Wood and steel, 3' x 2' x 1', 1998

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Interview with Heath Satow
by Rocío Heredia

I think that the day of the Opening of the Raleigh Durham Airport will be wonderful! I wonder if am I invited to North Carolina?
Of course! It will be a while, though. Due to construction delays, the piece won't be installed until late 2003, even though I have almost finished building the piece.

Tell us what role recognition and Awards have on your career?
None, really… I don't pursue either. I am honored when I get an Award or I am recognized for my work in some way, but I never seek that out. I try to win public Art projects so I can make something large and beautiful, I simply cannot afford to do work that big unless someone else pays for it. Even if I were wealthy enough to do that, I would still enjoy the challenge of creating pieces for specific places, I enjoy the interaction of art and architecture.

What have been the favorite projects to date in your career, and why?
One of my favorites was the "Whole Wheat" piece, for a number of reasons. The clients were a joy to work with, and the space was a real challenge. After it was done, it seemed that everything came together perfectly - the scale was right, the piece "sang" for me, and people seemed to truly love it. I think the airport project will be my new favorite once it is finished - I am very excited about seeing it all come together in the space.

Let's talk about one of my favorite subjects, what do you think about Art Critics?
I can take them or leave them - when they say something nice, they are great people, of course. Seriously, though, I became friends with a critic once that kept writing nice things about my work, and it was good to hear all her insights about what she saw in my work. It helped me to see the way other people see my work. In general, I like to hear what people have to say, good or bad. If I am trying to convey something in my work, it's good to know if it really is getting across.

I know that you're involved in architectural projects as well. How did you become interested in architectural designs?
The sculpture studio I worked for before I went out on my own was part of an architecture firm. So, a lot of the work I did also involved creating architectural elements. I still enjoy doing some of this sort of work, but my main focus is public art now.

Do you prefer working in large scale?
In general, the answer is yes. It is such a challenge to work at a large scale, and not just in a physical sense. The real challenge is getting the size right - too small and it gets lost, too large and it becomes overwhelming. It all depends on the space, and it's a balancing act to get it just right. Of course, you are sometimes limited in size by the budget of the project, and that becomes a whole other part to the challenge!

Talk us about your sculpting technique. What are the materials that you prefer to handle?
Mostly stainless steel these days. It is such a durable material, and requires no protective coating. I like the fact that I can just let the metal be itself. It is also a dream to weld, it welds very smoothly. It is difficult to work with in some ways because it is such a strong material, but the other qualities make up for that. That's why I rarely use aluminum - it is a pain to weld, it isn't nearly as tough as stainless, and I don't like the color. Stainless feels more "real" to me.

Would you say that the huge majority of your work to date has been in stainless steel?
Actually, I have done a lot of work in mild steel and copper, and I like both of those materials for their ability to take patinas. You can get a lot of color even in steel with different kinds of rust and other patinas.

What advantage do you experience in the use of a maquette?
I prefer to make models out of real materials when possible. For instance, if a sculpture will be made from stainless steel, I like to make the maquette out of stainless steel as well. It gives a better feel for the real thing, the way it reflects light, the way it feels. It also gives me a chance to actually show some of my metal working skills at the same time. It tells the client that I can do quality work even at this small scale.

Is the computer used for your projects?
Extensively. Once I have a basic idea, I sketch them on the computer in 3D computer assisted design software, like architects and industrial designers use. This gives me a chance to get a better feel for the scale of a piece, and I can do endless variations on a theme until I get it right, without wasting any real materials. I also use the finished 3D models to create renderings for presentations and working drawings when I start building the real thing. Using the 3D software, I can work out every last detail before I enter the shop. Of course, I always leave things open to change if I feel something different would be better once I am working on the sculpture in the shop. These are usually small details, but they sometimes make all the difference. This is just one advantage of fabricating the work yourself, instead of designing something and handing it over to a large foundry to build. God is in the details, right?


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