Einstein is coming to Bethlehem.
The famed physicist arrives next weekend as a 37-foot tall, 2,000-pound bronze sculpture, a guest of the SouthSide Arts & Music Festival. His gigantic size, reflecting both his intellect and his influence, will be a sight to behold as he simultaneously emerges from the floor and disappears into the ceiling, seemingly ascending a rope attached to his shoe.
James West’s “Split Infinity” will be on display in the Capital BlueCross Creativity Commons on the first floor of the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks April 19-June 23.
“Einstein looked at time in a physical way and questioned time, space and matter,” says West. “I explored Einstein’s Theory of Relativity deeper to understand the push and pull that Einstein may have experienced not only with this theory, but also with his life’s challenges in general.”
“Mathematicians figure that infinity has no end. Some question where the beginning is. Others believe it wraps around the back and connects the beginning to the end. I don’t know,” he says. “But I do know we all have struggles in life. We look at Einstein and immediately think ‘genius.’ But I think of how lonely it must have been to be in a place that this genius was criticized by peers and looked on as lacking intelligence at the same time.”
James West, creator of ‘Split Infinity.’ (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)
West, a noted sculpture of large scale works, loaned the work to ArtsQuest. He says its his largest ever. “I don’t have a home for it,” he says.
” ‘Split Infinity’ is a powerful representation of how art can serve as a platform to merge the elements and disciplines of learning and to encourage the viewer to challenge their understanding of how they as an individual can relate to the bigger picture,” says ArtsQuest Senior Director of Visual Arts Stacie Brennan.
The work is fun, witty and impressive not only in size, but also in the many layers of “reading” the work.
For example, there’s a Pop sensibility, ala Claes Oldenburg, along with West’s passion for education and for science because “Split Infinity” is a work about the struggle of Einstein.
“The struggles that occur with anyone during their lifetime must be met with determination and a will to succeed, no matter the size of the challenge,” West says. “My hope is that this piece inspires viewers to think outside their own box and dare to be different!”
The artist’s role, West says, “is to present things in a different way. I think that is the charge given to artists.”
But it’s West’s passion for storytelling that drives all he does.
“It’s always about the story,” he says. “I’m a storyteller.”
West’s works are three-dimensional tales that invite curiosity and reflection as well as reflect West’s desire to encourage a thirst for knowledge and learning, which for him began at an early age.
“I’ve never fit into any mold,” says the 62-year-old, who is self-taught. “I’ve always drawn. Even when I was a child, I always drew.”
West learned the fundamentals of his craft working in the construction industry, which he says sharpened his eye for form. “I started looking at things more organically,” he says.
He began noticing the beauty of his environment in Pittsburgh, where his best-known work overlooks the city.
The piece, a popular tourist destination at the westernmost end of the Grand View Byway and Park, is a monument-size sculpture called “Point of View.” Located on top of Mount Washington overlooking Pittsburgh, it depicts a meeting between George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta in 1770. The two men sit and talk as equals, their faces inches apart.
West is the owner of Studio Wild West, creators of contemporary, abstract, figurative and multi-media interactive art, including “The Bond and In the East, Brother Benjamin Franklin,” another monumental bronze, located at the Grand Masonic Museum of Philadelphia.
The idea for “Split Infinity” evolved over the years, West ways, and he began serious work on the sculpture about two years ago. He has made several models, large and small, and was still putting a finishing patina on this work last week.
To give the work its intended effect, West installed a false ceiling for the upper part of the work. This is because the post-industrial look of ArtsQuest’s exposed beams and duct work didn’t give Einstein anywhere to “disappear,” so West created one and painted it black.
He also leaves little clues for the viewer to find — “Easter eggs” that invite a further reading of the work. For example, on the bottom of Einstein’s shoe are carved several marks — a sphere, a straight line and a curved line, representing Einstein’s theories dealing with gravity, time and space.
It’s all part of his effort to educate through art by introducing people to the broader ideas in science and engineering.
“Sometimes I think you have to wake people, to make them see what is real.”
What: 2,000-pound sculpture dedicated to Albert Einstein by renowned artist James West.
When: April 19 through June 23
Where: Capital BlueCross Creativity Commons, ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.
Unveiling: 6-8 p.m. April 19
Tours: Schedule by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Related event: Peas & Q’s Family Workshop 11:30 a.m. April 20. Join West to learn about the synergy of art and science.
How much: All free
Info: bananafactory.org, steelstacks.org