Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 6:33 PM on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Artist unveils SeaLife Center commission, holds reception

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Artist Brad Hughes sprays water on his sculpture, "Current Home," to help the concrete-composite cure properly.

When Brad Hughes talks of his sculpture, "Current Home," as being monumental, he means monumental. Think Wayland Gregory's "The Swimmer" or Donal Hord's "Guardian of the Water" in San Diego. So big is Hughes' latest beach stone sculpture that it will take Michael Kennedy and a boom truck to move it.

Weighing about 12,000 pounds, for its First Friday showing, "Current Home" won't be shown at a local gallery, but at Hughes' Ocean Drive Loop studio, where he and assistant Corey Schmidt created the concrete composite work from the steel frame up.

'Composite' doesn't fully describe the mix Hughes used to sculpt the almost 9-foot tall work. Showing all five of Alaska's salmon species — dominated by a king salmon at the top — the sculpture is the third largest work Hughes has done in a media he calls "beach stone." Primarily a painter, in the past few years Hughes has experimented in 3-dimensional art using concrete media. His first large work, the Homer Public Library sign with sandhill cranes, was installed in 2009. Hughes set aside work on a partially-complete Jean Keene memorial to finish "Current Home."

Built on a rebar frame, Hughes slowly built the sculpture by adding successive layers of concrete. Last week he still hosed the piece with water to keep it damp as the concrete cured. To give the sculpture color and texture, as for the stripes of a dog salmon, Hughes added orange-red beach brick, sea shells, local sand and even a bit of Mount Redoubt ash. Colors he couldn't find in local natural products he made himself, like baked blue clay. Hughes even invented a motorized crusher, which he calls Dusty Do Right, to pulverize material. Mixed together with concrete glues, the pigmented media can be used like paint — a creative breakthrough, Hughes said.

"For the first time I could paint in the stuff," he said. "I'm intrigued using that stone in colors."

Hughes won a $40,000 commission from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for a sculpture to commemorate World Ocean Day on June 8. Hughes is now down to fine details on the sculpture. So solid does the mix dry that he needs an air chisel to add details. The composite can be polished to a sheen as smooth as Italian marble. Before being moved to Seward for its dedication by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Hughes wanted to give Homer a chance to see his work. It's also a chance to see a working artist's studio.

Hughes credits assistant Schmidt with making "Current Home" possible.

"I could not do this by myself," Hughes said.

A carpenter who works summers building stairs and boardwalks in Halibut Cove, Schmidt spent most of this winter on the sculpture.

"Corey is a teacher's dream," Hughes said. "He actually listens and applies what he learns quickly."

The First Friday show is 5 to 7 p.m. on Ocean Drive Loop off Ocean Drive Road, the first right past Beluga Lake Lodge. For other First Friday shows, see page X.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.