Devin Laurence Field – Metal Sculptor

Large Scale Art; Large Scale Life

It’s fair to say Devin Laurence Field has had an adventurous life. Devin, 47, is a sculptor specializing in large-scale fabricated metal art. Before becoming an accomplished artist, he traveled the world and worked a variety of jobs to put him through schooling. He fought forest fires, worked as a wildlife biologist and was a commercial layout artist and illustrator.

Starting his career with mostly gallery artwork, he has now evolved to creating massive site-specific pieces for public agencies or institutions and city, state or national governments. Devin incorporates a variety of materials, such as metal, glass, electronics and light in his work. The techniques he uses include welding, hydraulic presses, laser and water-jet cutting, to name a few.

Devin grew up in New Zealand but moved around frequently because of his parents’ careers – his father was a neurophysiologist and his mother was an immunologist. “This formed the basis for a deep interest in the relationship between humans in the built environment and animals in the natural environment,” Devin says. This concept is what drives much of his perspective on design and culture in his work.

As a fifth generation artist, Devin had the encouragement and evidence from his family that art could be a viable, even though difficult, career path. He pursued his interests and studied art in New Zealand, England and France before completing a master of fine arts degree at the University of Oregon.

His work can be seen throughout Oregon, including the Hillsboro Stadium, Eugene I-5 freeway and Milwaukie’s North Clackamas Park. His reputation is worldwide with large scale sculptures installed in countries such as China, South Korea, Sweden and Mexico. Devin was also chosen to be one of only 29 artists commissioned to produce artwork for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Devin’s sculptures are complicated yet elegant representations of the history and natural environment specific to the particular site. His love for nature and animals and travel experiences can be seen in all his work. Devin’s artwork will continue to be seen and enjoyed by generations to come all around the world.

How old were you when you first started working with metal?

My father was a silver and goldsmith on the side so we always had a jewelry metal shop in the basement growing up. I never really played with much of that equipment until I was about 13 or 14, but being around it and watching things being crafted in metal certainly had an impact. When I was in college, I took to metal immediately and my work was always pushing the limits of permitted scale even then. In jewelry class, I made a life-size Celtic helmet with real cow horns and chain mail inspired by the Sutton Hoo burial treasures. In bronze casting class, my first project was to cast a life size bullhead inspired by the steatite and gold head from the Greek dark ages in Milos. Once I started welding and fabricating the work just grew in scale further.

Do you have a preference – public or gallery art?

They are just different; public art is a very regimented process and the committees don’t want any surprises. You articulate what you are proposing to build, and then go build exactly what you presented. Gallery work affords a large degree of spontaneity, which is a lot of fun – it is more personal. I rarely have time to show in galleries any more.

How do the reactions of your audience differ from gallery and public artwork?

Well, no one looking at the public sculpture is considering whether or not it goes with his or her interior décor. Few people looking at gallery art are concerned about how much it cost to build it and who paid for it. Those obvious and insidious reactions aside, a main key difference for me is that the public work is for all to see and lives out a very long and varied lifespan. Instead of sitting in one family’s collection, the public work is approached and viewed and questioned and interacted with by a vast array of people over time. It therefore has a certain level of responsibility to be meaningful, to reflect the values of the time and place where it resides, to question, to commemorate, to teach and to inspire. It must be much more than simple ornament.

Where does all your creativity come from?

Site-specific work at its best is a collaboration or interaction between the site (inclusive of its history, culture and community) and the form vocabulary and perspectives of the artist. For me, every commission is a new design challenge, a new team of people to work with and a wheel to be re-invented from scratch.

What’s your design process?

I’m old school enough that I still use sketching as my first go-to for genesis. It’s immediate; I can do it on a plane, in a hotel or in the office. I was taught that you have to master realism before you move into abstraction or expression so I have always been a draftsman. I am a little unusual in that I get a complete image in my mind once I get the spark from the sketch, so I leap frog straight to a 3D model in the computer from my mental image. Since I picture the design in 3D in my head already, this works well for me. Once I have it in the computer I can output printed models or templates. Bear in mind however, that for 20 years I built everything from scratch without that technology, each piece hand cut, formed, welded and ground.

Do you use a lot of machines to make the larger sculptures?

Yes, and if we don’t have a machine that does what we need then we make a new machine by hand. The last project (a 30-foot by 20-foot, 8 ton stainless piece for Interstate 5 commissioned by ODOT) required that we form 334 strips of stainless into twisting compound forms. We built a 20-ton roll-former with custom dies to achieve this.

What drew you to metal sculpting rather than painting or drawing?

I was a painting major for my first two degrees. I love to paint and still do on occasion. I believe each discipline informs another. Painting makes you a better sculptor and vice versa. With that said, metal has an immediacy of scale and strength that is unrivaled. It also has an inherent permanence and preciousness that appeals to me.

What kind of animals did you encounter while traveling?

I spent time with a lot of strange animals in exotic places growing up, like giant wetas (enormous cricket-like insects) in New Zealand, slow lorises, civets and binturong in Malaysia, cuttlefish in the Mediterranean and fire ants and cicadas in Australia as a result of my father’s research.

Any plans on going back to school?

Well I have three degrees and since the MFA is the terminal degree in the studio arts I don’t see any reason to enroll in further studies, although my Mandarin language skills would be greatly enhanced if I could find time to take classes in Chinese.

How long does it take for your average large-scale sculpture?

Projects can take from three  weeks to three years depending on contracts and site related construction matters, but typical build times for my sculpture itself are usually just a few months.

I imagine it must be hard to see it go.

No, not at all actually. Each piece is designed with its own “home” in mind so when a piece gets trucked off to be installed, it is going home and it feels right.

Do you have a favorite art piece?

Does one have a favorite child? Whether you are asking about a favorite among my own oeuvre or all that exist, my answer would be the same. They are all different, and I like them for different reasons.

Can you tell me about the sculpture you created for the 2008 Olympics?

It was a crazy time. I was going through the finalist selection stages of the competition to build my sculpture in front of the ‘bird’s nest’ National Stadium in Olympic Park, and I was also invited to be one of the seven international jurors for a separate competition for landscape sculptures to honor the 2008 Olympics in other cities. I was also asked to unveil them in London and other places while in the meantime my wife and I were in the middle of building our house back in Portland. I was the general contractor overseeing construction since it is a very custom all-steel house! My wife was also working in Beijing at the time and also involved in the games as part of her role at Nike. The sculpture itself represents the official theme of the 2008 Olympics, which was ‘One World One Dream.’

You built an all-steel house? Wow!

The house was completed in 2008. Metal is what I do and metal makes a lot of sense to me for construction so the house was built like a commercial high-rise with steel beams and steel studs. Because some of my sculptures, which are solid steel, are very heavy they have high loads per square foot so the great room floor for example is engineered to 1,000 pounds/square foot instead of 40, which is code. It would meet platinum LEED certification so it is very green, and careful attention was also paid to details such as thermal bridging of the metal members. The overall look is not weird though, massive construction but a low key tasteful look; it still looks like a house not a sculpture.

What do you do on your spare time?

There never seems to be any! My wife, daughter and I live in Northwest Portland. When I am not working on sculpture, I enjoy working on our property. Our 80-acres include roads, ponds, forest, pasture, an orchard and, of course, one of my studios so there is always something to be done at home. To be fair, we love food and fine wines so our vacations often focus on wine regions. The last one was Napa Valley and coming up is Tuscany/Umbria. We also spend a lot of time at the beach.

What’s your biggest accomplishment?

My daughter. No question.

Can you tell me about any of your current or future projects?

I am currently in engineering phase for a 60-foot tall sculpture to coincide with the 2016 Olympic trials in Eugene. I am also working on a design for an illuminated stainless sculpture for a new shopping complex in Chengdu, China.

About The Author: Lindsay Gard