Monday, December 22, 2008

The Statues--The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany

Click on any photo to expand and enlarge.
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Omri Amrany of Timeless Creations, Inc. and I are talking about his life's work in The Arts. Today, in the final chapter, Mr. Amrany discusses in greater detail, his current work producing the three statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities. This White Bronze Trio to be unveiled at Nationals Park in Spring of 2009. Today's journey will include a series of photos of all three pieces in some stages of production. As I mentioned yesterday, and will remind everyone again today--none of these works are fully completed until the unveiling on South Capitol Street. Changes, tweaks and modifications are made throughout every step of the process.

With that, here we go with The Final Chapter With Omri Amrany.

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

Turning more specifically to The DC pieces you are working on right now. People here in DC know what these three baseball players look like in their minds or from seeing Frank Howard actually play in person. How accurate must you be in your depiction in creating these three pieces? (SBF)

“You have to go and study about them and listen to people who knew them. You have to listen to what people imagined they were like and what makes them different than the others. The difference between the fine ideas of an artist, who doesn’t commit to any politician or sport or whatever, is that really you can do whatever you want and you do it because you want to do it—you want to express it. It will eventually become something else and someone will be interested in it because they will appreciate what you have done. When artists deal with a commission, and this goes from Michelangelo and throughout all of history, when artists work on a commission, he works on that commission with a committee—with a group of people. In this case, the world of sport, people have to recognize the faces. Where you are allowed to create is the sense of motion—the 4th Dimension. And what you create, what you contribute to the piece different than anybody else is where the satisfaction lies. But you have to be pretty much accurate.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Now, everyday in my life as an artist, I am bottling the fact that most of the people say: ‘Realism is not necessary.’ Or, realism can be done in a different way. And they have given up on the photographic realism and equality of three dimensions. I am battling those facts to stay with that and still make it different, and make it unique. And make it the one I have not seen before because we should not eliminate anything completely. So, I am involved with the motion. I am involving all the other elements into this project to create that Sculpting Montage. But I keep the faces, and I keep the realism as it is.”

‘That’s why I work here with the 30 artists that work here in the studio. And we try to grow them into becoming Masters in their own pieces. We try to give the life into the piece. So when you look into the sculpture it looks like it is, it’s a way of following the shadows. And in sculpture everything is about the shadows. We train people here to create the form as it is and not as it is really. Let’s bring the life into the people we are recognizing.”
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

When you are working on a project and seen the same object over and over again, you may miss some other idea or concept that might enhance your project. Does having all these other artists around help move things along when you get stuck? (SBF)

“Oh yeah. Lots of times people come and say (both Omri and Andy Rotman-Zaid chuckling). Don’t you think the human hand has five fingers, you put six? Or other things like that. People try to correct things, sometimes they are right, sometimes, they are wrong. We have never been perfect on anything. And we have even tried to re-create the imperfections of humanity. I am open to listen, but most of those projects, for example, The Washington Nationals, I put Jody Rotblatt to work on Walter Johnson. Sean Bell worked on Frank Howard and Oscar Leon worked on Josh Gibson. Oscar before that worked on another piece, which was Nellie Fox. And Sean worked on Harold Baines of The White Sox. They both started with me years ago—almost from scratch—and grew up into a level where Julie and I give them project after project. By allowing these artists to manage the projects with me, they work with other artists, advance things and I work with everybody together. Basically, we have layers of teams working together on each piece. They put their positive energy into each piece. And it’s very good training for them also.”
(Copyrights Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“You know it took me five drawings to convince The (Chicago) Tribune that Harry Caray is not a standing General. Harry Caray was the Grand Pa of Chicago. He used to walk at 4AM in the morning and chat with people over a bottle of beer. You have to respect him for that. So they (The Tribune) allowed me to create the lasting figure coming up from the ballpark. When the committee came over they said; ‘He feels like he is over me. Like he is alive.’—In the clay. And the feeling I have contributed here is who he was in reality, but also the art that was involved with it. His contribution (to The Cubs) was that he had taken this team all those years (of losing) and made them so lovable that no one was willing to give up on them—even if they keep losing.”

Yes, it’s very true, Harry Caray was in many respects larger than life and when I look at that particular piece you have reflected that in your work. (SBF)

“Thank you.”

What kinds of input do the family members, or in Frank Howard ‘s case he is still alive and well, had in your work on the DC statues? (SBF)
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Some people come in from different directions and they want to see a figure standing on a base, very well respected looking. They have a fear that if you do something different there will be criticisms against it. Isn’t the art made to be created and thought about? If you create art, it’s to make people think. And sometimes the feedback is not so positive. You have to say OK. We’ve had a lot of responses (from the families), some different wishes."
(Sean Gibson Photo--Copyright Nats320)

"I think that Sean Gibson (Josh Gibson's Great-Grand Son) was very much contemplating the sculpture of Josh Gibson and agreed that everything is there. We got it."
Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

"Certainly, there were questions of whether we should do something like this or something like that, or you got him there. That’s what I like to see. I want people to stand there and argue. I want them to stand there in front of Frank Howard and argue if the position is right. The right foot position is correct—if the swing is OK. It’s possible to be flying so high like Michael (Jordan) and dunk it in that way. Is it possible to imagine this happening? This is the spirit, that is where the player introduces his spirit to the public that nobody else can do and makes him unique—different from everyone else.”

You want fans to contemplate and think about your work, not just admire? (SBF)

“I really want them to stand there and argue, just like they argue about baseball. The most fun things in life include going to the bar and arguing over baseball. I want them to argue about the pieces.”

(Laughing) Baseball fans may be the most argumentative people out there. (SBF)

(Chuckling) “Oh yeah. Oh Yeah!!”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

You sort of touched on this previously when we first started to talk about the statues. Obviously you have to do a lot of research on these particular players or any sports figure you are doing so you can accurately depict them in your final design—how much do you have to immerse yourself in the sport or that particular person? (SBF)

“In the Mid-West alone we have done over 60 projects, 120 pieces. In this country, probably over 70-75. I don’t know, I stopped counting. This is what we do, because we won the competition (bids for commissions). Probably twice more than that, we have lost. We did not get the commissions. We gave concepts to some teams which they didn’t grasp and we missed an opportunity to create something spectacular for them. I could talk day and night about what we did or what we wanted to do or we didn’t do. But we are so much into it (Sports Sculpture) that our artists here—myself, Julie other artists like Lou Cella and Oscar Leon are baseball fans and into sports. We have 30 artists in this studio and we also have a school—artists that have been here some for over 20 years since we came to this country. And they are still here. We have artists here who have lived the latest years of their lives here and it’s become their first home. And at the end of the day they used to go sleep in their homes (chuckling) but that was their first home—now it’s here.”

"We are dealing with these elements on such a daily basis that when a project comes along, like Ernie Banks (Cubs Hall of Famer), and it needs to be done--we have so much information about Ernie Banks that we went to Lou and said you are a crazy fan of The Cubs, go and do the job—sign your name on it. For him, it was a great thing to create the sculpture of Ernie Banks. The information was there for us all the time. If we need more, we just went to The Cubs and asked. We are getting whatever we need from them. Most of those team owners and group owners came over here. We know them. We meet them too. And if I needed The Tigers or The Red Wings, I went to the archives of The Little Caesar (Pizza Parlor) Organization (Owners of both Franchises), met the lady over there and she gave me whatever I needed that I didn’t know.”

It’s interesting that artistry is many times an individual process, but I am gathering from you that your place is also a team concept. (SBF)
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

“Yes it is. I came to this country as an immigrant and became a citizen. I wish the people here in our studio that grow up with us and become Masters of their own—will have the same chance. That is why we’ve given them project after project. At a point in time in history, people will look back and will say: ‘Look at that place, this group of artists and what they achieved in their lifetimes. Just like in Europe, when you go to Barcelona or Paris, or Rome, Florence. And you see all those places, what their culture left behind. Our Great-Great Grand Kids are not going to look at who was the mayor of the city. They are going to look at the museums, the artwork, the sculptures and the paintings. That stuff is going to be left behind forever, just like the architecture.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Now I have the pictures you sent me in front of me right now. I don’t know if there is a short way of doing this, but could you take me through from start to finish how this process works to get to the final piece? And finally, I am going to get to the very fact that you are constantly changing the idea as the work progresses? (SBF)

“In the old times, 15 years ago (both of us chuckling), I was driving from Miami to Ft.Lauderdale to catch a plane back to Chicago and I got a phone call. There was a competition for a sculpture of Michael Jordan and I had three days and three nights to submit the materials. I sped up a little bit to get home as soon as possible and had a conversation with Julie. We went to the drawing boards. We had three days and three nights to do whatever I can. And what we could do in that time, using just drawings—the computer was not that advanced then. We worked to the max trying to create three different ideas. After a while, we thought we had lost it, until we got the call (while in Israel) that we had won the competition—come back and do the job.”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“Today, it’s a different world. You know yourself, today with a laptop, how advanced everything has become. Computers have developed so fast in the past 15 years that each year that development of technology and electronics—an electronic green revolution has ensued--instead of an industrial revolution, which is what is happening in the world right now. Everything goes so fast if you don’t follow up on it. Today, we take all the photos that we can (of the subject). We create a concept. Then we take that concept into the computer and we slice and dice to create the first collage effect. Then we further develop the concept, touch it up and create the imaginary effect we want to create. The discussion follows, can we take the risk? Will the committee look at this and say they want a standing general (instead). We don’t want a flying sportsman here. We don’t know what they are envisioning.”

Frank Howard, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
I am familiar with what they have at Citizens Bank Park. (SBF)

(All Citizens Bank Park Photos--Copyright, Nats320)

“OK, good."

“Most of the time, I will say, if I have to lose the project, this is what I do. This is who I am. And I take who I am, I send in my references. The committee then comes to you and says you are one of the three to five finalists. You then must go and create the maquette. The 3-Dimensional Miniature that will show the committee what they don’t understand by looking at a 2-Dimentional Poster. Some people might like the poster, but they might say it’s impossible to be completed (as planned). But if you do it in a miniature, say you take a small miniature of an airplane—you can make it into a real airplane—easy. You’ve seen it in the movie—The Flight Of The Phoenix.”

“And then you go to the competition and you have to argue your philosophy. Why you did what you did. Andy (Rotman-Zaid) and I went to Washington and we argued the subject. We requested to be the first because we had to drive back to Chicago and then I had to fly overseas. We didn’t know when we left what the committee thought. There were about 15 people there. We didn’t know what they thought about us. But, I knew one thing. I brought them unique ideas; Some things that other artists would not even think of doing, such as casting the sculptures in white bronze. Not many people even know about it, and not many foundries are willing to work with that either.”
Josh Gibson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

“What I did here is stretch the human links of knowledge into the form of art. When Andy and I discussed this, we said it’s all bets off in here. We don’t know what is going to happen. (After the presentation), I flew over to Tel-Aviv to the Kibbutz and Andy was on the phone telling me it’s up to you to lose or win. They have asked if you can do some slight changes. Of course, I will do some slight changes. It was a negotiation between the artist and the commission. If Michelangelo can do changes, I can do changes too!! (chuckling)”

"Now, I did the changes but some artists these days have found the easy way to do sculptures. They do laser cutting into Styrofoam. They get the Styrofoam and veneer it with clay. The pieces we do, you can do that way. We go into the hard core. You have to weld the spine of the sculpture like a human spine with all the form that can hold it in fly position. You have got to build it up into a strong material that will hold the clay in all directions and in all weather and all temperatures. And you have to go into reduction like you are carving marble. While everybody else is building up, we are carving down. Just like training in marble. It allows you to go and create the negatives and the positives stronger and follow the shadows. It creates the motion effect much better. In the way we work with the pieces, when the clay is finished, and the committee gives the OK to continue, the piece is still not finished. In the wax, we are still sculpting. In the bronze—in the very end—we are still sculpting.”
(Copyright, Timeless Creations, Inc.)

“For example, in Wilt Chamberlain, I wanted to finish the piece with a plasma-cutter to create more energy, more flow in the form, burning the metal, shooting it out with the plasma. And I am planning to do it in some of my next pieces. I see the piece done only in the metal (not beforehand). Compared to an artist who does everything in the clay and when it’s done in the clay, that’s what is going to be in the wax—that’s what it’s going to be in the bronze. It’s a done deal. No, not for me. The sculpture is alive and in motion until we install it at it’s designated space.”

I would take it that there have been times where your original concept looked really good, let’s say, on the computer, on paper so to speak, but once you saw it transforming you realized you needed to make major changes along the way also? (SBF)

“You are perfectly right about that. I can honestly say that after looking at the initial concept, clients will say: ‘Let him go with that. Let’s see where he is going.’ Look at the pieces of The Red Wings, how the effect between the bronze, the glass and the 4th Dimension and the energy of form all work together. No doubt it’s also why you see them all over the televisions in the State of Michigan. It’s a proud billboard and statement for this team all-around. They have become a cultural effect (The Detroit Red Wings)."

“So, what is wrong with that? What is wrong with that? It’s good.”

Did you know at that time that Principal Owner Mark Lerner was one of the commission members? (SBF)

“Yes, I knew that. I talked with him briefly one time.

Looking at the pictures of the clays right now. If I understand correctly, there are two more steps, possibly three? (SBF)

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

“I need to work on Frank Howard’s wax and energy forms, because we noticed in the clay we couldn’t finish off the full effect on the energy. You got to go to the wax, dilute it and change it to make more forms of energy. From that moment it’s all about the casting and casing and the build up. It’s a very, very important step. We are working with a foundry of artists in Michigan, in Kalamazoo, the Alchemist Sculpture Foundry. Guys who themselves are artists and their understanding is tremendous and their excitement (for our projects) is as well. Every time we work with them they are waiting to see what the next challenge will be. How this piece is going to withstand its interior infrastructure and the forces of building this type of sculpture with all the elements added in.”

“Some people will go into their computer and try to create some thing like we did with Michael Jordan, with the wind factor on that sculpture (but they don’t understand the difficulty). This (our work) is going to be four times stronger than any structural engineer would have ever approved of. And they (the foundry) will be good to go with it. It’s unbelievable the work they do there. They will not take no for an answer; they do whatever is necessary to complete the job.”

How many more months will it take to finish these three statues knowing they are to be unveiled sometime in the Spring of 2009? (SBF)

“That is what it’s going to take.”
Walter Johnson, (c) 2008, Omri Amrany, Commissioned and original owned by the DC Creates Public Art Program, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

So it’s going down to the wire? (SBF)

“I wouldn’t say that. Maybe the installation will happen at the last second, but I need to see the pieces a little earlier to work in the bronze. Andy and I will go and look at the entire pieces and do whatever I can to make any needed last changes. Andy will orchestrate the installation. So, we want to be sure that we don’t get to the last second (needing changes). Sometimes we have to get to the last second. Harry Caray we worked until 1:30 in the morning before the day of the unveiling because the granite company could not get the computer analyzing the right angles in the granite (for the base). So we had to finish it by hand.”

You just mentioned a few minutes ago you have to make some adjustments on the motion in Frank Howard’s swing, but overall, I am curious to know—are you happy with how everything is coming along on these three statues? How much have they changed from your original concept? (SBF)

“I am very pleased with what we have. And I am sure it will exceed my expectations on what we are doing. People do ask me what’s my best piece? Well, it’s the piece I have never done yet. I am hoping in my next sports figure that we do, we can go the extra mile. I will give you an example. I am working on a sculpture for Willie Mays and I created a drawing of him catching and throwing at the same time. Everybody knows “The Catch”. Many people forget about “The Throw”. Basically, he threw the ball and burned another player on the spot. So, the twist of it. The capability to run and catch with your back to the ball and then turn and make a pinpoint throw to another player. Well, he can do that right, but there is no computer out there that can do that yet. It’s what I call the Human Factor.”

“So, I am taking that, but I want to create it only by energy. It would be like taking The Mona Lisa painting and create Mona Lisa in which you see The Mona Lisa, but you don’t see her—just the energy. I want to go the extra mile with a sportsman that everybody will say: ‘It’s Willie Mays—The Catch, but what is here is The Spirit. That’s what I want to do.”

From start to finish, how long has this played out—from start to now with just a few months to go? How much time will be spent on these statues? (SBF)

(Andy Rotman-Zaid, Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc. steps in to give the details)

(Andy) “I asked Omri and Julie and they said they first went to Washington in March or April of ’07. So, with that as the beginning point, we are going to install sometime in April of ’09—this has been two years in the making.”

Are The Nationals involved in any way with your work? (SBF)

(Andy) “They are. I have been working with Frank Gambino (Lerner Enterprises Vice-President) a whole lot. And he is helping me sort out the sites and placements along with The DC Commission. They have been very helpful—as much as they can be—considering what we are doing.”

The bases for the statues, what are they made of?

(Andy) They are laser etched in granite and the copy is being written right now through Frank. Sean Gibson and Hank Thomas (Walter Johnson's Grand Son) have weighed in on what they would like the copy to read.
(Thomas Family Photo, Copyright Nats320)

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

Final question for Omri: When the statues are unveiled, or any unveiling for that matter, when you go to an unveiling of one of your works, what kind of feeling do you get out of it? (SBF)

“What I like to do is step aside and watch the crowd—that’s my fun. I want people to ignore everything else and just walk around and relate themselves to the pieces. I like to distance myself completely and watch them. When you unveil the form everything is so fresh. So objective judgment is almost useless, impossible. So, you give it time and see how it works. But mostly, I just like to see the reaction.”

“When Julie did the unveiling for The White Sox, it was really moving. The whole team came for the ceremony. And it was impressive to see how everyone was jumping all around. It’s fun to see that. This is our way of communication through the arts and the public and what we are doing with it.”

With those final words, My Conversation With Omri Amrany concluded. For nearly 90 minutes, Omri and Andy had taken the time to discuss with Nats320 the details about Timeless Creations Inc.'s work, and their efforts to honor three of Washington's Baseball Greats at Nationals Park in 2009. No one had sat down before to speak with Omri about his current efforts for The DC Commission for The Arts & Humanities.

And how very exciting to know they, along with The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities, were going to allow Nats320 to display some photos of The Statue Work In Progress for Fans of Our Washington Nationals.

Again, many thanks to Gloria Nauden, The Executive Director for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities who was very receptive to my original ideas for this conversation. And to Rachel Dickerson, The Arts In Public Places Manager for The DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities who made all the contacts, put Omri & Andy together with me while setting up the interview.

Finally, thanks to Andy Rotman-Zaid (Project Manager for Timeless Creations, Inc.) for his tireless efforts to assist in any way possible to make these posts happen--even while stuck in a snow storm and walking in snow shoes--IT's TRUE!!--and Funny--especially when he speed dialed me accidentally looking for directions--thinking he was talking to someone else. It was a great laugh!! And of course, Omri Amrany, who was as devoted and engaged in speaking with me for this chat as apparently he is with his everyday artwork. Omri really got into the discussion and I appreciated his enthusiasm--tremendously.

Hopefully, all of you, Our Nats320 Readers, enjoyed the interview and the working pictures of The Statues of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard.

(Hondo Photos--Copyright Nats320)

PS--Andy also told me that My Favorite Player Of All Time!!, Frank Howard, has been his usual self-deprecating self. "Hondo" has turned down all offers to come to The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany to see the works in progress. As usual, Frank Howard says he is touched anyone would consider "Honoring" him.

PSS--Just a reminder that all production photos are copyright protected:

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

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

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


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Jeff. These three statues are going to be so great.

Anonymous said...

The first picture the one of Frank swinging the legs don't look right in the swing. I love the fact that the three statues include Hondo. He deserves it. His plaque should read something like "Hondo was the most powerful Homerun hitter in baseball, with homerun records falling right and left his 10 homeruns in 20 at bats in 1969 (or 70) is still a MLB record" It should not say "Capital Punisher" anywhere that was the winner in a Washington Post (maybe the Evening Star) contest to come up with a new nick name it didn't catch on, no one calls him that. He will always simply be Hondo. Please,Please don't put Capital Punisher on it that will ruin it.

Anonymous said...

I am still continue to ask myself why do we have two papers in Washington, DC?

Great job Sohna!

Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year!

PS Will be passing by Viera on Christmas day.

Anonymous said...

I should have added in the 1st picture of the Hondo statue it also looks like he is reaching foa pitch 3 feet outside and one of the other photos that appears to have the staggered motion of the bat hopefully won't be used it make it look messy. Hopefully the artist's will listen to the input from those who saw Hondo play

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Churchill, "If the Internet and Nats320 should last a thousand years, future Nationals fans will see the story on the statues and say, 'This was Nats320s finest hour'."

Great work you two. It is FANTASTIC, after 35 years of telling people about the GREATNESS OF FRANK HOWARD, to know I will be able to show them his statue at the park. Wow.

Anonymous said...

What is going to take longer? Reading this story or the Teixeira sweepstakes? :-)

Just kidding, great work as always!

Anonymous said...

Hey SBF - does the artist plan on making these statues available for purchase (on a much smaller scale of course)? I'd like to get a bronze Hondo for my sports room.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that the huge B&W photo of Hondo draped in the background is from the late 1950's when Hondo played winter ball in the Dominican Republic. His swing was raw back then. IMO, they should have used a mid 1960's or early 1970's photo. Hopefully, the final production will be accurate.

Mike Licht said...

Nationals owner Theodore Lerner is now worth $3.2 billion dollars. The Lerner family already owns art, a major league baseball team, and lots of real estate.
Art is good. Baseball is good. But why is the cash-strapped DC Government buying art work for the wealthy Lerners?