I met Tom Otterness in an airport, he was going back to New York, I to Dallas. He was the only one in the Lubbock airport that had long hair hanging 24 inches down his shoulder. He looked like a self confident man with something to say. He had just installed a large sculpture on the campus of Texas Tech University. A "tornado of books showing the disparity of ideas and the storm of thought and division", he said.
Tom Otterness is one of the premier public artists in the United States. He has exhibited in Minneapolis, Sacramento, Battery Park, New York City, the Netherlands, and other places. Otterness has a studio on 40 West 57th Street, in New York City. He, with his 20 employees have been making major sculptures for years, and his work graces some of the famous spots in the United States. In front of a courthouse in New York, he has an image of a court room scene. An owl as the judge looks as a dog, the lawyer, is interrogating a witness ( a cat ) , while a jury of a mouse, a bird, a horse and other animals look on.
On 168th street he has a strip of DNA with symbols of male and female in it, as it splits apart. His works range from 24 inches in height to 20 feet tall.
Tom Otterness is a man full of ideas
In West Texas, he with his 24" hair got along fine with the workers of the "Red necked state" in Lubbock who were assembling his sculpture. He observed that on a one on one basis, people can get along. But then he observed: "I am concerned about our nation. The USA seems to be drifting more and more to the right. It is going in a direction where institutions such as churches are becoming less tolerant of diversity, and are mixing religion and politics." He said. "I fear that it will stunt the intellectual and artistic growth of our nation and I fear that the mixture of church and state could lead to violence and harm that we have never had in America." He said.
Tom was born and raised in Kansas. Somehow he made his way to New York, and honed his talents into something respected and admired. With the support of the Broadway Mall Association, and Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, Tom was able to put 25 sculptures from Columbus Circle to Washington Heights. It represents the first large display of temporary public art on the Broadway Malls of New York and the show lasts from September 20 through November 22nd.
"How do we make a difference?" I asked. "It is the writers and the artists who plant the seeds of thought that change culture." He said. "You, Ben are writing, and I am sculpting, it may take a long time, but we are doing what we can do." He said.