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Q&A with 'Of Many Ancestors' exhibition artist Gunnar Theel

Q&A with 'Of Many Ancestors' exhibition artist Gunnar Theel

July 22, 2019 // by Caitlin Swindell

Gunnar Theel works in metal sculpture ranging from smaller pieces to monumental outdoor works. One of his sculptures, Dial, is currently on view in MOCA's exhibition Of Many Ancestors, which highlights works from the permanent collection by twenty-six artists who either lived and worked in the United States or emigrated here and became citizens. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mr. Theel to learn more about his work and influences.

Initially trained in painting and lithography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Gunnar Theel emigrated to the U.S. and taught himself how to weld.  Since 1986, Theel has been creating sculpture often inspired by architecture including the Bauhaus Design Movement of the early twentieth-century. His works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the James A. Michener Art Museum in Pennsylvania, and the National Museum Archives for the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C. 

Tell us about your background and interest in art.

I was born in Germany, and I studied painting and lithography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 1968, I relocated to the United States of America, and in 1973 I began to work again in painting and drawing. In 1986, I trained myself as a welder and sculptor of abstract metal sculptures. My small to large sculptures have been exhibited in the U.S. and are part of private and public collections here and abroad. 

What are some of your artistic influences?

My art is influenced by the economy of Bauhaus architecture. The right angle in the physical world, and its inherent sensations of equilibrium and quiet are my reference points as I work towards the finished sculpture. I approach my work with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in mind; he advocated for “simplification of design and refinement of proportions.” 

 

Giacometti,-Alberto_-Man-Pointing-1947_H450
© ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, Man Pointing, 1947. Bronze, 70 1/2 x 40 3/4 x 16 3/8 inches. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art; gift of Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, 678.1954. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris. 
86_Theel_Edit_H450
© GUNNAR THEELDial, 1990. Painted steel, 17 ½ x 16 ½ x 4 ½ inches. Gift of Donald and Maria Cox, 2016.04.19

Tell us a little bit about your sculpture, Dial.

The sculpture Dial derives its title from a sundial and was intended as an abstract sculpture playfully composed of steel parts that happened to be in my studio.  A few months later the piece asked to be titled “Dial”.  This element of playing is serious business in my studio. In thinking again about my sculpture Dial, I am reminded of the graceful sculpture, Man Pointing by Alberto Giacometti, which combines figuration with abstract elements.

What is your artistic process like and what are your working on now?

Most of my sculptures begin their lives as cardboard maquettes. I recreate these designs into steel sculpture, which are compositions of carefully structured parts playfully joined together. This process echoes the theory of nineteenth-century French microbiologist, Louis Pasteur who said, “chance favours the prepared mind;” this is how my sculpture, Dial was born. Art is the opposite side of purpose. 

 

Theel, Gunnar - Beachhouse
© GUNNAR THEEL, Beach House maquette, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

Presently, I am working on small abstract sculptures made of randomly joined steel pieces painted white or oxidized. They are entirely abstract sculptures intimating houses, titled “Beach House.” Some of them are inspired by Georgio de Chirico's cityscapes and his Scoula Metafisica.  I am continuing to work on a commission for a 50' high painted aluminum sculpture to be installed in Washington D.C. This sculpture is part of my “Right Angles, Nereid” series of sculptures, which incorporate angled planes, reflecting natural light, that diffuse the borders between the exterior and interior surfaces. 

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