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By Bob Levine, Volunteer Docent at Grounds For Sculpture

While it is a real thrill to visit and chat with a sculptor whose work you have seen and admire, it is perhaps a greater thrill to “discover” artists whose work you have never previously seen. It’s not that you are discovering someone new to the world of art – rather you are just discovering someone who’s been there for a while, but you had never known before.

Mike Gyampo fit this description to a tee. I had never noticed his works at Grounds For Sculpture, nor had I even heard or read his name. I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised to meet the man who is clearly a talented sculptor and a delightful man to talk with.

A native of the West African nation of Ghana, Mike uses a lot of the beliefs and customs of his native land in his works. A great example of this is a wall hanging that he has in his studio:

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At first glance, the items at the top appear to be seven spoons. Looking carefully, however, you realize that they are actually seven bodies, with the “spoons” actually the heads of the bodies. I asked him if there was any special reason why there were seven bodies, and he said that seven is an important number in Ghanaian folklore and beliefs. The round structure that the “feet” are resting on represents the earth, and the star in the middle represents the heavens, or stars. The heart- shaped form at the left is a representation of the heart, while the oval shape at the bottom represents the head. I believe that the item above and to the right of the “head” is a representation of the body. The entire bronze structure is based on Ghanaian folklore.

Mike has several items on display at GFS. It is quite easy to overlook his Just Chillin’, because it is tucked into the left-hand corner of the Acer Garden as you enter from the main part of GFS. It is a construction of concrete and marble, and needs some explanation to understand what it represents.

Just Chillin'

Just Chillin’

Original version of Just Chillin’

Original version of Just Chillin’

The figure actually represents a girl kneeling on the grass. The top part is her head, the section to the right of the hole in the middle is her arm, and the bottom part represents her lower body in a kneeling position. It is abstract, but nonetheless it has a very specific meaning, which you can discern if you know what you are looking for. The picture on the right shows Mike’s original version, which he did in cast bronze, resting on a shelf in his studio.

What I found the most interesting of Mike’s works were his wood carvings. There is something special about carving in wood – be it the natural grain that you work with, or the way that artists like Mike Gyampo incorporate the natural grain and shape of a piece of wood and make it into something that more closely resembles a human-like shape. The following two pieces from his studio provide examples of this:

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If you look carefully at the carving on the left, you will be able to discern a human head. Near the top, the projections on each side represent two ears. Between them is a “nose”, turned to the right. Below that, to the left, is a mouth, with the tongue sticking out slightly. You need to use your imagination to see that, but Mike saw it in the original piece of wood to be able to create this carving.

The carving on the right is a bit easier to figure out, as the primary shape of it is clearly an adult human. Near the bottom you can see two hands clasped together, with a head, possibly of a child, at the very left. Above the hands near the bottom appears to be an animal. It’s amazing what one can do with a tree if one has both the imagination and ability to create a work of art from it.

Another sculpture that Mike has at GFS is Matters of the Moment. He has the original small wood carving in his studio, and a significantly larger bronze version right outside the Museum Building entrance to the Grounds. It is easy to tell the size of the original by seeing how it compares to the tape cassette next to it on the table. The bronze version is much more imposing, but personally, I prefer the more natural look and feel of the wood version.

Original wood carving.

Original wood carving.

Matters of the Moment (bronze).

Matters of the Moment (bronze).


G. Frederick Morante is the sculptor who I interviewed for a blog article last summer. In his studio now, he is concentrating on sculpting heads. He noted that there are two ways of developing a sculpture – building out, or building in. Building out refers to working with a material like clay, where you start with virtually nothing, and keep on building it out until you have a final product that you are satisfied with. Stone carving, on the other hand, is a case of building in. Your initial piece of stone determines the maximum dimensions of the finished work. You slowly and carefully carve your way in until you have your final object. He noted that he had studied for some time with stone carvers in Italy,  but never felt really comfortable with that material. After all, if you cut too much out at any point, there is no way of putting it back in. In spite of this, he showed us an example of a head that he has been carving.

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He commented that he has always been interested in heads. When he attended college in San Diego, he had what he felt was the ideal part-time job for himself. He worked at the stadium for games of the San Diego Chargers (football) and San Diego Padres (baseball). It wasn’t that he was such a sports fan, but he had the perfect job for a future sculptor. He was stationed at the bottom of a long escalator with the task of stopping its movement if someone fell. He spent his day focusing on people’s heads as they came down the escalator in front of him. One day he would study ears, one day noses, one day eyes, one day mouths, etc. Over the years he received a complimentary education on different faces and their parts.

He is currently working on several heads in his studio. The one seen below is of a young woman.

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Note that he has frontal and profile drawings of her face, as well as a virtual album of views of her on the board behind the developing sculpture of her head. I never thought of how an artist would develop a head sculpture (or even painting) of a specific person. I had imagined the poor subject sitting there with him interminably as the artist worked on one detail after another. Having photos of her from all angles makes the process a lot easier.

Gyuri Hollosy has developed his own technique of fabricating pieces of metal into shapes, most commonly of the female form. He designs not only the final figure, but all the pieces that will go into making up that piece. As the photo of Kathy B (located behind the Gazebo at GFS) shows, the result is that the figure appears to be made out of armor plate.

Kathy B

Kathy B

He has also done a number of critically acclaimed busts and full-size statues, and is currently working on additional ones in his studio. A sample of a work in progress is shown below.

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In all, I found the Artists in Action event at the Motor Exhibit Building on March 23, 2013 to be an enjoyable and educational experience. I encourage all volunteers and docents to avail themselves of future opportunities to see some of our artists at work in their studios.

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