Evolving Sculpture Through Collaboration with American Fine Arts Foundry
Visualizing new ideas and solutions outside the scope of individual capacity is a necessary aptitude to solve the problems of our time. More than a corporate buzzword, “collaboration” is an increasingly common value for any company or individual artist. Combine that focus with expert project management and over forty years of production, and you have American Fine Arts Foundry of Burbank, CA. Balancing creative flexibility, communication, and dependability, AFA delivers world-class sculptural solutions and exceptional support to creatives who depend on the foundry. Beyond metalwork, is a partner which represents and expands the artist’s palate by being involved from the beginning to the end of the artistic process.
AFA was founded more than 40 years ago. In 2002 the company acquired Image Fine Art Foundry. The two bronze art foundries had different heritages: AFA focused on limited-run esoteric and creative ideas, one-offs, or fine gallery work while Image focused on high-end editions of up to several hundred. In 2008, the foundries combined under one roof at the Burbank location, under the leadership of current owner and project manager, titled “Chief Collaborator” Brett Barney. The merged studios tackle complexity with nuance, pairing their expertise with the discipline of repeatability. From their roots in lost-wax casting, their offering has expanded to include stainless steel, aluminum and sterling silver. They work with any number of mixed integration materials such as plexi, glass, wood, concrete, plastic, and ceramic, managing projects with anywhere from 20-100 artists at a given time, and can employ as many as 40 members on staff, in-house.
From monument to public garden, craft and collaboration go hand-in-hand. Working closely between the artist, project owner, and poured-concrete providers, AFA facilitated the creation of eighteen custom sculptures for the Children’s Garden at Longwood (2006). Playful, stylized bronze birds are carefully integrated with cast concrete in a series of fountains. A living storybook unfolds through gesture, movement, and tactile materials, a complicated mixed integration that required 150 bronze elements in total. AFA is at times heavily involved in the budgeting, logistics, and planning stages of any project, such as with the deceptively floating “IMAGINE” cubes for artist Bill Mack, which required a specially-designed invisible armature to be installed to evoke motion and play. Each piece weighed 900 pounds, and was installed under a mirrored ceiling with just 6 inches of clearance, a delicate procedure.
You can see the immaculate texture and high-art quality of AFA sculpture in collaboration with sculptor Antony Micallef as seen at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2014). On a tomb-like pedestal we see two youthful angels in a fist fight. A child in a dress explodes into a head made of rifles, reflecting light like a star or explosion. A steel boy sits cross-legged like a Buddah on an ornate pedestal… rather than meditating, tied to his Game Boy. A futuristic, other-worldly shine wraps each figure like a mylar blanket in a disaster. To accomplish these kinds of poetic achievements in sculpture requires a high level of teamwork.
Chief Collaborator Barney says, “We want to be able to crawl into the artist’s head, be able to envision what they do. Artists might come to us with a sketch of an idea. They may not know everything about the process, such as how materials might work together without diminishing appearance or structural integrity over time. We help the artist work with a tool kit they might not know the depth and richness of. We’re seeing the question of “what is an artist?” evolve. Someone can be established in one discipline but have an idea for another. Increasingly designers, architects, and engineers are receiving large art commissions, looking at things from a different angle, and they need a partner capable of helping them pull the concept together.
With their proximity to Hollywood and the LA art scene, AFA has “gotten involved in a lot of strange things,” says Barney jokingly. The list of major brands AFA has worked for is long, and includes Blizzard, Disney, Sony Pictures, and Warner Brothers. You might have seen their “Breaking Bad” figures at the Albuquerque Convention Center, or the giant Batman and Wonder Woman in the city of Burbank. The company has also collaborated with the Screen Actors Guild for 30 years. “We identified the right sculptor for the project, facilitated a foundry friendly design, and worked to meet the budgetary requirements for the award known as the Actor.” Barney states.
On larger-scale projects, AFA acts as primary contractor in charge of communication, management, and collaboration with multiple artists and vendors. New skills and specialized needs are sourced within the diverse network of makers that serve the nearby industries. From high-end sculpture painters, to specialists in fountains or glass work, AFA projects unite a diverse ecosystem to meet a common goal.
“When it comes down to it,” Barney says, “artists have to find a team they enjoy working with. It’s not commodity work. There’s a lot of disciplines, services, and details, so you have to find a partner that’s really willing to consider the immensity and scope of the project, subtle things that have to happen in the right order to get the right results. We can only deliver our best work if the entire experience is positive for all involved. We want our pride of workmanship and our heart and soul to come across in what we are creating. We want artists to walk out excited that we delivered their vision.”
Fearless and extraordinarily experienced, American Fine Arts Foundry brings projects and visions together with clients in ways those very clients might not even expect. Sought out as one of the best foundries in operation, those who choose to work with AFA are guided by expert makers who strive for the best outcomes, take on artistic responsibilities, and truly care about the end result. AFA Foundry turns visions into forms in the physical world for creators who value and trust in the collaborative process.