published Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Russell Whiting exhibit celebrates sculpture garden’s 20th anniversary

  • photo
    "Walking Winged Figure" is Russell Whiting's new work in the River Gallery Sculpture Garden.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: “Inside & Out,” drawings by Russell Whiting.

Where: River Gallery, 400 E. Second St.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday, through June 30.

Admission: Free.

Information: www.river-gallery.com

“Inside & Out” not only describes where metal sculptor Russell Whiting’s new art is mounted at River Gallery, but also the thought process behind his new collection of surrealistic drawings.

“I started looking at a lot of my older drawings and realized I could pick certain themes out of them and focus on drawing those,” explains the Louisiana artist. “They are surrealistic pieces that have bird anatomy and human anatomy mixed together with geometry. I like the title ‘Inside & Out’ because these drawings have been inside my head all these years and I’m finally letting them out.”

It’s not a coincidence that Whiting’s exhibit this month at River Gallery coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Bluff View Art District’s Sculpture Garden, which runs from the Hunter Museum of American Art, down the hill of East Second Street to the Riverwalk bridge over Georgia Avenue.

Whiting, nationally known for his metal sculpture, says his work was in the gallery’s earliest collections shown when the sculpture garden opened, and he’s had a piece purchased for the garden’s permanent collection. He was the featured artist in a 2010 sculpture garden show, and he has a half-dozen of his metal walking figures for sale there now.

“Customers like the fluidity and movement Russell Whiting portrays through the elegant carving of steel,” says Angie Supan, River Gallery director. “Customers respond to the modern interpretation of a classical form.”

Bluff View Art District visitors might not realize just how familiar they are with Whiting’s work.

That’s his dragonfly piece in front of Maclellen House and his walking angel just outside the Sculpture Garden in the cul de sac near the Tennessee Riverwalk, says Supan. Perhaps his most recognizable work is the winged Icarus mounted on the bluff in the sculpture garden, looking as though it’s ready to launch itself over the Tennessee River with the next gust of wind.

Whiting, a self-taught artist, says he has drawn since childhood. However, it wasn’t until he was working as a welder on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that he discovered he could use the acetylene torch for less utilitarian projects. He created his own metalworking technique in 1990 that helps him carve steel into graceful figures the same way others would carve wood.

“Just working with this medium is dangerous because it’s so heavy,” he explains. “My pieces weigh 1,000 pounds and I have to have a hoist to pick them up and move them around. It’s a lot of hard physical work. You have to be in fairly good shape to deal with it — not to mention working with a torch in the Louisiana heat and humidity.”

He is known for his “walking figures” — life-size sculptures of steel men, women or winged angels. But when a recent illness resulted in a three-month recuperation at home, a new collection of drawings emerged from the time he spent examining his childhood artwork. Focusing on specific images, he reinterpreted them in India ink drawings and acrylic paintings.

“I was also inspired by English artist of the 1990s named Aubrey Beardsley, who was fabulous with black and white,” says Whiting. “There is no shading. It’s either black or white. I really like that aspect of it. It takes a certain eye to get that.”

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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