Sanabria is a retired army lieutenant colonel. Aside from dabbling in writing (he has two published books), he sculpts. He works primarily with metal—using the difficult copper brazing technique. This technique makes strong joints with the metal. In our correspondence with the artist, he further explains his work and inspiration.
Gallery Assistant Hannah Spector: In our permanent collection, we have your sculpture, Continuum. Can you describe where the inspiration for this piece came from?
Robert Sanabria: My sculpture, Continuum, was the direct result of a visit to the studio of the late Italian-American sculptor, Harry Bertoia (famous for his Diamond Chair). I first became aware of Harry while stationed in Germany during the late 50s and early 60s. Stationed in the Washington DC area a few years later, I discovered that Harry had a sculpture exhibition at Knoll International in Georgetown. Harry was present the day I visited his show. When asked about the possibility of visiting his studio, he suggested I write to set up a date. It was during that subsequent meeting that I first saw his sculpture fabricated in brazed copper tubing, a technique he pioneered.
HS: How do you split your time between sculpting and writing? Do you have any more books in the works?
RS: Unless I’m working on a commission with a deadline, I usually write during the morning and work in the studio in the afternoon. At the moment, I’m re-writing a screenplay based on my novel. When that’s finished, if such an undertaking ever is, I will return to writing. A number of people who’ve read the novel have suggested a sequel. I’ve started an attempt to discover whether it’s worth continuing. If not, I’ll abandon it and start anew in a different direction.
RS: Apart from the discipline and organizing ability that I assimilated from my military career, it doesn’t inspire my art. Inspiration often comes from simply working with the medium, whatever that happens to be. As a consequence, I often start out with one idea only to have that overtaken by a different idea inspired while working on the first, an event I always welcome. Being involved in a competition can also inspire a concept. In his book, My Life in Sculpture, the late Jacques Lipchitz described the manner in which he “discovers” a concept by making a series of clay miniatures. After the first one, he takes the part of it that appeals to him and tries to incorporate that into the next one. After ten or so of these, he settles on one and works on that to a completion. But even then, after coming back to it a day or so, he invariably makes more changes to improve it. I use the same approach, but usually not in clay. Instead, I often use Styrofoam, which I carve or assemble in pieces, or make small metal models as a point of departure.
RS: A large-scale sculpture usually starts out as a maquette, or scale model. It is then handed off to a fabricator or foundry, where it is scaled up to the desired size and finished. In that event, the sculptor’s hand is mostly eliminated, except to sign the piece. I’ve tried to do sculpture that allows me to do most if not all of the work myself. Of course when it isn’t possible to everything myself, I, too, resort to the necessary assistance. In the video, “Private Dreams, Public Art,” on my web site is a good example. The maquette can be seen in the background as I work on the enlargement. The concrete casting is done at a concrete yard, under my watchful eye.
My favorite part is developing a concept and bringing it to realization and done mostly with my own hands.