korean War Vet who had to go through what they went through in Korea (in the early 1950’s), or Vietnam Vet. You have to face them. You have to listen to them. You have to be with them. And you have to create something compelling. That is very, very difficult.”
(Copyright Timeless Creations, Inc.)

Then I would take it that your American Legion Memorial Piece in Highland Park, Illinois—you feel the same way about that too? (SBF)

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“I would say The American Legion piece. I would say the Community Veteran’s Memorial located in Munster, Indiana—which we worked on for one year where we worked with a team from nearly every war (was the most difficult). The only vets not still alive were from The Great War (World War I). So we interviewed people who knew those that fought in The Great War and listened to them. But we worked with those people from Munster, Indiana and we created with them and together their vision of the artwork. We insisted we were not artists who came down from Olympus and tell them what is good and what is bad. What is black and what is white. We are coming to listen to you. We ended up designing this park on a repetitive fractal effect down to the most minuscule of bases. We looked at this project as the macro and the micro—which represents most of our projects. You can see how the mega-size is combined with the microscopic for quality—which is something we never give up on.”

Every project has its challenges and difficulties—does that sometimes take away from the fun? Or, are those challenges and difficulties what give you the enjoyment? (SBF)

“I think the least challenging of the process is sculpting someone standing still.”

Well that goes back to what you said earlier how you just don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. You always want to produce something different—something that is a little more out there, if you will. (SBF)

“Again, think of it in the way that I wish. That every person like you is going to be the extension of the link in the chain, or at least the extension in the link of my artwork. But that is impossible, otherwise, how would you create the cubism, impressionism, or surrealism. You have to do similar things to represent the concept. I call it Sculpting Montage.”

You’ve mentioned your partner and wife, Julie, a couple of times now. How important is that relationship to your work, as you have built yourself as an artist? (SBF)

“Julie and I met in Italy, grew up in the same studio when it was the end of the 20’s for her and the beginning of the 30’s for me. We worked on a lot of projects together and we influenced each other—both as artists and as husband and wife and in our values, etc. etc. The integration there is enormous. The influence there is enormous. And some people like to sit down around the bar and have a beer, chat about ideas and that’s how they say artists in Europe created the movement. But that can also be the case between husband and wife, so they can work together and do things. Julie has done some great pieces like the Chicago Bears, The Championship Piece for The Chicago White Sox and many others. Also, she has produced some very emotional paintings like in Evanston (Illinois) for a cancer center. She’s done very spiritual pieces in different medium.”

Once you’ve completed an artwork, what kind of feelings do you get out of watching others enjoy, whether that’s at an unveiling or over a period of time? (SBF)

“I have a piece here that I recently finished. It’s a sculpture from one of the models we had in one of my classes from five years ago. And it took me about three years to finish the piece and turn it into leaves and butterflies. It’s a sculpting montage called “Daydreamer”. You look at this and she is sort of looking up at the sky, with the butterflies flying away like a dream. I had people coming here (to his studio), sitting down, and looking at this work and start crying. How many examples like this can you see? And this is not a negative piece.”

Speaking of negative pieces, do you tend to shy away from negative pieces as an artist? (SBF)

“Not at all. I have some very provocative pieces and one of them I am actually finishing the drawing for and am preparing to do that one in bronze. This piece is very political, it’s not negative. I have done some very strong political pieces because after 1982 I joined the “Peace Now” Movement in Israel and tried to integrate conversations between Palestinians and Israelis. In many ways, I realized we were going in the wrong direction on all sides. At a point in time, we were offered to join into the politics in Israel and we were offered to join with one of the Knesset Members to become his loyal team to work with him in the government. And in that moment, I had the chance to be in the first person—wait a minute, you are an artist—you are a philosopher—you want to give up the freedom of saying what you mean and you believe in and become a politician—Forget It!” (Chuckling)

(Copyrights, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

I enjoy the fact that you put motion into your statues, whether it’s Willie Horton, The Detroit Red Wings, Ty Cobb’s dirt flying up when he’s sliding into third base. Have you found people like that style as well? (SBF)

“I started to use this style in 1987 in a different way. And I have gone more and more into pushing that style based on learning more about it. When you put the mathematical codes into the computer, suddenly you see those images coming out at you. They are starting to move and it’s like: ‘Wow! We found it! The Codes for The Universe.’ So with every piece I am doing, I am looking at fractals and take their repetitive motions and use it in the piece. That’s in fact, what I am doing with this provocative political piece I am doing right now. Four years ago I saw a photo of one piece, sculpted by Richard McDonald, that resembles a beautiful motion of a golfer. I sold some pieces from the early 90’s for commercial purposes, which had motion. Since I keep searching, I find more artists that did it in the past or started to experiment with it. Of course, there is always the wish to continue. For me, from the time I started to montage or blend the elements of sculpture motion forward to create the 4th dimension, I haven’t turned back. And since I came back from Italy in ’86 and ’87, this has become one major spine at what I am going to do forever—advancing with different technologies and different concepts.”

That concludes Part One of My Conversation With Omri Amrany. Hopefully, you now have come to know Mr. Amrany and his work. Because tomorrow in Part Two, The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany will include exclusive photos of The Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard Statues in production by Timeless Creations, Inc.

And before you go, here's one sample--Josh Gibson's Headsculpt (In Progress Work):

Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany,
Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Note on Fractal: A fractal is generally "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by BenoƮt Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning "broken" or "fractured." A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoes iteration, a form of feedback based on recursion.


Anonymous said...

This is great.
Can't wait for the next installment.

Anonymous said...

SBF, thank you so very much for your tireless work on informing nats fans about what's going on surrounding the team. A yeoman's effort once again. Great stuff, can't wait to see more.

Anonymous said...

Amazing piece there. Omri Amrany's Gordie Howe and Michael Jordan have to be 2 of the greatest sports sculptures.

Can't wait to see his Hondo, Gibson and Walter Johnson!!!

Anonymous said...

Tremendous work SBF!

I could recognize Hondo's expression in the statue he was working on!

I can't wait for your next installment. Tell him nothing too abstract for these three heroes--show them as the baseball players they were!

Again, great work, and much appreciation.