It is almost instantaneous the visual impact of John Lopez’s scrap iron sculptures. At first, you are filled with awe and then before you know it you are totally immersed in them. Everything – the precision, the style, the form and the story behind each sculpture is nothing short of breathtaking.
Sculptor John Lopez was born and raised on a ranch in Western South Dakota, USA. In his steady job which is sculpting bronze statues John has been quite successful and his western and rodeo theme bronzes have been well received by the public and have sold all over the country from California to New York.
For the past ten years, John has been working on ‘The City of Presidents’ project in Rapid City, South Dakota. John Adams, John F. Kennedy and John Jr., Calvin Coolidge, Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant are a few of the residents John has placed on street corners so far.
Capitalising on his job security, John started experimenting with his style of work and branched out into other sculptural forms. In the midst of a successful career in bronze sculpting, John Lopez discovered this exciting new direction: scrap iron sculpting. A life defining event in his life is what supplied John the impetus to look beyond bronze sculpting and become a scrap iron sculptor.
John’s beloved aunt, Effie Hunt died in a car accident and that is when he decided to move to his newly widowed uncle’s house to help him build a family cemetery. His uncle opened up his welding shop to John to enable him build a fence around the cemetery. John ran out of the iron that he was using to build the fence and resorted to utilising the scrap iron lying around the site.
After some experimentation, he finished a gate into the cemetery, and then even went on to fabricate a small angel that peered over the top of the gate. The project gave him much personal satisfaction, and everyone who saw it was amazed at the result.
A new career path was born in that cemetery. Not wanting to depart from his bronze casting expertise, John found a way to merge the two art forms and create new hybrid sculptures composed of everyday objects mixed with limited edition bronze castings. He was creating what is called Hybrid Metal Art – a sculptural fusion of figurative and funk, a blend of iron and bronze. “I am never bored! I look forward to each new creation, and it is helping me grow and develop as an artist,” he says.
In 2008 John placed his scrap iron monument of “Triceratops Cowboy” (a cowboy riding a Triceratops) in front of the Grande River Museum in Lemmon, South Dakota. Later that same year John placed his scrap iron T-Rex in Faith, SD, in honour of the largest T-Rex ever found by the name of Sue.
If you find yourself in Hill City you might see a life-size hybrid metal horse sculpture John did that won the people’s choice award at the Sculpture in the Hills show in Hill City in 2009.
John’s own forte lies in gentling colts and perfecting their bloodlines – and he started his celebration of them by first sculpting in clay and capturing every nuance and every muscle of their magnificent bodies.
And the man who knows bloodlines then picks from the elements of the past – the actual implements that plowed the soil or cut the grain or dug the dinosaur – and further creates the curve of a jaw, the twitch of a tail, the power of a shoulder.
Join John on a tour of kitchens and scrap piles, barns and grain elevators, cemeteries and workshops – hosted by the people of the prairie. Meet Uncle Geno and brother-in-law Stuart, and scrap collectors from near and far. Listen carefully. There’s a story in the wind.
John really does live in a field of iron. Iron from machines used to work crops; iron which homesteaders left behind when new equipment and technologies took over. “I live in a time where scrap iron is the fruit on the plains,” John says. “I appreciate the wonderful donations from family and friends. I love that people want to help me and be a part of what I am doing”.
Sometimes the young artist is asked what he imagines his grandfather, the pioneer stockman, Albert Lopez, would have thought of his scrap-iron sculptures. Perhaps the best answer was given by another old-timer, who came to one of his exhibits. The old gentleman spent considerable time peering intently at a scrap metal saddle. After long study, he announced, “Now that’s art!”
Text By Mala Bajaj
Photographs Courtesy John Lopez