Visiting artist series kicks off with NYC sculptor’s lecture

The world of artist Steven Siegel’s abstract sculpture is populated by a breed of strange and fantastic structures whose bodies consist of discarded newspapers, crushed soda cans, empty milk containers and shredded rubber.

“I don’t depict, render or represent,” Siegel said. “It’s between the materials and my eye. I believe very strongly in making art that wants to be contemplated.”

The art department’s first visiting artist lecture of the semester, held last Tuesday evening in the New Library auditorium, allowed students to view a slideshow of Siegel’s unique creations and ask questions of the New York City-based sculptor.

Coordinated by assistant professor of art Ricardo Miranda, the event showcased Siegel’s accomplished catalogue of both studio and public art projects, in anticipation of his upcoming exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township.

Siegel will construct a large-scale outdoor piece with the help of local volunteers, including several of the College’s art majors. The finished sculpture will be open to the public beginning Saturday, Oct. 7.

Just like the breathtaking landscapes that inspire his art, Siegel’s pieces lend themselves to immediate experience and reflection.

Siegel’s eclectic collection of sculptural curiosities suggest something beyond the component parts, whether they tower over forest undergrowth alongside birches and maple trees, bask on riverfront promenades or cover an entire span of studio wall.

Senior fine arts major Michael Catalano appreciated Siegel’s presentation of his art. “He didn’t overanalyze it or try to assign specific meaning to the sculptures,” he said. “The works stood for themselves.”

Since these Frankensteins of consumer waste are products of the artist’s meticulous experiments with material, size and shape, the results are often as unexpected as the medium.

Intrigued by layers of soil and rock known as strata, Siegel constructed a series of sculptures that suggested the flow of sand and sediment and traced the geological history of Earth to its mysterious origins.

Recycled materials are sculpted into art that both questions society’s wastefulness and interprets the natural world polluted by it.

Projects like “Nest” (2005), in which newspaper is arranged in a tall, cocoon-like pile at the center of a group of trees, completes a cycle that starts when people destroy forests to make paper products. “Instead of trees making paper,” Siegel said, “we have paper biodegrading back into trees.”

The connection between art and nature is also evident in “Stories of Katrina” (2005), a gigantic pillar-shaped pile of newspapers filled with coverage of last September’s devastating hurricane.

To Siegel, the innumerable words and letters collected in the massive sculpture are analogous to cells, in that both serve as basic structural units within a unified whole.

Transitioning from geology to biology, this phase of Siegel’s work focuses on what he describes as “large accumulations of small things.”

Siegel’s large-scale projects intrigued Amy Lu, freshman fine arts major. “I like how he tried different things,” she said. “He’s not afraid to experiment with unusual materials like empty bottles and cans.”

Within his body of work, Siegel notes a natural progression from one project to the next – a sort of evolution checked by the artist’s self-described “artificial selection” of what stays and goes, what works and what doesn’t.

“I have no idea what the end is,” he said. “What I do is like science.”