Monumental new sculptures by renowned 9/11 artist take root at Houston Botanic Garden
If everything is biggest in Texas, then big-thinking Houstonians will surely want to catch "Intertwined: Exploring Nature's Networks," a collection of sculptures by renowned artist Steve Tobin, opening at the Houston Botanic Garden on January 28.
Tobin's collection of pieces soar and wind and unfold against the backdrop of the gardens paths and trees, connecting the bronze, glass, ceramic, and steel sculptures to the landscape.
The connection is important for Tobin, an artist who may be most well known for his Trinity Root, a memorial that was cast from the roots of the tree that protected one of New York City's cathedrals during the 9/11 attacks. As a child, he was known as "Nature Boy," which he says was as apt then as now.
"I would find twigs or mushrooms, and they would mean something to me," he tells CultureMap. "I'm the guy with my nose in the sand and my butt in the air, looking deeper than most people. I think I see more. I think it's part of my DNA."
Originally from Pennsylvania, Tobin graduated from Tulane University in 1979 with a degree in math. He was always drawn to art, however, and his massive creations, from eggs in bird's nests to roots and limbs woven together to branches stretching to sky evoke the powerful pull he feels to the natural world and a desire to help others see its beauty. The Christian Science Monitor described his works as "monuments to the meeting of science an art."
"Science is more creative that art," he explains. "Scientists have to describe the universe from nothing, and the explanation has to work. Artists can make up whole worlds. Scientists don't get credit for their vast creativity."
By focusing his works on the natural world, Tobin looks to showcase how the two subjects work in harmony, and how people can interact with them. In Eagle Nest, a huge, polished steel egg sits perched in nest.
Polished to a high gloss, the egg becomes a mirror. "You look at the egg and you see yourself," Tobin says. "It shows that you are in the egg."
For Tobin, there is magic in helping people, whether they are art novices or aficionados, find a connection with his art.
"I've done my job when someone has an expression of magic," he says. "And once you open that door, even for a second, it can never be fully closed."
He says he is looking forward to Houston audiences seeing his works in the garden, which he feels is a natural place for his sculptures — the biggest of which is 30 feet high and took 2,000 hours of welding to complete.
Showcasing his sculptures there cements the harmony with nature he feel and thinks is something others should strive to see. Tobin even has a connection to Houston: one of his great friends, a woman he met at Tulane, lives here.
Two other pieces also have Houston roots. Tobin says Steel Roots will resonate particularly well with Houstonians. "It's made from repurposed oil pipe, a lot of it from Texas," he says. "So now, it's back home in a different context."
And when Botanic Garden guest encounter the Twisties, they'll likely recall hearing the terms from Houston's G.O.A.T. gymnast Simone Biles, who famously used the word to describe the disconnect she felt between her mind and her body. Tobin's sculptures are between eight and 17 feet high and evoke Asian calligraphy. He describes them as "distorted gymnastics."
Mostly, though, Tobin wants Houstonians to get a window into how he imagines the world.
"I try to translate into sculpture what I see so people can see what I see."
"Intertwined: Exploring Nature's Networks" runs Saturday, January 28 through August 13 at Houston Botanic Garden, 1 Botanic Garden Ln. Regular garden admission is $15. For tickets and more information, visit Houston Botanic Garden online.