Metaphors of Nature and Cultural Symbols at Play: The Monumental Public Sculptures of Christopher Weed

By: Jason Lahman for CODAworx

An enormous yellow door paused in a state of opening, rises thirty feet above a town square. Like an object from a surrealist’s dream or a classic fairy tale, as evening falls the door is slowly bathed in dramatic light that changes colors, amplifying its already magical and mysterious appearance. The simple geometrical shapes at play in this latest sculpture by artist Christopher Weed create an alchemical harmony: the looming, interlocking rectangles of the door and the surrounding door frame are anchored by a triangle at the base which in turn stands on a series of concentric circles filling up the center of the large central square.

Bienvenido Mild-steel and epoxy primer and durable polyurethane finish RGBA/LED Lighting. El Paso, TX. 2021

This use of scale and unexpected angles creates a delightful sense of illusionistic thrill for viewers, providing an immersive experience. “Scale alone jolts our perception into a completely new realm as our sense of existence drastically shifts, allowing a new relationship to the surrounding world,” says Weed.  “The sculpture’s personality is the key to forming an emotional connection with the viewer. Whether the artwork is a stylized re-creation of something recognizable, or a more symbolically abstracted representation, I strive to make art that has a pleasant familiarity that makes it relatable.” Titled Bienvenido,” the giant door speaks to something beyond the heated politics of national borders and identity. The piece reminds us that the nature of a “welcome” is an ancient, human response of connection between one individual or community to another. As with all symbols, a door ajar can conjure up a multitude of meanings, but meanings come after feelings. Weed wants the viewer to feel and connect first.

 “An open door is a symbol of possibility and of passage. It draws us in and invites us to imagine what lies beyond.”

Flores del Desierto” Stainless-steel and RGB/LED lighting and cast acrylic spheres.
Commission Museum and Cultural Affairs Department, City of El Paso, Texas. Airway Median Project, 2019.

As evening falls, eleven abstract metal flowers, 31 feet high, begin to glow. Slowly the light from each bloom begins to change color emanating like a magical perfume made visible. This grand interpretation of one of the area’s most famous native plants is part of a larger public art project to enhance the much-traveled corridor leading to the El Paso International Airport. Weed applied design and fabrication techniques used in the making of aircraft to portray the elegant angles and forms of sage blooming in the desert-scape. Each of the 11 flowers in the sequence is rotated in increments of 60 degrees, giving commuters along the corridor a sense that the sculptures are gently revolving.

Details of “Flores del Desierto”. 

Weed believes that scale and color draw the viewer closer to his art, especially in the case of pieces seen from a distance or from an automobile. “My work is about piquing curiosity and transporting the public to another realm, if only for a moment. To achieve this, the art can’t be lost in the surrounding landscape. Through scale, lighting, and color, the artwork pops, emerging from its surroundings, in a way that balances coherence with drama.”

“Origins” Stainless steel and RGB/LED Lighting and Acrylic spheres. Dimensions are 38’ high by 215’ wide by 105’ deep.  Lexington, Kentucky. 2016.

 Night view of “Origins”.

Like "Flores del Desierto," the illuminated elements of "Origins" create a series of beacons. These torch-like markers are anchored in the age-old tradition of the grand street lamps the one sees in old cities on pedestrian bridges, but they allude to other forms in the modern imagination: the rockets of space age, the elegant paths of electrons around atoms and the spiny elements of the Art Deco/skyscraper style. "I think it's important to have both a daytime and nighttime presence," says Weed. "This is easily achieved with technological advances and colorful translucent materials which illuminate brilliantly when the passing sun shines on them, and when illuminated by LEDs in the evening."

Jacks" Stainless steel and fiberglass with an epoxy primer and urethane finish, RGBA/LED lighting.
Parker, Colorado. 2017.

Weed’s use of well-known objects from American popular culture connects him to several of his early inspirations from Claes Oldenberg to Christo and Jean Claude. 

“I was fortunate as a youngster to be exposed to a lot of great contemporary art and artists.
As a teenager I got to spend time with Christo and Jean-Claude and their energy and enthusiasm had a big impact on my life. There were other instances which opened my eyes to the art world. I was in fourth grade in downtown Philadelphia across from Independence Hall when I came upon Oldenburg‘s giant sculpture “Clothespin”. I was absolutely amazed at the scale and how easily recognizable the sculpture was, you couldn’t help but be drawn to it.”

“Planting the Seeds”  Polished Stainless steel spheres with stainless steel tubing. Merriam, Kansas City. 2017

Weed’s connection to the history of Pop and Environmental Art is also seen in works that take the most basic and elegant components of nature and scale them up to totally amplify their impact. Made large, seeds, spores and synapses- the things from which so much of our world springs- become strangely magical, beautifully charming and strike the viewer with a note of awe. The Russian modernist Viktor Schlovsky said “Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived. To do this it presents its material in unexpected, even outlandish ways: the shock of the new.”

Spores, and Synapse, Powder coated steel and aluminum spheres. Colorado Springs and Ft. Collins CO.

Weed’s father was a professional carpenter and so he had access to a wide variety of tools and materials. “My dad always encouraged my explorations and my sometimes unorthodox experiments with the things in his workshop. As I got older, I began to see just how important all that early hands-on experience was. As I progressed in my career the skill sets that I had to master also got bigger. Luckily over the past decades I’ve been able to work with so many amazing artisans, skilled builders and seasoned construction crews from all over the United States and other countries. Those early years in my father’s workshop embedded me in a deep understanding of materials and how the most fantastic ideas have to be grounded in very real processes and technologies. I’m so fortunate to have amazing people to help me bring these things to life on a large-scale. At the end of the day there is nothing more satisfying then being with the work after an installation and getting to watch the responses of people to the work.” 

The artist at work on “Bienvenidos”.