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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nelson Afian

Milwaukee’s New Master Sculptor

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There are more college art programs in America graduating more art majors than ever, yet some schools have come under fire for abandoning the basics. According to some critics, the academies no longer turn out sculptors with the ability to represent the human form in stone or steel.

Nelson Afian wants to fill the gap. Born in Yerevan, Armenia, and trained in St. Petersburg, Russia, Afian is a sculptor of extraordinary ability in rendering people. And yet he is quick to add that he isn’t confined by a strict adherence to realism. “I add my own vision to any project I do,” he says. “My images might be realistic in form but abstract in representation.”

Afian has been visiting Milwaukee for the last couple months as the guest of local attorney Joe Seifert, who met him in Petersburg as an art student. He is also here because Milwaukee is home to the world-acclaimed Vanguard Foundry a place where bronze sculpture is cast using advanced technology.

Afian describes a somewhat unusual situation in childhood and adolescence: his father not only was entirely supportive of his decision to become a professional artist, but actively nudged him in that direction. Of course, it helped that Afian came from a creative family. His uncles were numbered among the ranks of painters, poets and architects; his grandfather sculpted stone monuments. “My father understood that an artist can work through life and be happy making beautiful work,” he explains.

Stylistically, Afian covers much ground. Some of his work in bronze is gently Expressionistic. In a study for a sculpture of Moses parting the Red Sea, the prophet projects the fierce power of a Greek statue of Zeus while flanked by a pair of terraced waterfalls. His images in plaster convey a Wedgwood sensibility that would have been at home adorning the palaces of St. Petersburg during the time of the czars.

“Everybody understands America is a great country if you work hard, have talents and great ideas,” Afian says. “And there is a high level of technology available to sculptors here to create something interesting.”

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