"Passing the Torch" a proposal for the Portland USM Roundabout project
Coming up with a concept for a public sculpture of the scope and complexity to inhabit the roundabout presented a challenge. First and foremost was the subject matter itself. In the privacy of the studio an artist has the freedom to work to please themselves. The work answers questions posed personally and the resulting forms are in a private vocabulary. In proposing a piece to go into the public sphere I think an artist should take an additional step. The questions posed, and the resultant forms should be more universal, more of a dialogue with the community. The questions asked of the sculpture are posed by many, not one, and should be answered in a much broader voice.
My Initial concept in the first call for submissions for this project was titled " Together we Rise". It attempted to define the 45’ x 50’ roundabout with an abstract composition of a coordinated suite of three individual bronzes on granite bases. Each piece being one element, or brushstroke if you will, of a larger gesture- three pieces visually combining into one coherent form which circles around and rises up into the space above the roundabout. Each element would be mounted progressively higher defining the arc of the entire composition. Each piece leading the eye, moving with the traffic around the space, linking the viewers vision to this movement and literally raising the focus and vision.
In refining this proposal for my final submission, the multi-part sculpture approach continued to work for me. However, I also wanted to incorporate some underlying imagery which would make the piece more accessible while still remaining lyric and abstract. I became intrigued with the image of a torch.
Specifically the idea of “Passing the Torch”.
Historically the torch is an ancient and rich symbol. In Classical Greece during festival games it was said a sacred flame was lit by the sun’s rays at Olympia, and stayed lit until the games were completed. This flame represented the "endeavor for protection and struggle for victory." This concept was re-introduced into our Modern Olympic Games at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Since then, the Olympic flame is carried to the games by former victors, each handing off the torch one to another in a symbolic baton race. The lighted torch has come to symbolize "the light of spirit, knowledge, and life.” In modern times this upraised torch has become a common emblem of both enlightenment and hope. Academically it represents the ability for each of us to serve as a guiding light for others, the torch as a beacon of light, eradicating ignorance. The torch is also a symbol of home and welcome- to keep the home fires burning, to light the torches to guide you home. The phrase “passing on the torch” has also come to represent the passing on of knowledge and expertise through the generations. There are countless quotes and references to someone “handing on the torch..”, “picking up the torch to carry it over the finish line…” Holding the torch high”.
Cross-culturally, the upheld torch has become a deeply seated, fertile and meaningful symbol.
My initial abstract imagery was redesigned to represent the symbolic raising of a torch. The abstract sculptural "torch" forms made up of bronze flames held up by CorTen steel bases taking the form of simplified, stylized torches. The flame being passed one to another- from one person to another, from one generation to another. Each form representing a torch held high.
The final concept became two torches, the flames of each bending toward one another forming an arch. The flame of each torch being passed one to another, from one individual to another, from one generation to another. This imagery seems to me perfect to define a roundabout placed as it will be adjacent to the University and serving as a new gateway into the City of Portland.