Meet the Artist: Albert Paley

  • Artist Albert Paley discusses the fluidity of sculpting with metal, his early work as a jeweler, and how designing the Renwick Gallery’s iconic “Portal Gates” changed the trajectory of his career.

    - (Albert Paley) Most people think of metal as hard and rigid and unyielding, but when you heat it up and you form it, it's just the opposite. It's very plastic, it's very lyrical, it's very fluid. My work has gone through various aspects of transformation and the Renwick Gates were one of the real transformative commissions. There was a competition for the design of the gates and this was part of the restoration of the Renwick Gallery. The gates initially were designed for the, for the gift shop. It was the first commission that I had in the architectural arena. I was teaching at that time at Rochester Institute of Technology and professionally I was functioning as a goldsmith, specifically body ornamentation and jewelry. The size of the jewelry, the ambiance of the jewelry, was in reference to the human body. So, I had to switch into considering architectural space. So, how can an object bring focus and accent to articulate the pedestrian experience within architecture. In many ways what I experienced in the gates became a fundamental determinant of what happened later in my career. As much as I was dedicated to jewelry, museums weren't showing jewelry, people weren't writing about jewelry, and for me, the Renwick Gates allowed me to engage in the public arena and to be able to have that aesthetic conversation with people and that brought me into context with architecture which became a turning point in my career. And because of the gates, I basically ended my goldsmithing career. And now I'm embracing architectural related work, landscape design, and larger projects. Everybody thinks of steel as inorganic or industrial or impersonal. When it's actually being heated it's moving, like a dancer. And then it cools and it's frozen. When people see my work, you experience motion, emotionally. Intellectually, you know it's not moving. So, you have two diametrically opposed truths that come together. We can reconcile something that normally cancels itself out. And I think one thing that art always has done, is taken whatever it is, the the human form or nature or abstract thought or whatever, taking human dimensions and put it in a context that you view it differently that allows you to experience what you already know but you become more aware of it.
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