The unique work of two artists comes together this month when the Dahl Arts Center presents “Iron and Oil,” featuring scrap iron sculptures by John Lopez and oil landscapes by Jenny Braig.
“A lot of my technique comes about from pushing myself to work faster and more expressively,” Braig said when describing her method of layering paint, then scraping it away to create depth and relief on large-scale images.
“It’s kind of a relief of a drawing in the paint. I think it adds depth, but it adds surface, as well. I like that it’s between suggested depth and being purely textural in surface. People often say it looks so real,” she said.
Her method arose in part, she explained, out of necessity, since it’s easier to remove paint than to put it on.
“It goes a lot quicker. A lot of my technique comes from pushing myself to work faster and more expressively — plus I wanted to work big and this method is pretty quick for getting the suggestion of grass and leaves.”
A busy artist, Braig created more than 20 pieces of work specifically for the “Iron and Oil” show, in addition to the many pieces she has in five other galleries in South Dakota and Iowa. She said she had a year to work on the Dahl show, which was a pretty short time frame, and in the process sold four of the intended pieces during the summer. Her last gallery show was in Brookings, and she had two years to work on those pieces. She also was honored when one of her pieces, “Hillside Hay Bales,” was chosen by the South Dakota Arts council for Art in State Buildings.
In 1992, Braig held her thesis show, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. The same year, she moved to Spearfish and quickly began painting South Dakota landscapes.
“You get better and better at stuff as you practice, just like a musician,” Braig said, who also teaches piano. “I think my paintings have really changed, and these shows have really pushed me further as a painter. … I like my work better now than I ever had.”
Lopez also has been pushing his work to a new level of creativity with metal sculptures created from old metal pieces. He is mostly known for his work casting bronze sculptures such as several presidents for Rapid City’s City of Presidents project, and for several other sculptures, including one for the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame of world champion barrel racer Charmayne James and Scamper, when Scamper’s bridle broke at the National Finals Rodeo.
From a family of ranchers, Lopez is plenty familiar with his favorite subject to sculpt — horses — and his favorite piece in the show is a life-sized scrap iron sculpture of a colt titled, “The Colt of Many Colors.”
“It’s scrap iron, but I painted it, so it’s kind of an interesting twist … a kind of blend of Jenny Braig’s and my work,” he said. “Kind of like what would happen if you mixed up oil and iron.”
Lopez has been doing bronzes for about 10 years, and began experimenting in sculpting with scrap iron about four years ago sort of by chance, he said, though he had seen it done before and had been fascinated by the process.
“My Aunt Effie (Hunt) died and I moved to the ranch with my Uncle Geno. I made a little angel at the cemetery gate with scrap iron, and after that I wanted to try other things … it just kind of exploded from that,” Lopez said.
Although he is still doing bronze sculptures, Lopez said he was starting to get burned out on them, and finding art in scrap metal gave him a new direction for his creativity. When he ran out of scrap on the ranch, family and friends began donating their “junk” to him, sometimes by the pickup load. He also gets old metal parts from a local parts store.
“It seems like somebody’s always got a Dumpster-full,” he said.
Many of Lopez’s new work integrates a piece of bronze work hidden in the scrap iron design that Lopez calls “hybrid metal art.”
“It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. I might cast up some smaller bronzes and hide them in the pieces, like a sculpted cat or something inside the wrenches and bolts and chains. It’s kind of like a Bev Doolittle painting, where you try to find the hidden art work.”
Lopez said he fell in love with sculpting in college at Northern State University in Aberdeen, where he carried his first piece, a 10-inch figure of a man, from room to room at the college and worked on it persistently.
“I knew that was what I wanted to do. I just fell in love with it. I was hooked. I found something I was good at and I went for it,” he said.
Living on his uncle’s ranch in Eagle Butte, he said, has allotted him the time and space to really explore his work, something he is grateful for.
“The Presidents is my job, so I work on clay inside where it’s warm. Then I go in the shop and work on the scrap. It’s so much fun, and it loosens me up.”
Lopez said he is excited about the upcoming show, which will be on display through March 8.
“This is the first time I had this many of my pieces in the same room,” he said.
Though both artists are familiar with each other’s work, they had previously not met.
“I didn’t know her before the show. I love her work; I’d love to have one of her paintings,” Lopez said about Braig, who shared the same sentiment.
“I like his work and I think we fit together because of the style he is doing right now,” she said. “I’m doing a lot of work with attention paid to the surface. We both create a lot of surface and textures.”