Monday, October 11, 2004

Hand Across Colombia

By Douglas McDaniel

Colombian-born sculptor/architect Roberto Gutierrez waves his hands in the air, conjuring the shape of each idea into invisible shapes. He leans into you, each gesture a dance of explanations, beaming the point home. Bursts of communication in Latin accents pour into a mold -- otherwise known as American vocabulary -- as the coffee house conversation exudes a cosmopolitan vibe.
"The main important thing I do is the human body in iron and bronze," he says during the interview as the weekend crowd rushes in and out at the Mama Java`s coffee spot. "The body, the shape and its movement are always part of the content."
With works that move with straining Superman muscles, bulbous Wonderwoman curves, his miniature and monumental sculptures made of bronze or wood or steel or stone usually consist of a fluid grace and power not so much Colombian in character, more like that global olympian named Atlas. They climb walls. They stand on stilts. They swim on plates of glass as the body is half above, half below the pane of the clear swimming pool`s surface.
Now an international success from Latin America to Europe, the Arrowhead area resident gets rave reviews from a curator of the Museum of the Louvre, Georges Gomez y Caceres, who writes: "His sculptures are alive!" With exhibitions in Paris, Tokyo, Bogota, and yes, Scottsdale, he has just returned from a show in Lincoln, happy to be back in town, beaming about the beauty of Arrowhead.
"It is a peaceful place," he says of his home with his wife, Stella, for the past one and one-half years (he has recently moved to a new home at 75th Avenue and Bell Road). "We walk around and see all of the green, the beautiful parks. It is a real American dream that sometimes you guys do not realize you have."
Before he makes spontaneous jaunts to Home Depot to get his materials, Gutierrez more or less designs everything in his head. Instead of hashing out his concepts for sculptures on paper, he says the trademark muscular forms are almost entirely wrought in his mind`s eye.
"Very rarely do I do drawings in advance," he says. "I love architecture and that is the reason I have a very, very clear idea of the details – how they will hang, how they will be installed, thinking always about the weight, the measure, the content of the piece. Sometimes it takes up to one to two years.
"I have 300 sketches in my mind of ideas, great ideas. Today I just realized an idea for something I had two years ago after I saw something this morning. One hundred ideas, working and working, melting into my mind. I am always thinking about the action of the movement."
Many of his most popular pieces feature Atlas men hanging in mid-air, doing acrobatics. In other works, his sense of humor and humanistic symbolism shows through. For example, one piece, "Deserter," shows a bronze figure crawling down from out of a picture frame to indicate a "thematic value" of a figure escaping from the slavery of the square. Pieces from sizes anywhere from 10 inches wide to six feet tall will be on view at the 8th annual Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour, set for Nov. 19-21 and 26-28 (call 480 488-3381 or visit
Of these new pieces, Gutierrez doesn`t really have a favorite.
"The last one is always my favorite," he says. "You have just applied all of your knowledge, all of your feelings. The last one is always the best."

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