Art & Design Magazine

New Acquisitions: Bret Price's Hublot

By Americanart


Bret Prices's Hublot

How many of you, as youngsters, wanted to be a superhero when you grew up? I wonder if sculptor Bret Price had any such aspirations. He may not be able to leap over tall buildings, nor outrace a speeding bullet, but he does share one quality with Superman. He is able to bend steel. Okay, Price requires help from forklifts and jigs. He's only human after all. Nevertheless, his finished pieces are super in beauty and often heroic in scale, ranging in size from that of a coffee mug to over 34 feet tall!

Last year, American Art acquired such a sculpture by Price called Hublot. Hublot is one of Price's less monumental works, standing at just over two feet tall. The title means "porthole" in French, and sure enough, the circular shape of this sculpture and bronze coloring call to mind the round, watertight windows of a ship. After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts with a Masters degree in Fine Arts, Price began teaching at Chapman University, before eventually becoming the chair of the school's art department. Price created large ceramic pieces at this point in his career, having studied the work and methods of Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner. He struggled, however, to create clay pieces the size he wanted, frequently stalled by the logistical limitations of the medium. It was actually during a staff meeting that Price came up with the idea to work with giant pieces of metal. He decided to try heating up metal, much like he heated up clay, to manipulate it into looking soft and whimsical.

Price created his first steel sculpture in the parking lot of Chapman University's science center in 1979. With the help of two others, he bent a 40-foot metal beam using heat redirected from the kiln building. Years of experimentation have led Price to refine his methods. He now heats steel using a variation of a technique used by NASA to protect the underside of space shuttles and has replaced manpower with machinery.

About 20 years after making his first sculpture in that parking lot, Price met fellow artist Jim Dicke II at an event in Washington, D.C. The two men soon became friends and Dicke offered Price the use of his farm and equipment to bend the steel after Price had difficulties locating a suitable place to do so in his native Southern California. Dicke's Ohio farm afforded Price an additional benefit: he finds minimal distractions in the surrounding cornfields, which allows him to focus solely on his work.

Jim Dicke, a longtime patron of our museum, gave Hublot to American Art. We were thrilled to be able to find a home for it in the Luce Center's third-floor sculpture gallery where it sits between Robert Hudson's sculpture After Wood and Jesús Moroles's Georgia Stele. The sculpture can be seen on American Art's space within the recently-launched Google Art Project! Either way, come see this sculpture by a true Man of Steel. The cape-wearing, villain-fighting little kid in you will love it.

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