Molten iron comes out of the furnace at 2,700 degrees.
To Minneapolis-based sculptor Jim Brenner, who leads the iron casting during Meltdown, the heat is a strong part of iron casting’s appeal.
Brenner, whose pieces are shown in his hometown of Minneapolis, Chicago, Nebraska, Florida, Latvia and China — as well as Columbus — sold his first sculpture in 1992. He went on to get his bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and master of fine arts degree in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Q: How long have you been a sculptor?
I guess since 1992. That is when I sold my first work.
Q: What drew you to that medium?
I was a scenic painter; I painted theater sets. I started making props, and I fell in love with the making process in 3-D versus 2-D. I had an opportunity to go back to school to get a fine arts degree. I found I was drawn to the casting process.
Q: What do you love about sculpture?
I do a lot of big public sculptures. They talk to a more general audience. And then there’s the cast iron. The casting of iron is just really magical — the whole idea of creating something, capturing it, that energy that goes into it. I do the cast iron work for the love of the process. And I do the public work because I like the audience. It’s not in a gallery. It’s reaching everyday people who can bring their own experience to it. And gallery work also has its place. It can’t exist in the public area. The gallery is like its own sanctuary for art, just for art. My work is split up into different areas. In general, I love sculpture more because you can move around it more. You relate to it in a physical sense — that ephemeral physical presence reaches more directly.
Q: You seem to work in different materials — sometimes cast iron, sometimes glass. Does this mean you are always adding to your training?
I think a lot of the different parts I enjoy about sculpture are the problem solving. I love finding out about new processes, such as about the glass. That involved learning how to use computers to lay out glass chips and how to marry glass with steel, and using an ultraviolet lamination technique.
Q: What is your process?
Sometimes I’ll have ideas about how things will look or be in the world. Most of the time, my projects are driven by their site or what particular exhibits they’re going to be in. The commission work is driven by the site. I’ll try to take in that place and add my interpretations to it. As much as I can, I like to reflect some part of what’s going on and put it back into that.
Q: What do you like about cast iron and Meltdown in particular?
It integrates community involvement. It’s working with the community to produce something bigger. I hope to be able to — some day in Columbus — do a public sculpture with everyone in the community creating a piece of the sculpture. I had one idea that everybody would make some sort of boat shape. And we would suspend all of these boats together in a larger boat shape.
Q: Casting iron really has a strong element of danger to it. Does that add the appeal?
The metal comes out of the furnace at 2,700 degrees. There’s something about controlling that power or chaos that is exciting. There’s a little bit of danger: We kind of know how it behaves, but when I’m running the furnace it’s kind of like getting on a wild horse. It has its own personality. It will kind of kick up and buck. It’s exciting. I like the flame and the heat of the molten iron, how it’s so fluid and so solid shortly after — it’s so neat. I am a little attracted to the danger element for sure.
See more of Brenner’s work at jamesbrenner.com.