RISE UP





Every once in a while seemingly random events and connections intertwine and the chaos of the infinite briefly finds direction and meaning. I've been around long enough to know that when those conditions prevail, its time to cast off all abandon and make some serious art. For me that means letting my mad dog artist intuition off the chain. It means letting go of fear and doubt and taking a giant leap off the cliff you just fought for years to get to. Its means embracing what you feel inside even though you don't yet understand it completely. And then based solely on the strength of that belief, that 'artist intuition'.... you walk out to the edge and you leap. Your fate in the balance to fall or to fly. I personally know of no greater challenge... nor thrill.

But jumping off of cliffs can be perilous and like they say, "its not the fall, but the sudden stop at the end that kills you." So one does well to choose one's cliffs carefully, however, every once in a great while... the cliff chooses you.


This was exactly my experience in creating my sculpture Rise Up. My client fell into my favor early on by being brave enough to try a bowl of my gumbo during my monthly Open Studio. Not many in this part of the country are culinary curious enough to try it. Scared I suspect, to encounter some unidentifiable 'wild' ingredient. However, if they do try it, I have made a gumbo fan for life.


Here's the rub if you are not of an adventurous mind, there's a good chance I am not your guy. So when I noticed my soon to be client enjoying a bowl of it, I knew we were off to a good start.

He, a highly respected orthopedic surgeon, hip and knee guy, wanting a sculpture for the lobby of a new orthopedic facility in Hagerstown MD. We had a few meetings and discussed various aspects of the piece. Through these conversations I developed a conceptual direction, one that after much thought, went well beyond my initial commitment.

This is the point where in looking back, I decided to take the plunge, to make the best piece of art possible because I believe in it, no other reason than that.

When you are up to your ass in alligators it's hard to remember you were just trying to drain the swamp. At some point in the design process, it occurred to me that the daily audience for this piece would consist of mainly surgeons, doctors, nurses and physical therapists. (Yikes, that clicking sound ?... the sound of the bar being raised).

I immediately ordered several 'artist anatomy' books and started absorbing their images and trying to discover a way to make my scrap metal take the form of what I was seeing in those texts in conjunction with what I was seeing in my mind.

I arrived at giving them Classical godlike qualities in order to maintain a sense of elegance as well as strength. I also wanted people to be able to relate to them on as many shared human levels as possible. I wanted people to see themselves.


Being the piece was commissioned as a lobby piece for an Orthopedic clinic the natural design concept centered around joint replacement parts. This was particularly relevant to me in that I've had my right hip replaced twice. Most recently 3 years ago by the V.A. Hospital which immediately and immeasurably changed my life for the better. I feel that positive experience had a huge influence on my design approach.

For inspiration my client dropped off a box of prostheses, instruments and hardware all related to joint replacement. He refrained from telling me what they were so I would only be influenced by their appearance.

So I found myself designing a replacement knee for instance, that would be capable of kicking a ninety yard field goal.

At one point I came to a roadblock concerning the design of their spines. I tried several different approaches but was still not where I wanted to be with it. So I thought again, if I was building a spine for myself out of my cache of parts what would I use? I ended up with rocker arms & valve springs and it worked for me, it made visual sense.

I gave the woman an artificial left breast to symbolize women's ongoing fight with breast cancer. My mother is a breast cancer survivor so the issue is near and dear to me and I wanted it to be part of the message of this sculpture.

Both man and woman have exterior hearts because in order to 'rise up' one needs to have a lot of heart. Hers is more straight forward, strong and direct his is a collection of found objects including keys, a rose, some gears and even a pulley to tug on his heart strings.

Her hair is made from castoff winter tire chains. I wanted a Greek goddess look and the twisted link tire chains provided it. They were just one instance of my material telling me what to do, and I listened. I listened through the entire process and my material spoke to me in new, more complex ways than ever before.

I have been on a several years long quest to bring more emotion into my work. I've found it is a tall order for a steel sculptor. Over time I've realized the most effective way to achieve that is to employ the human face as my messenger. I felt I could best share emotional experiences especially the deep ones, by wearing them on the faces of my sculptures.

I could write every word I know, composed as cleverly as possible and still not scratch the surface of the depth I feel I can achieve with creating my sculpture.


Ironically, it was while visiting the AVAM that I discovered the power of the human countenance. I watched a video piece of people at the Trevi fountain in Rome who were caught in the moment directly after posing for photos while tossing their coins into the fountain. What I saw was the unmasking of the human soul. I saw raw truth and it was disturbing because it was so revealing.

It was that video piece that put me directly on the path to figure out how to create figurative sculptures with my scrap steel. I wanted to take my work to where it would speak directly to that level of human depth. So in the end, my design followed what was speaking to me.

One thing that meant was employing less found object parts and using more of my hand shaped oil tank technique, a decision that also quadrupled my work load. But that decision balanced the combination of shaped hand material versus the found object material to arrive where I wanted it to be.

I didn't want cyborgs, I wanted humans with mechanical replacement parts. I believe I achieved that very important balance. A tough decision on one level to be sure but when the forces of the universe are calling... its time to jump in and ring the bell.


To that point my most recent work had been portraits of Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, inspired to capture their honest, raw emotion. I achieved that by using 1/4" steel rod to make a sub-structure or skeleton and basically skinning it with sections cut out and hand shaped of derelict steel heating oil tanks. It took 2 years of experimentation to hone the process to get me to the level I wanted to go.

I started using the tanks because I could get them for free and their pitted texture, which closely resembles weathered skin or leather, is a texture I cannot produce by a 'method'.

What I found was a good quality of steel to work with because I suppose, of properties relating to standards required of vessels containing flammable liquids. Win-Win. I didn't know if the process I developed to create the portraits had been done before but if it was, I had never seen it. I say that because I think it is a logical process to achieve a certain result. Make a sub-structure of 1/4" steel rod to work out your basic design, scale, depth & muscle location problems, then fill in the blanks with cutout, hand shaped sections of oil tank, weld the seams and grind it smooth. Simple albeit tedious, but certainly effective. I was extremely happy with the results I was getting. I started the Rise Up figures in the center, their waists and worked out with a very basic frame work to set the size and basic shapes of their torsos. Then starting at their feet I refined their substructures and began filling in the remaining negative spaces with found parts and sheet metal sections from derelict heating oil tanks. By the time I had reached their hips I had the technique down to a fine dance. A tango between scrap steel and the human form. In talking with Dr Salvago later after the piece was complete, he commented that he was starting to get concerned that after the 1st six months he had basically witnessed me mostly just studying anatomy books and I'd only completed fabrication their feet and sections of their legs. He also said that fabrication all of the sudden 'took off' after that. At that point I had found my groove and knew exactly how to go about creating what I was seeing in my mind. This was the point where the sculpture started talking to me. I knew intuitively which found objects to employ to create the different human aspects of their bodies. For instance, the man's rib cage was created by using automobile front end parts that I had to heavily modify and fit together and weld to achieve my desired effect. But it was exactly what I wanted and I still look at those ribs and smile at the result. The child was a challenge because his scale was so different. I did numerous life size sketches to familiarize myself with that scale and to produce the effect and shape I wanted the child to take on. All of this took a lot of time because I let it I wanted the piece to be exactly what I thought it should and could be. Another challenge was that I had to make the sculpture in pieces in order to apply the finishes and to just be able to move it about and transport it. Fitting together the pieces so that they came together structurally and could be bolted together was quite an engineering challenge but well worth the time and effort. It was really the only way I could work all the way around the individual bodies and it allowed me to be able to move each body around to work on them, on my own. As the sculpture got closer to completion, I started to feel an elation of sorts. It's hard to describe but it was much like completing a very long journey that I had no idea about the magic I would discover along the way or to the heights it would lead me in terms of my skills and understanding of my own art and maybe most of all, my heart. It was very emotional for me. I was completely exhausted by the time I had completed the piece but glowing with an inner peace and happiness at what had resulted from my efforts. Never had I pushed my imagination and skill level to those extremes but I felt like the sculpture wanted to come out on it's own and the piece itself actually guided me as much as I created it. The goal from the beginning was to create an elegant sculpture that would inspire overcoming life's challenges and to rise above them in order to live a fuller life and to be able to advance the next generation to a better place. Orthopedic challenges were the perfect avenue to visually address this larger concept. One day at my open studio, several years after the piece was in place, a middle aged woman showed up and asked if I was Scott Cawood. When I said yes, she hugged me very tightly and with tears streaming down her cheeks told me that she knew absolutely nothing of art, but was so completely moved when seeing the piece at the Ortho clinic, she broke down, went home retrieved her husband and son and took them back to see it. She said she had never been so inspired. She then found out who I was and came here to thank me in person. It was the highest compliment anyone could have ever given to me and one I'll never forget. It was at that point I realized I had achieved exactly what I was hoping to. Proof positive that my vision and effort had been as successful as I had hoped it would and I've never felt better.