the artist
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About Harlan    by Martin Sugarman

“ What have you done with the scissors?" opens Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.  Each of my plays, Pinter said,  “began unformed and directionless, from a solitary and disembodied line of dialogue”.

Robert Harlan Wintroub’s bronze sculptures arise from birth pangs and uncertainty. Each without desire to know direction, with refusal to glance more than a syllable ahead, because, he says, “ if I begin to see the final too soon, the chance of the unique fails.”

Thus the eclectic work: the somber September 11;  his Eve and Adam, her arm stabbing upward toward both heaven and another apple and a Swiss Army Knife used to cut out a neat slice;    the loveliness of his “Harmonics” variations of The Three Graces;     the awesome near tragedy of Abraham and Isaac;   the humor of Esther Williams, bronze emerging and merging with water;   and Sunday in the Park with Georges,  the male figure sporting “Air Jordans” to complement her spiked heels.

As a boy growing up in Omaha, Nebraska amidst World War II, Harlan would sketch forms and figures on the banks of the Missouri and at the collection of native-American Indian artifacts in the Joslyn Art Museum.  He began his work as full time sculptor only when he stepped away from his career as a doctor of internal medicine and returned to the art he had begun as a child.

Harlan, the pen name he used publishing his poetry, secluded himself for the past ten years to learn this craft.  The lost wax method he chose bound him to the evanescent wax and the red-hot liquid bronze, to sledge hammer and torch as he burns on the liquid copper and sulfur and iron patinas.  Each fleeting stage an epiphany. Each inch of the surface of his work shows the chiseled, hammered and scorched surface of Harlan the sculptor.

He traveled the old world and new, drawing the miniature Cycladic figures in the Metropolitan, Poseidon at the Athens Archaeological Museum, and the Apollo Belvedere at the Vatican, but Harlan is, make no mistake, sui generis.

One thing for sure, Harlan understands anatomy. His abstractions of human form are possible only from knowledge of bone and joints and muscles and gristle, the result of years of studying anatomy from cadavers, the surgical suite, live models, and ancient sculpture.

eve at fondery

The process of making sculpture is nonlinear and intuitive; the use of fire and banging the metal into a shape is like pulling something out of the invisible and making it visible. He makes clear in both that he blows his own note. Harlan’s process in producing a sculpture mirrors no falsetto. In making both poetry and sculpture, Harlan is both original and goes it alone into the unknown.

One must conclude, creativity worth its salt requires utter honesty and a good kick. All one can aim for is the extraordinary, and if you’re half-lucky you won’t fall short. Creativity is an unsolved mystery. Robert Louis Stevenson felt good if he could just write an ordinary sentence and Auden, groping for a word of poetry, wrote:
  I sit in one of the dives
                                      On Fifty-second Street.

Like the shadowy and phantasmagoric figures of the demonic underworld that both blind Homer and Dante described, a metal sculptor’s tools consist of fire, grinders, chisels, hammers, and forge to bring images into bronze.

The nature and character of this genre represents man’s quest to answer fundamental questions about his place in the universe. Marcel Proust, secluded in his soundproof bedroom, lived a far cry from the cacophony of hammering and grinding, of boiling wax and searing metal, that are the sculptor’s world, but both search for time lost. 

Harlan is one sculptor who has the ability to shape into metal human shapes that exhibit motion and movement yet are motionless. What is most incisive about his work is his ability to express epical themes reminding us that time is not fleeting. Joy in contrast to despair is a running theme in his work. There is an obvious pleasure in viewing his work. He is a modern day Malliol who fashions figures in bronze celebrating life or mourning death. Viewers of Harlan’s work don’t sip wine and yawn, but rather are moved by the impossible fullness of his sculptures.
fondery fondery