Wired for art
Noah Saunders bends his work to create human expression
By John W. English
“Wire is an untapped medium,” Noah Saunders began the conversation in his home-gallery-studio in Normaltown. “I like the way wire feels and that I can bend it into human expression.”
Saunders’ living room walls are covered with his small and refined portraits in wire.
“I start with a portrait in mind and try to express his or her mood. I use lines to create a three-dimensional effect and to create feeling. I begin with the eyes and take an idea as far as I can at the moment,” he explained.
Saunders said his work process is similar to how Paul Klee once described it — “taking a line for a walk.”
“I don’t do drawings in advance,” Saunders said. “I just start and see where it goes, where happenstance takes it.”
“Each piece takes almost a month to create,” Saunders continued. “There is no soldering — the construction is based simply on tension. I just discovered 17-gauge wire, which has memory. I can bend it and it will hold its shape. I use smaller-gauge steel wire for details and shading and sometimes use copper wire for hair.”
Saunders said his portraits are Athens archetypes, including the post punk set — men with earrings and soul patches and women with frizzy locks. He also studies models in contemporary fashion magazines and classic sculptures by Michaelangelo and Rodin. He said he never places restrictions on the final form of a piece — some are round, some square, some free-standing on a base and some suspended from the ceiling.
Saunders said he has been working with wire since he first saw a replica of Alexander Calder’s Wire Circus in the fifth grade. He began working with pipe cleaners and quickly switched to wire. At age 16 he was asked to make two life-sized crucifixes for Alabama churches that had been destroyed by racist arson.
“That was the first glimpse at the power of my art,” he recalled.
A couple of years later on a trip to Munich he discovered German Expressionist art and realized that wire could be as serious a form of artistic expression as wood block, drawing or etching. So, he committed himself to working in wire and began to “sculpt the people and postures of everyday life.” He also acknowledged that because wire has no art ancestors, he has more freedom to experiment and play.
Saunders said he’s interested in the diversity of expressions he can create.
“Observing a piece from different angles will show different aspects of a person and slightly different emotions. Shadows also will give off different expressions.
“For me, creating is an experience,” he reflected. “I’m totally involved in the process. My ultimate goal is harmony. If a finished piece also looks pretty, that’s all the better.”
Saunders said he works sitting on the floor in his basement studio, and that he sticks to a five-day-work schedule, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “That’s my magical period to work,” he said.
Now 31, Saunders said he’s been creating wire art for 15 years and is really happy that people like what he’s doing. He’s been in shows at Aurum Studios, Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, HOFP Gallery in Columbia, S.C., the Michael Carlos Museum at Emory University, and several galleries in Atlanta and elsewhere. He’s also just sold a piece to Athens Academy to be installed in a new building.
Tricia Ruppersburg, of Aurum Studios, admires the magnetism of his work.
“When Noah’s pieces are in our front window, they really draw people into the store to look at them more closely,” she said.
In recent times, Saunders has been expanding his oeuvre and has begun to make jewelry in brass and ceramic pots. His handmade pottery is distinctive in more than one way; not only do they have copper bands and bases, but they also come with “Imaginative Geography.” On his website, Ancient Ephemera, he constructs a whole “ancient” universe about each piece and its “dig site,” which is both academic and playful. He also enjoys the open-based community reaction to his pottery and its fanciful mythology.
“The interpretation of the work comes from the viewer,” he said.
Saunders, who grew up in Atlanta, moved to Athens 11 years ago and has high praise for his adopted hometown.
“It’s cheap to live here, accessible, easy to meet people and do creative ventures with other artists,” he said. “I make art full time these days and am free to play and create the world I want. Life is abundant in Athens.”