Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Steel, fiberglass reinforced plastic, gelcoat, polyurethane, LED lighting
Height from ground: 50'11"; Total length of work: 53' 9/16"; Handle to Glob distance: 14' 4 7/8"; Glob height: 5' 11 3/4"; Glob diameter: 6' 3/4"
Commissioned March 2010 by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Installed August 20, 2011
Inaugurated October 1, 2011
Shortly before Christmas 2007, we were commissioned by David Brigham, the director of the Pennsylvania Academy, to make a proposal for a sculpture to be placed between the Academy museum and the school, in a narrow street that was to be redesigned into a "campus" or plaza that would lead people in the direction of the city's "Museum Mile."
I was reminded of the day in 1976 when I brought Coosje to the Museum soon after her arrival in the United States for the first time. She had come for the installation of Clothespin, my first sculpture in a civic setting. I wanted to show her the sights of Philadelphia of which the Academy Museum was one of my favorites. We were accompanied by Anne d'Harnoncourt, then a Curator at the Philadelphia Museum, which she was later to head.
I took photos of Coosje and Anne among the angels in white marble that fill the Museum.
This recollection made the site very appealing, apart from its historical significance. Coosje agreed and we began discussing possible approaches.
Unfortunately, in 2008, Coosje had to travel to Los Angeles for an examination of
the cancer which had afflicted her for several years. An operation followed with consequences that prevented her from ever returning to the East Coast. Coosje passed away in Los Angeles on January 10, 2009.
I completed our last project -- Tumbling Tacks, for Kistefos, Norway -- alone in May 2009. In December I was asked to continue the Academy commission and began to make sketches. After trying many subjects I chose a paintbrush, finishing a three-dimensional study in the beginning of April 2011. The Academy School was known for teaching traditional methods and had not given up the brush, which also suited a Museum that honors the art of American painting in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Colors of blue and orange were established. The model was approved by the board of the Academy on May 18.
The slenderness of the 53 foot sculpture was emphasized by placing the brush with the bristles pointing upward. It leans at a sixty degree angle over Broad Street in a beckoning gesture that invites visitors into the plaza. With the tower of City Hall as a backdrop, the slanted brush creates a dramatic contrast to the powerful verticals of the city that surrounds it.
The bristle part of the brush was molded into a solid sculptural form with a "blip" of orange paint on its tip, as if it had just picked up the paint and was about to place it on the sky. The source of the paint is suggested by a spiral "glob" of the same color on the sidewalk under the paintbrush.
The Glob and the Blip are lit from the inside while the entire brush is illuminated from the outside. Looking at the model, it was easy to associate it with the Torch of Liberty, a popular symbol in a city proud of its part in the American Revolution. The sculpture was appropriately titled Paint Torch.
Paint Torch was fabricated in fiberglass and aluminum at the factory of Kreysler & Associates in American Canyon, California, where Cupid's Span and several other Large-Scale Projects have been made. The finished piece was trucked to Philadelphia and permanently installed August 20, 2011 followed by an inauguration on the first of October.