Happy Feature Friday!
For today’s feature we have sculptor Jesse Nusbaum of Jesse Nusbaum Art! When we first saw his sculptures we were amazed by the complexity, size, and realism of them. Well, actually… we’re still amazed! And how could we not be?! His huge sculptures are so impressive and unlike anything we’ve seen. Jesse is definitely a testament to doing what you love. He was set to be on a completely different career path, but his love of art outweighed everything else and he decided to pursue it. This feature will be sure to inspire you to follow your own passions just like Jesse!
: I am 25 years old and have lived in Weston, Connecticut my entire life. I have always had a passion for art from the time I could write and draw. My other great passion was sports. I tried all of them on for size. I got my black belt when I was 7 years old and played on local teams and travel teams in soccer, basketball, baseball, and wrestling. I was captain of my wrestling team and baseball team in high school and was selected First Team All-State in baseball in my senior year. I led the conference in home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. On the art side, I won the Best Sculptor Award during my junior year and senior year in high school. My father is an attorney in Westport, Connecticut, and the “plan” was that I would be a political science major, which I was at Muhlenberg College initially, and then I would attend law school, which I did for a total of three weeks at the Charleston School of Law, at which time I immediately realized my passion for art far exceeded any desire to become a lawyer.
After leaving law school in September 2014, I immediately commenced my career as an artist full-time. Two of my husky sculptures are being gifted to Coach Kevin Ollie of the University of Connecticut in recognition of his 2014 National Championship and the second one is being gifted to Coach Geno Auriemma, the Women’s Basketball Coach at the University of Connecticut, who just won their third straight National Championship and Tenth Overall Division 1 Championship, tying a career NCAA record. Upon request, they will be displayed in both of their offices.
: My interest in art came naturally to me. I remember being very young and observing my classmates’ artwork and realizing even at an early age, that for whatever reason, it came a lot easier to me. I think for that reason I had more fun with it all. I felt great satisfaction in helping my other classmates along, until I got in trouble for it in High School when the teacher realized I was doing all of my friend’s work! I can laugh about it now. I am hopeful that my art will be my source of livelihood for the rest of my life and that people will recognize my name and my art as that of a distinguished sculptor.
: As I indicated earlier, I reinvented myself from a political science major to an art major while at Muhlenberg. My artwork was exhibited at the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg, which is a nationally recognized college for artists. I was recruited to play baseball at Muhlenberg where I was a starting varsity player for four years. As a result of the rigorous schedule of a college athlete, there were many courses I could not take because of my baseball commitments. Thus, I had to be at practice and not take courses that were given after 2 p.m. As a result I gravitated more towards art since I could work on my sculptures at night without any supervision by a professor. As a result of the strong influence of art as part of Muhlenberg’s educational program, I was exposed to all aspects of art, including multiple courses in art history so that I had a better understanding of the origins of art.
Although my hands are the tools to make a sculpture, 90 percent of the work comes from my mind, changing the shape and molding the sculpture as my work progresses. It all comes from within me. Expressing detail is very important. I feel a necessity to captivate my audience. Intense detail encourages a closer and a more in-depth look into my pieces. My hope is that my work inspires a sense of creativity. My sculptures begin with a three-dimensional vision. This internal blueprint stays with me through the entire creative process. Once my sculpture mirrors the visual I created in my mind, I know I have successfully fulfilled my mission. Another unique theme I like to incorporate on occasion is using the application of mixed media.
Adding to the realistic aspect of my work, I locate and purchase actual organic parts of the animal. Among them are bull horns and various teeth that were once instrumental physiological features essential to these animals’ survival. My next step in completing each piece consists of using copper, bronze, or silver paint to add dimension. The way the light hits the painted sculptures accentuates certain details, shadows, and highlights that wouldn’t have been as clearly visible, if at all visible. Sometimes, I take it a step further and spray them with a liquid patina solution. Over a period of a few hours, it creates the illusion of an aged, weathered sculpture. This is why some of my pieces have a greenish tint to them. For example, the Statue of Liberty is made of copper, yet it looks green. In its original state, it would look like a shiny penny. Due to the elements of nature and the effects of weathering, the copper oxidizes and produces a greenish tint. It makes some of the pieces more interesting, to me. My last and final step is to make a mold of each piece, then send it to a Foundry. A Foundry, by definition, is a workshop or factory that specializes in casting different metals. The Foundry will then pour hot liquid metal, usually bronze or aluminum depending upon my preference, into the molds. After the molten liquid cools, it begins to harden into a finished, 100% bronze or aluminum sculpture. After a bit of a cleanup, they are market ready. Many artists and art collectors view metal-casted sculptures as the most professional and aesthetic way to finish three-dimensional work.
: I have always observed the beauty of animals and how they move, their different body structures, musculature, and facial features. I think it is fascinating how simple manipulation with facial expressions on the animals, such as angling the eyebrows in a particular way, can completely change the mood of the piece. More often than not, I find that the facial muscles used by the animal to express an emotion correlates to how we as humans subconsciously make a certain face to express our feelings. I have always had animals as pets—from lizards to frogs to cats, snakes and at my home I have always grown up with at least three donkeys and, on many occasions, goats, sheep and pigs, all at the same time. Animals have always been a big part of my life.
Since realism is a major component of my art, I try to replicate the actual size of the animal’s head. As a result, my pieces range from several hundred pounds to almost 600 pounds before being completely hollowed to within an inch thick, and then fired. By sculpting the actual size and girth, viewers experience the closest thing to a face-to-face encounter with each animal.
: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite sculptor or artist. I appreciate art in all forms, and am inspired by many different styles. My mentor, however, a renowned sculptor originally from Nigeria is my biggest inspiration. His name is Nnamdi Okonkwo and he sculpts beautiful African stylized women and travels all over the U.S. selling his masterpieces. His positive attitude on art, sculpting, and life in general is extremely contagious. He always has a smile on his face. Even when I talk with him over the phone, you can tell he is smiling the entire conversation. His passion and energy is really an inspiration to me. I have two additional mentors who run a very successful business selling fun, rare oddities only found in nature. Glenn and Heidi Reid own www.TellMeWhereOnEarth.com where we were first introduced a few years back. I was using their online store to purchase alligator teeth, bull horns, and cave bear teeth, which I have incorporated into my sculptures. We have been in close contact ever since and they have also been a major influence on me following my passion and my dream of being a successful artist. Without all of my mentor’s mental support, wisdom, and guidance I would not be where I am today. I am thankful every day that I have such great people in my life.
: Each sculpture takes me approximately a month to complete, if everything goes smoothly. That is not always the case. I have learned the hard way that anything can happen at any time when sculpting large pieces with considerable weight. On a few instances, my sculptures have blown up in the kiln. This is the nature of the beast when firing large-scale pieces. With careful and methodical “doctoring” I was able to bring them back to life, so to speak. I start by locating all the broken shards and pieces, then mapping out how I will puzzle each piece back together. It is then that I use a material called “Magic Sculpt” which is an epoxy putty. It is one part resin, and one part hardener. When you mix the two materials together it begins to harden. I am able to shape the putty in whatever way I like. It has a similar consistency to clay, so I can mold it with my hands in a similar fashion. I am even able to add texture to the putty, but it is time sensitive and it begins to harden in about a half hour or so. After 24 hours, it becomes very firm and is as strong and durable as the fired clay. Once I apply some paint, it is difficult to tell there was ever even a break. In my line of business, this is a life saver! So, to answer your question, the longest amount of time spent on a piece was nearly two months after it exploded during the firing process.
: I was very honored when I was asked to exhibit my artwork. It was kind of surreal to see that I could start with a ball of clay and transform it into a piece of art that was now being shown at art galleries. It was a pretty exhilarating feeling to stand close enough to my artwork to eavesdrop on the comments that people were making, all of which were very flattering. It reinforced the notion that I was doing something positive, something I truly enjoyed, and it dawned on me I could make a living from this passion of mine. It was difficult for me, prior to the summer of 2014 to go to these art exhibits and listen to nice comments about my art, knowing that I was leaving for law school in a few months. That was the catalyst for the conflict, which led me to abandon law school and commit myself to pursue my art as a livelihood.
: I have tried to capture the emotion of the animals I have sculpted, and there has been a common theme in the comments I have received directly and on Instagram; that I truly capture the emotion and ferocity of the animals. Some people have actually told me that they are afraid to stare at some of my sculptures since they seem so alive to them. When I can evoke some sort of emotion or feeling from my audience, that is the ultimate fulfillment.