CARVING HIS OWN PATH
We tend to use the phrase “set in stone” to mean that something’s unchangeable, concrete, and stagnant. IPFW senior sculpting major Joshua Pyburn proves that this isn’t always the case—in life and in art.
“There’s that pride in working hard, and working hard with stone,” Pyburn says. “It’s heavy and it’s dusty, but when you’re done with it there is a tremendous sense of self-satisfaction.”
BUILDING THE ARMATURE
Over the years, Pyburn has undergone as much formation as his pieces—he’s lived in at least eight different places and one of those was for his deployment. Pyburn was a diesel mechanic in the military and retains a love of cars—which he also considers an art form, particularly in the paint and bodywork.
“I was born in Nashville, Tennessee. My dad is a horse trainer, so we moved a lot in the South,” he explains. “I moved to California when I went into the military, and then went to Iraq for a year. Then I moved back to Tennessee, and then I moved to Fort Wayne in 2008.”
He attributes that last move to Fort Wayne as his main reason for starting at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW)—but he started as as a philosophy major.
“I acquired some basic classes, but then—when I realized that I actually wanted to just make art and go for it—I pretty much only had studio classes left to do. The good qualities I find with a smaller program is that your professors are aware of you—they are willing to talk to you and help you resolve issues as an artist, as a student, as a person, and help you navigate all of those,” Pyburn says. “In my first semester, the ceramics professor here—Nancy McCroskey—got to know me a little better, and I mentioned to her that I was interested in stone.
“I’d never carved stone or done anything artistically with it, but she mentioned a stonework symposium down in Ellettsville just outside of Bloomington. I didn’t have the money to go, so she referred me to the dean and student government to get money—and the dean was gracious enough to help me. I went down there for a week in 2013, slept in my car, and bought a bunch of chisels—and I met and learned from some really impressive, friendly people.”
Pyburn describes his experience at the symposium (and sleeping in his car) as humbling and decided that—if he really wanted to reach his goal—he would have to look past the trouble it took to get there.
TRUTH TO MATERIALS
Pyburn’s medium of choice is Indiana limestone, which is usually used in construction—Fort Wayne is home to several official buildings majorly constructed out of the native material. Other famous structures such as the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, and the Washington National Cathedral also have incorporated elements of Indiana limestone.
“I think of limestone, in a way, as a blue collar stone because of its multi-use,” Pyburn says. “Sometimes it’s just a wall. Sometimes it’s used as a relief carving, and I like that because I feel that way too about myself—like I’m just a hard-working, blue collar kind of guy who’s trying to make it work.”
Sculpting, for Pyburn, becomes a meditative experience—and he hopes that his finished pieces will have that same meditative effect on viewers.
“I realized that, when working with stone or working with any medium, I find a great value in that meditation—why not make pieces that people can meditate to, in a way? I make my pieces abstract enough to where they’re not obvious forms. One day you might see a face—and maybe another, you’d see a tree. But that perception is something that’s in them—that’s why I try to make my abstract work as vague as I can, but I’m also aware of what I’m possibly making the viewer see.”
What it really comes down to for Pyburn is what the viewer takes away from seeing his artwork. He often considers his work “completed” based on how someone reacts to it and the feeling it evokes.
“That’s what I’m really trying to do—I’m trying to create some kind of magical effect within them that I can’t experience. I want it to be their own experience.”
Not only is Pyburn a college student, United States veteran, and a talented, thoughtful artist—he’s a husband and father, too. Balancing the two most important sides of his life can be tricky, but Pyburn is doing his best to nurture his family life and his art equally.
“I have to go to some strange or funky places within myself to bring something out that’s worth looking at. Then the kids need food. Suddenly, I have to snap out of it,” Pyburn explains. “Moving out of that and going back into my work is difficult. I feel like being a good father and a good husband is very important. I also feel like expressing myself honestly through art is just as important. As time goes on, I’m getting better at it.”
Pyburn hopes that traditional art makes a return to the community and society at large—to him, it’s a missing link in the way we live now.
“3,000 years ago, the process was the same,” Pyburn says. “A Michelangelo sculpture or a Van Gogh painting has an effect on people—how were our brains any different then? How should it be any different that art has an effect on an engineering student or a math major? Once you make the work, it’s almost out of your control. I don’t know what will happen, but hopefully it does something—lights a candle within them or gives them a mental stepping stone to another place.”
PROGRAM SNAPSHOT: DEPARTMENT OF FINE ARTS
What shape does your art take? The Department of Fine Arts can help you hone your craft in modern studio spaces and connect your work with major regional galleries and organizations. We graduate painters, sculptors, printmakers, and more. Our program includes ceramics, painting, drawing, printmaking, metalsmithing, and sculpture. Learn more.