Mike Roig, Sculpture
Pratt School of Engineering
When Mitchell Vann asked me to come view the new Pratt School of Engineering building
with an eye to creating a signature sculpture to grace the adjoining plaza, the visual qualities
that stayed with me and informed my thinking were the layered patterns of multicolored brick,
gridded steel, and the play of each reflected in the windows of the adjoining buildings.
I wanted to create a pattern of moving shapes that both reflected and contrasted with those prevailing
textures. After an afternoon of playing with paper and scissors I found a shape that pleased me by
echoing all the rectagularity of the building elements, while also starting to introduce a contrasting
These shapes are created from a square with a wedge removed from one corner, and then pulling
that gap closed. It's interesting how that simple transformation takes a static square and transforms it into
a dynamic, much more organic form. It also, of course, provides the basic aerodynamic contouring that will
ultimately propel the kinetics of the sculpture.
I've long been wanting to create a visually layered play of kinetic elements in a way
I hadn't in the past. So while Mitchell suggested I may get by with sketching my ideas for an initial
proposal, I knew I needed work out in three dimensions the basic mechanics of what I was seeing in
my mind's eye. Thus the model sculpture pictured at the top of the page and in the video below.
Three independently turning armatures, each moving in counter-rotation to its neighbor, and all turning on a
common central axle create the desired visuals. The end result is hynotic.
I offered this model to be viewed as my sketch, and the opening gambit for conversation about further
refinement. Indeed, I already saw some ways I might like to alter the design in its next iteration - mainly
by taking some of the rigid geometry out of the supporting armatures. Fortunately the feedback I got
fell in line with that inclination. With the basic kinetic action of the sculpture now well represented, I felt I could
now suggest the refinements I would propose in a two-dimensional rendering.
There were three basic elements to the conversation that developed from the model. The first was a request to think about
creating an up-sweep to the support arms of the kinetic topper. The suggestion was made that this upward trajectory might
help convey a symbolic trajectory of thought and purpose that was being fostered at the school. I liked the idea, and indeed it
was there in my rudimentary sketchings as I first thought about this concept. It also reminded me of a thought
process that went into a sculpture I made for Georgia College called "Spreading Her Wings." There a similar upsweep
to the form lent a symbolic aura of launching into a bright future with abandon.
The second suggestion was whether the base might taper upwards rather than the downward tapering of the 3-D model.
Again, here, the thought may have been to enhance the feeling of upward trajectory, but it would also suggest a relationship
to another landmark of the Duke campus, the Duke Chapel spires.
When I looked at them on line I was drawn to the secondary spires, with the repetive embelishments that
segmented the spires in their climb. I decided to echo that in the sculpture's base by segmenting the form with
an insetting groove. This would also allow me to address the third suggestion in an interesting way, that of having a
contrasting color in the materials in the base.
Stainless steel turns colors when you heat-treat it, starting at about 600 degrees fahrenheit. Below you will see
several small pieces with this patina. You can see the variation each piece displays, and my intention is to
create a separate panel for each facet of the base and attach them to the surface with rivets. I Photoshopped
segments of these tiles onto the rendered sculpture's base to illustrate how this might look. This will again
create an interesting echo of the variation of the surrounding brick and stonework while retaining the reflective
luster of the stainless steel.
That luster can add quite a dramatic element to the nighttime drama of a well-lit sculpture, as you can see in the
above "Spreading Her Wings" picture. That drama is furthered by the reflected light thrown on the surrounding
architecture, reflections that move and dance when the kinetic elements are in motion.
Finally, I'd like to address the more extensive conversations Mitchell and I have had about the symbolic elements
of the sculpture. These have ranged form those already mentioned, to a delight taken in the multiple hues of the
heat treated panels because they might make subtle reference to the diversity in the student body. From my writing
about what inspired me at each step of the design process it will be obvious that I respond first and foremost to
the visuals of the setting, and the properties the materials themselves can create. But from my earliest days as
an artist I have always had great respect for the space art creates for creative interpretation.
Indeed, I believe it is one of the great callings of art, and especially more abstracted kinds of art, to draw from the
viewer an engagement of their own creativity. Whether this be to read meaning into the arrangement of elements, or
to inspire a tangential flight of imagination, or simply to engender a moment of wonder--one where the mind is momentarily
stunned into the quiet of pure presense.
It is my hope to create a sculpture that can elicit all these kinds of responses.
- Mike Roig, 3/5/2020
©2020 Mike Roig, All Rights Reserved