“Our 17 month old grandson, takes me by the hand, tours me around my studio and home and makes the appropriate noises for each of my pieces. I can imagine his grandson doing this with him one day.”
I cannot think of a more succinct and delightful way to sum up the joys brought by Tom Hjorleifson’s sculptures than this, the artist’s own anecdote. In these two simple sentences, the artist has struck on the fundamental delights available only of his chosen medium.
First is this: sculpture is tactile, it’s engaging. Bronze in particular is lustrous and durable. Unlike painting and photography, which adults naturally restrain from and children are scolded for touching, barely a child enters the Gallery without greeting and petting ‘Sly Red Fox’, and alike few adults will pass ‘Bathing Beauty’ without stroking her proud nose. Whilst there’s no doubt that Tom’s realistic renderings are extremely masterful, in Tom’s own words, bronze is also “incredibly engaging”.
The artist elaborates on these characteristics further: with bronze, there are “infinite aspects it can be viewed from. The viewer has the opportunity to change the orientation of the piece, by moving it” (many of Tom’s works stand on rotating bases) “- or walking around it. Variations in light and shadow enhance three dimensional work.” Tom takes this interaction one step further in his most recently completed piece. “I've just finished a bathing grizzly bear, titled ‘Rub A Dub Dub’. This is my first interactive piece with movable parts, the paws. This changes the expression or feeling the piece conveys.”
It is interesting to talk of the emotion and expression conveyed in the wild animals Tom chooses to portray. It is human nature to anthropomorphize, encouraged by the playful titles provided by the artist. “I strive to have a joyful approach to life and this is often reflected in the composition and titles of my work.” Tom explains. “Sometimes a work is created from my interpretation of a turn of phrase, the composition and title often provide clues to my thought processes.”
Tom’s bull elk sculpture titled ‘Prince Charming’ is reference to both the naming of mature elks (an elk like this with 7 points on each antler is referred to as an Imperial stag, 8 points would be a Monarch) and, with sarcasm, the not-so-charming behaviors of the deer in mating season. Similarly, Tom elaborates of ‘Got Swagger’: “Like most species on our planet, including humans, bull moose like to show off in front of potential mates.” Each cub in ‘Vigilance’ and ‘Three Little Bears’, both of which were commissioned as a fund raising initiative, “has its own personality, as you can see by their expressions.”
In addition to finding inspiration viewing and photographing wildlife in the wilderness - “Living next door to a National Park provides ample opportunities!” – Tom identifies artist Frederic Remington as an influence. The famed American painter and sculptor of the Old American West is applauded for having depicted complex, multi-figural scenes in bronze with impressive storytelling detail. Furthermore, by sculpting Cowboys, Indians and the Cavalry towards the end of the 19th Century, Remington is recognized as having captured familiar yet rapidly declining characters in America’s story. His sculptures remain on display more than a century later, enabling the present viewer a physical connection with a moment in history.
This brings us (at last) to our second point: bronze has a timelessness like no other medium. “Viewing ancient bronzes, and thinking about the sculptors who created them, allows me see bronze art as a form of time travel” Tom reflects. This is not a romantic fallacy; Tom’s well-crafted pieces likely will be around for his grandson’s grandson to enjoy – just one of the many powers of bronze which romanced the artist when he first began sculpting in bronze 11 years ago.
That’s not to say that the sculptures are frozen in time; rather they seem to pass through according to their own rules. Depending on the chosen patina, Tom’s own bronzes (which are suitable for both interior and exterior installation) can be left to age naturally outdoors, “reflecting the passage of time and its environment,” or they can be maintained “allowing the subtleties of the patina to deepen and mellow over time.”
Like Remington, Tom too has the exciting opportunity to capture a pivotal moment in history. His next project will be a one-quarter scale Bison, in commemoration of the reintroduction of plains bison to Banff National Park this year. Aptly titled ‘2017’ the piece promises to be awe-inspiring and defiant. “Bronze is the perfect medium,” Tom explains. “As the bison has endured, so will the bronze.”