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Granite sculptor Jesús Moroles helps USAO students, campus “come together"

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Granite sculptor Jesús Moroles, of Rockport, Texas, talks about his granite park project at the USAO in Chickasha.
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EARTH FRIENDLY: Internationally-known sculptor uses granite created from heat and pressure coming from the center of the earth

CHICKASHA, Okla. –  On a cool and cloudy May morning, internationally-renowned sculptor Jesús Moroles was surrounded by the sounds of granite – large and small - being cut, ground, polished and burned as part of a massive art installation being prepared for Coming Together Park at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

Having traveled around the world multiple times and has had his massive pieces installed at numerous galleries, businesses and private homes, Moroles, who works out of his home studio in Rockport, Texas, agreed to be USAO’s first-ever artist-in-residence and to work alongside students and faculty on what he calls an “environmental installation.”

Moroles, 65, told Red Dirt Report that his time working on this granite park project will conclude - hopefully - by the first of August.

"Hopefully the weather will cooperate," said Moroles, looking up into the iron-gray sky.

Layne Thrift, an assistant professor of art at USAO, forged a bond of friendship with Moroles over the years and helped in bringing him here as an artist-in-residence.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for our students,” Thrift said in a press release. “There are very few universities in the country where students can work with granite on this scale and to be able to work directly with an artist the stature of Jesús Moroles is just incredible.”
 
Thrift estimated 150,000 pounds of granite would be used in the park.
 
In 2008, Moroles received the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush for his “enduring achievements as a sculptor of stone.” It is the highest achievement that an rtist can receive from the U.S. government.
 

Positioned at various spots near Troutt Hall and Coming Together park, students, wearing masks to protect themselves from the lung-damaging effects of the silicate on the stone, were engaged in this project as part of USAO’s five-week “independent study period” following spring semester, said Rob Vollmar, USAO spokesman. This is allowing the students “one-on-one instruction” with one of the leading granite artists on the planet.

Vollmar said Moroles is teaching this independent study course and will teach another program this summer, meaning he’ll be on and off campus at least through August. And while teaching the students, he said, Moroles will set an example for the students on how an artist works and the behavior they should model in creating their artwork.

“There are not that many people who work in granite at all and there are very few people who work on granite to the scale Jesus does, he has pieces in China and India and Egypt and the CBS Plaza in New York,” Vollmar said, adding that Moroles may be the “foremost worker of granite, maybe in the world.”

The Coming Together Park, when it is completed, will feature a series of granite rings placed around the trees that currently define the areas just north of the university’s signature oval. Garnishing the area inside the ring will be a bed of crushed granite stones. Asked about the cost, Vollmar said The cost of the project is estimated at $270,000. Zero dollars of that cost is being passed on to our students. The funding is part of our comprehensive fund raising campaign known as Ready, Set, NOW, which has been underway since November 2012 and is scheduled to conclude in November of 2015.

Additionally, as the park project progresses there will be an arroyo or dry creek bed, along with small plazas in the park, offering students a place to gather, or, referencing the park’s name: come together.

“The park installation is important to the campus and important to the future of the university,” Vollmar said.

THE COMING TOGETHER PARK

Walking around the park-in-progress, Moroles pointed out what the different groups of students were working on, preparing a granite-lined sidewalk, with pieces of granite. And granite slabs for the rings around the trees.

And while they have already been working on the park for several weeks, the rain has slowed things down. On this particular day, the rain held off, although the day before it flooded so much in Chickasha, someone JetSkied down a city street.

The neat thing about the granite arroyo is that when it rains, it runs, when it is dry, you can walk down it like a pathway – like an actual arroyo.

"We're sculpting the ground, we're bringing out what is already here," Moroles said, adding that the college loves the design so much that they are taking it to the rest of the campus. 

MOROLES WORKS WITH LUIS JIMENEZ AND FINDS HIS ARTISTIC CALLING 

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas and raised in Dallas, Moroles says he took to art at an early age and was doing commissions by the age of 11.

“I finally discovered granite during my last year in college.

“I was inspired by contemporary artists doing the work, (Isamu)Noguchi a Japanese-American who was doing public pieces, ceramics, jewelry. Everything was art, like Picasso. That’s what I liked about him.

“I started out in painting and drawing and jewelry, but I finally chose granite to get my name out there. It’s harder when you bring them up at all the same time. It’s easier to focus on one thng.

“Hard to mold it. Can’t push it around very easy. It doesn’t come out of a machine. Not like metal or plastic,” he said.

“I kind of had a plan. A five year plan and  a 10-year plan. It’s kind of hard to get somewhere if you don’t have a plan,” he said.

Moroles said things really took off for him early on, when he was getting NEA grants and getting into museums and galleries.

Helping him on that path was Luis Jimenez, an internationally-known sculptor that Moroles worked with for a year, when he was in college.

“What I’m doing here at the university is giving back because that’s how I got my leg up,” he said.

Moroles spoke highly of Jimenez – “an amazing artist” – and recalled being “volunteered” by an art teacher to assist Jimenez at the Fort Worth Art Museum while Moroles was a student at the North Texas State University.

“By the end of helping him install in the museum, (Jimenez) asked me to come work for him,” Moroles said. “I said, No, I’m going to Italy.’ I had already decided to go to Italy and work where Michelangelo had worked. And I graduated and I realized I didn’t have enough money to go and stay in Italy very long. So, I was living in a bus I had converted, an old Amarillo city bus that ran on propane. I just jumped in it and drove to his house in El Paso and knocked on his door and his wife answered the door. I told her who I was and she said, ‘Oh, he’s in Dallas looking for you.’”

He learned a lot. Always late for his commissions. Always late for exhibitions. He had a reputation,” he said of Jimenez.

“He did political art. He pushed the buttons on society, looking to get a reaction. It’s the opposite of what I do. I’m not political or anything. I’m creating plazas, totally different from getting a political reaction.”

He was always pushing the boundaries. He grew up and his father did a lot fo the signs in Las Vegas, on the marquees, so that’s why (Jimenez’s) work had the shining eyes and he used fiberglass.”

He did what came from his roots,”

“When that mustang he was doing for the Denver airport flipped over and killed him, they asked me to finish the commission, since I worked for him, and I didn’t want to get into the middle of the politics for that,” Moroles said. “He would push buttons. All about border crossings or the American dream, which would have a car on top of a naked girl. He liked those bold paintings (of Mexican artists David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera) and making them into sculpture.”

Moroles continued, talking about his friend Luis Jimenez.

“He was a maniac,” he said with a chuckle. “He worked hard and his work killed him because he was so behind.”

Being blind in one eye and working with cables and large objects, like the controversial, 32-foot tall, demonic-looking “Blue Mustang” at the Denver International Airport, a fiberglass sculpture that locals nicknamed “Blucifer,” a large section of that sculpture fell on Jimenez and severed an artery in his leg, killing him in 2006.

That DIA “Blue Mustang” sculpture was based on an eight-foot high sculpture called “Mesteno” (“Mustang”), that was in front of the Fred Jones Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma.

“I just got off the board of the Smithsonian in Washington and we bought the “Vaquero” (“Mexican Cowboy”) sculpture for the front steps of the Smithsonian,” Moroles said. “(“Vaquero”) was the first piece I did when I went to work with him.”

Jimenez’s sculpting helped Moroles work through limestone and marble and ultimately settling on granite, this after he was already able to make a good living doing art.

“But I realized it was the hardest thing I had ever done,” he said, working with granite. “I found that it was pushing me instead of me pushing it. And I do it because it challenged me, because everything else was really easy.”

COMING TO OKLAHOMA

Venturing to the Sooner State for various art exhibitions, workshops (at Quartz Mountain – near Granite, of course) and museums and universities, Moroles became more familiar with the culture and people in Oklahoma and he made many friends. And that is not surprising, considering how friendly and easygoing Moroles is as you talk to him and ask him questions about his life's work.

“Been coming here for 30 years, working with the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain,” he said.

The granite Moroles and the USAO students are using are from two locations – from a burned-down, granite house owned by the late Dr. Ingrid Shafer, a longtime professor of philosophy and religious studies at USAO and also 36,000 pounds of granite from a quarry in Texas.

Moroles showed off a terrific coffee-table book, featuring his artwork - simply called Moroles: Granite Sculpture - and leafing through it, one can't help but note the very complimentary introduction written by Peter C. Marzio, the director fo the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Talking of Moroles' "stewardship" and his "ritual that is woven into the very work of art and its function," Marzio said "ritual" seems to echo from Moroles' artwork, adding, "More often than not, Moroles' sculptures seem as though they are descended fromt he worls of ancient mound builders, sawed and carved and blasted from the earth."

The students, meanwhile, seemed very focused on their work. Perhaps it was due to the threat of rain. More likely, though, it was because they love what they're doing - creating a long-lasting artistic addition to campus.

Talking to one of the granite students, Chickasha resident April Bradley, she said she was one of the students working on granite ring for one of the trees in Coming Together Park.

"I enjoy this," Bradley said. "It's a lot of fun."

Red Dirt Report will continue to monitor the progress of Moroles's work on Coming Together Park and will have a follow-up in a few months.

To learn more about the amazing artwork of Jesus Moroles, go to www.moroles.com.

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