Mettle in Metal

Old Steel, at Shift through Aug. 2

McCarthy-old steel #5

Ed McCarthy modestly describes his sculpture practice as “in its infancy.” But his show tells another story.

So cleverly had he disguised the abstract, steel pieces that he displays as seemingly constructed from repurposed, rusted scrap that he had to put up a statement so viewers weren’t confused.

“The steel sculptures you see here aren’t old, nor where they made by welding together scraps of painted, scraped-up old steel,” he said. “I built them out of 16-gauge sheet metal. Then I painted them with many layers of industrial paint—sanding, wire-brushing, and abrading them in between coats to reveal the layers of paint, primer, and bare metal beneath.”

Ed admittedly got his idea for new art made old when he encountered a beautifully rusted and paint-chipped old truck fender that captured his imagination.

Art and engineering may seem like a true dichotomy—but not to people who know Ed. He has pursued both with a passion his whole life.

It’s hard to guess that Ed the sculptor is also a successful hydrologist who, in his consulting business, plies expertise in esoteric-sounding realms such as hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, stream restoration design, floodplain analysis and erosion and sedimentation control.

McCarthy-old steel #4Art and engineering may seem like a true dichotomy—but not to people who know Ed. He has pursued both with a passion his whole life.

As a boy entranced with building things out of Legos and Erector sets, he also loved to draw and to visit great art in major museums. While he worked toward his engineering degrees he still managed to squeeze in and enjoy art classes at college.

These days, if he’s not designing a work project in three dimensions with CAD software he might be sitting in the window seat at his Mazama retreat sketching out new sculpture ideas, in pencil and to scale. He finds that he has his best results when he works from drawings.

True to his scientific inclinations, Ed has been carefully refining his steel work for the past five years and says he is now to the point of understanding the metal’s full potential as an art material.

“For one, it’s pretty ubiquitous and it’s inexpensive,” he said. “I think it’s underutilized in art. It’s used a lot in construction but it’s mostly hidden. When it’s exposed, like in architecture, I think it’s beautiful.”

As an artist, Ed has valued the process of learning his materials well. “That’s one of the things I really appreciate now when I look at art,” he said. “I can understand how long it takes to be really good at one medium.”

True to his scientific inclinations, Ed has been carefully refining his steel work for the past five years and says he is now to the point of understanding the metal’s full potential as an art material.

McCarthy-old steel #2Pleased with the outcome of what he’s made in steel, Ed plans to try another tack. To that end he’s been building forms so that he can cast some of the shapes he’s created in a new but familiar material—concrete.

“In a sense I’m building up my vocabulary in shapes,” he said. “I sort of like the idea that I’m using the same shapes but moving in a different direction.”