Of course, you already know Pat Steadman’s sculpture. Oh, yes, you do. The imposing bronze bust of coach Erk Russell at Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium is Steadman’s “Game Day.” And, in fact, a small gem of a replica is part of “Pat Steadman: A Retrospective” on exhibit at the Averitt Center through Saturday. But if that single piece is all you know about the man, you’re missing a much bigger story.
Steadman created Georgia Southern University’s sculpture and foundry program. In his 32-year tenure, he launched the careers of many young artists, and his own work is held in a number of public and private collections in Georgia and throughout the Southeast. This retrospective captures the breadth of that work.
As you walk into the Averitt Main Gallery, you’re instantly – and viscerally – aware that these sculptures are the product of fire and molten metal, sharp blades and blunt force. They’re muscular pieces in steel, bronze and aluminum. But make no mistake, Steadman is fully in control of those tremendous forces. He tames them into intricate, eloquent and slyly complex viewpoints that demand a second and third look.
Let’s start with “Mountain Moon.” When viewed from above, you see an engaging abstract of a thick gleaming aluminum cylinder resting horizontally on upright slices of dark curving metal. It’s a startling juxtaposition of shape, form and color. But that’s not all. Bend your knees a little and view the piece at eye level. Suddenly, the round cylinder base is the shining disk of a full moon, and the metal slices become the silhouette of mountains receding into the distance. Do you think it’s a purposeful that the title card for piece is on the floor?
The “Sprued Riser Series” is another example of Steadman’s ability to see – and show us – the world in different ways. He creates art with sprues, normally the throwaway metal pieces used to hold a sculpture in the mold during the foundry process. Each of the Sprued Riser pieces uses a row of these craggy vertical planes in a three-dimensional collage with other shapes – cylinders, towers, rectangles. The effect is of an industrial skyline, maybe factories and tenements, maybe silos and barns. You’re left to consider “point of view” as both an eye for reimagining found objects and a social commentary.
Perhaps the most intricate representation of all the tools in Steadman’s studio – and mind – is “40o60 o80 o.” It’s a simple piece at first glance, but spend a moment and you’ll see it’s a layered exploration in threes. Three thick, rough-hewn tablets of aluminum pierce a smooth draping of cast bronze, all atop a sharp arrowhead of a base. Three vertical shapes, three horizontal layers, three very different treatments of metal. Stand at any of the three corners or three sides of the triangular base and a very different artscape appears. And the finishing touch? Even the name of the sculpture is a play on three, representing the measure of the three angles of the triangular base.
A trip to the Pat Steadman Retrospective is an eye-opening experience of the many things metal sculpture can be – and of all the gifts Pat Steadman brings to it. Both those who know his work – and those of us who only thought we did – will find it a pleasure.
Lynn Lilly is a Statesboro resident who appreciates good art.