Lucy Sherman: The Twin Cities Embrace Public Art, Artist Hugh Lassen


Hugh Lassen speaks to an Art Walk participant during a celebration of his piece Bud Form in Auburn. Lassen is a grower of wild blueberries in Maine and was inspired for this piece by the swollen buds in early spring that predict a prosperous season. He likes to work marble for the durability of the material. “Kids can climb on it, they can poke on it, they can put sunscreen on it,” Lassen said, “The oils give the piece a pretty nice patina.” Dossier Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

For those new to the Twin Cities – Lewiston and Auburn – or for those who hadn’t noticed before, please note one of our new public art commissions fortunately nestled in James B. Longley Memorial Park.

The 6-foot-tall, 9,300-pound granite sculpture titled “Bud Form is one of many “rocks” that artist Hugh Lassen magically transforms. If this sculpture turns out to be a refined work of art, it is nevertheless an abstract work. So an average visitor doesn’t see any immediately recognizable shape – like a dog or a face – associated with a particular meaning. However, even an abstract work, or its creator, tells us something, or perhaps expects to evoke something from the viewer.

One may wonder, what does this sculpture say in the context of the city?

Why should we care?

What does his sculpture and/or his work say in relation to other sculptural mediums?

In an attempt to answer these questions, I took the liberty of traveling north to Cherryfield, where Lassen’s studio and home are located. But more specifically, where an expanse of 12,000-year-old rocks are scattered in a meadow of wild blueberries (Lassen runs a blueberry business during the summer). Although unrelated to Lassen’s practice, these ancient rocks alongside his polished rocks are unmistakably in conversation with each other. He actually acquires his stones from stone yards in different parts of Maine and Canada. Below is a guide to the Lassen Stones discography:

Gneiss Granite: a metamorphic rock composed of minerals such as quartz and feldspar, which form under intense heat and pressure. The gneiss is foliated, causing pockets of lighter and darker minerals that vary in density. Gneiss tends to have a salt and pepper complexion.

Slate: fine-grained, clay-like, metamorphic rock that splits or cracks easily into durable slabs. The slate only splits on the cleavage rather than on the bedding plane. It is a very soft and malleable stone due to its formation under low grade metamorphic conditions (low pressure and temperature).

Blue stone: a generic term for sedimentary rocks like sandstone or limestone that appear blue-gray in color. These rocks form underwater by the granular deposition of other rocks and minerals, which lend themselves to relatively easy malleability.

Soapstone: soft, smooth metamorphic rock formed under patterns of fluctuating heat and pressure, combined with the infusion of mineral-rich water and other liquids. Soapstone is commonly used as a countertop surface and for cooking pots and fireplaces, due to its heat resistant properties and unique veining pattern.

Basalt: dark-colored, fine-grained igneous rock that underlies more of the Earth’s (and Mars’) surface than any other type of rock.

Bud Form,” like Lassen’s other works, began as a series of preparatory sketches, then a scale model, sculpted in plaster and spray-painted with a dark granite-like finish. Some models are sent to a foundry (Green Foundry at Eliot) to be transformed into molds which will then be cast in bronze. These molds are sometimes included in exhibits. They also serve as proposals to send to selection committees, juries, or a curator (in this case, the Maine Arts Commission and LA Arts), who use the model to adapt to the needs of the space and the community. planned.

I’ll just note that the scale models are impressive on their own. Once a final prototype has been established, Lassen initiates his craft, like the great Hephaestus. His sculptures begin with a large slab of granite, so heavy that it can only be moved by a crane and a truck. (Namely, “Bud Form” started out as an 18,000+ pound slab.)

Most of the cutting is done with the delicate hand of a chainsaw, then later, with smaller circular sanding tools of varying grit, to further define its distinct curves, holes and concaves. Lassen asserts himself as a direct sculptor, in line with the work of the 20th century by artists like Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepsworth, so that the hand of the artist is directly linked to the finished work.

Compare pop artist Jeff Koons, whose hand is in the conceptual, which is then physically realized by a paid team of studio assistants (i.e. “Balloon Dog); on the other hand, Brancusi chose to make his sculptures by hand, by carving them himself in wood or stone, or by casting them himself in metal (“Bird in Space”, 1923).

Some stones are harder to work with than others, Lassen says, such as slate’s fragility and susceptibility to scratches, as opposed to granite’s strength and smoothness.

One of Auburn’s most recent pieces of public art is “Bud Form” created by Maine sculptor Hugh Lassen. The abstract sculpture at the entrance to the Longley Memorial Bridge overlooks the Androscoggin River. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal File

Installing “Bud Form was no walk in the — James B. Longley — Park: it required some serious crane maneuvers and the heavy lifting of this seemingly fragile object off the ground. Mounting the object requires careful offsetting of the base of the sculpture so that it rests evenly on the curving topography of the park, an engineering tool that Lassen has developed over many years of installation.

His sculptures take about a year to complete, a somewhat slow and contemplative process, although he finds the culmination of each project extremely rewarding.

Lassen often finds inspiration for his figures in the rock itself; the heavier the rock, the simpler the shape. His work is sculpturally more reductive than additive, so the focus is on a single medium: rock.

He is particularly interested in the representation of human and animal forms, although the abstraction of his works elicits almost incalculable interpretation. Perhaps what he really wants to represent in his sculptures is the essence of an object reduced to its simplest form. Consider the polysemous nature of the word sculpture, how many forms it can take, how many mediums and how many meanings.

Lassen’s work “Rhino,” currently on display at Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, was one of 30 sculptures chosen for an art initiative called SculptureNow. He was struck by the artists’ diverse approaches to sculpture and how the meaning of the sculpture was not only different, but also worked.

Lassen has been commissioned to create another sculpture for the town of Lewiston, which is expected to be installed early in the new year. This work, “Arboreal Figure”, will be mounted in Kennedy Park, among its arboreal counterparts – the trees.

A Lassen sculpture is made to be touched, climbed, stuffed. It’s not something we’re supposed to ‘understand’, but rather something to feel, something that unifies the landscape.

If there’s one thing I learned last summer while living and working in Lewiston, it’s that this city is dedicated to public arts and sees legitimate value in unexpected encounters in a mural. , a series of photographs along the road or sculptures. that light up, vibrate or linger peacefully.

In this way, I think Lassen’s “arboreal figure” will rest well in one of our most expensive parks.

Abby Sherman is a student at Bates College, where she is majoring in art and visual culture.

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