Las Vegas, N.M. — Internationally known Scottish sculptor Charles Engebretsen is working with fine art and science students on the New Mexico Highlands University campus April 16 — 28, with emphasis on his recent expedition with the Clipperton Project.
The new and unique Clipperton Project is an international artistic and scientific collaboration aimed at increasing public understanding of environmental concerns and other social issues. It is a nonprofit initiative.
The campus community will have the opportunity to meet Engebretsen at Ilfeld Auditorium April 17 the from 4:30 — 6 p.m. followed by a public lecture from 6 — 7 p.m., also in Ilfeld, 900 University Ave.
The public is also welcome at two casting sessions at the university’s foundry: April 26 for bronze and aluminum casting from 2 — 5 p.m., and on April 27 for iron casting beginning at 12 p.m. The foundry is at 914 11th St.
The Department of Visual and Performing Arts is hosting Engebretsen’s work at Highlands through funding from the university’s Tina Tesla Ballen Visiting Professor Program. David Lobdell, fine arts professor, wrote the grant proposal.
“Charles is a prime example of someone who is following a very successful career in the arts, including education and public outreach,” Lobdell said. “For people in the arts, the world is our workshop. Charles shows our art students that there are so many opportunities as an artist if you’re prepared to be flexible.”
Lobdell first met Engebretsen in 2000 when the two collaborated on iron art casting projects at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Aberdeen. Lobdell is also internationally known for his iron art and is a leader in the iron art movement.
Engebretsen, 37, said as a youth sculpting was his strongest subject in school. He continued his higher education at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. Today, Engebretsen is the production facilities coordinator at the Glasgow Sculpture Studio and shows his sculptures extensively.
“I draw much of my inspiration from the natural world, including microscopic organisms,” Engebretsen said. “I’m also interested in how nature protects itself and propagates. For example, a groundhog’s quills are defensive and a plant uses pollen to reproduce.”
He’s known for his iron art pieces like “Pollen,” a sphere that resembles the repeating patterns found in a soccer ball.
“In my studio work I use adaptive patterns found in nature, like turtle shells that grow in the same repetitive pattern using hexagons and pentagons to close the sphere,” Engebretsen said.
His public art sculptures have gained him critical acclaim, and a reputation as an artist who works well with communities through outreach and education.
In 2010, he created a bronze sculpture, “Turra Coo,” or tariff cow, for the Aberdeenshire community following extensive community engagement. Engebretsen calls “Turra Coo” a historical piece that symbolizes the community’s strength.
He said his public art projects drew the attention of the Clipperton Project, leading to his invitation to apply to join the expedition.
Clipperton is an uninhabited French corral island 1,250 kilometers off the Mexican coast. Engebretsen was part of an international team of 20 artists and scientists who were invited to work together on the island during three weeks in March.
“Even an isolated island like Clipperton is feeling the effects of man’s obsession with plastic,” Engebretsen said. “One alarming discovery was the large quantity of domestic debris like plastic water bottles and shoes on the island.”
Clipperton wasn’t Engebretsen’s first experience with a remote island. He’s from a seafaring family and grew up on the Island of Lewis, a 4-hour ferry ride from the western coast of Scotland. Isolation, and the relationship between humans and extreme environments, influences his artwork.
“The power of nature is always on the forefront when you live on an isolated island, and there’s a reliance on the landscape combined with self sufficiency,” Engebretsen said. “I grew up on the beach surrounded by water. I gathered flotsam with my brother, seeing the human impact on our island.
He drew on his Clipperton Island experience to create original wax forms he is casting in iron and bronze at the Highlands foundry.
“My new pieces look like marine organisms because they’re underwater sea creatures,” said Engebretsen, who dove daily at Clipperton.”Back home, I’ll create sculptural artificial reefs for fish habitat on the Scottish coastland.”
Engebretsen and the Clipperton Project team members will present their work at art festivals and scientific events worldwide. It is an ongoing educational initiative.
Engebretsen said he hopes the public will follow the Clipperton Project on Facebook through www.clippertonproject.com