It always starts with the place. The garden, the park, the stairwell, the commuter train station—wherever the artwork will be sited, Michael Szabo starts out by spending time in it. Szabo, a maker of sculpture, waterworks, and tabletop vessels, is one of the artists who will be featured in the American Craft Exposition (ACE), held at the Chicago Botanic Garden this weekend, September 23 through 25.
Buy your ACE three-day pass today to see the show all weekend long.
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday & Saturday
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday
$13 member/$15 nonmember
At this juried exposition and sale of fine crafts, visitors can see and buy one-of-a-kind works in metal, ceramics, fiber, jewelry, glass, leather, and other media. The show, which features some of the top crafts artists in the country, will help support pharmacogenomics at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Attending the show is a chance not just to see and buy art, but to talk to the artists about their creative process. Szabo’s begins with the site.
“I’ll come and look at a space, and it’s the space that really inspires the concept and the work, as well as the goals of the project,” he said from his studio in San Francisco.
He considers the landscape, the architecture, the feeling. He thinks about the spot’s history, its place in people’s daily lives, its meaning to a community. Then he puts his hands to work.
He builds a small model, experimenting with various materials and exploring how they move and behave. Ideas begin to take shape.
“The way the material acts is the starting point for defining the form,” he said. “I’m not trying to force anything to do anything it doesn’t naturally want to do.”
Take water. Szabo has learned by experience that you can’t force water to do anything.
“I’ve come up with a lot of my concepts about water by observing it, seeing how it falls, and trying to build the piece kind of around that,” he said. “I’ll design the sculpture around the water rather than the other way around. Water does what it wants.”
“Metal is a very forgiving and versatile material,” he said. “You get some beautiful curves out of it.”
As he builds the model, the exploration and creativity flow.
“It’s almost like I’m using this solitary, really exploratory process of building a small structure by myself and seeing what the material wants to do, creating these curves based on the material, gravity, stress, and pressure,” he said.
Then Szabo and his assistants turn his model into a full-size artwork. They fabricate support structures and shining curves of steel, assemble them in the studio and make the model into large-scale art—a wall of rugged metal panels covered by sheets of falling water, a sculpture formed of intertwining tendrils of steel, another that arcs and curves like a huge, silvery snake.
But his work isn’t all large-scale; he has never stopped making the small, sleek, steel vessels that marked his first explorations into making art with metal. He’ll be bringing some of his elegant tabletop sculptures to ACE, along with larger pieces and water features. And while visitors to the show will get to talk with outstanding artists about their work, the artists will also be able to talk to the public. It’s an interaction Szabo appreciates.
“It’s a really great opportunity to show what I can do and talk to people about what I do,” he said. “I really like getting the feedback and reactions of people to my work. It helps me understand how it’s engaging people.”
He is deeply involved in his current project, a commission from the town of Wylie, Texas, to create sculptures marking the start and finish of a walking path. He plans to evoke both the site’s past as a Texas blackland prairie and its future as part of the bustling Dallas metroplex. He’ll be glad to talk to you about it.
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