Briefly describe the work you do.
I am a hybrid artist and I combine elements of traditional sculpture with new media practices like robotics and digital fabrication to explore the resonances and dissonances between nature and technology. My most recent commission was for a solar powered robotic sculpture called After Trillium, which was modeled on the Iowa native Trillium flower. This solar powered robotic sculpture was made of cast aluminum and glass and the flower opens and closes and changes form in response to its environment. Much of my work has always been concerned with ecology in some way, and my recent sculptures continue to reflect this interest.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in rural North Central Florida and had lots of time outside to play and explore the natural world. I loved hunting, swimming in the natural springs and rivers, and especially camping. I also was always interested in technology, initially in the form of electronic games and r/c cars. I loved taking things apart and putting them back together. All of these interests have influenced me as an artist. My love for nature and technology has driven my concern for the natural world and my desire to make work that contributes to a positive future with a healthy environment. In addition, my father is a civil engineer and a skilled carpenter and he taught me how to make things early on. This ability to work with my hands is a huge part of my fluency as an artist.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Well, at least considering the last four years, any regularity in my studio practice has been challenged by the responsibilities of becoming a parent to two beautiful and amazing children. This has given me a new appreciation for my time in the studio, and I value that time so much. I come from a serious and committed academic background which was established early on as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. I was taught that a dedicated daily studio practice was essential to any success not just as an artist, but as a person and in everything we do. I am excited to have finally gotten back to a dedicated daily practice, and I look forward to the many new projects that will come. In regards to the studio practice being solitary, I do have those times when the work requires me to just be totally wrapped up and alone in the process. However, since my studio is at home and I work for myself I get to see my family often. Furthermore, many of my projects are completed on site and in different locations than my studio. So, sometimes I travel a lot and work in the field, which can be challenging to coordinate logistically with tools and materials. But as for traditional notions, I think that most people would be surprised at how diverse the skill set is that is employed to make the work. On any given day I might be welding and grinding aluminum or bronze, while other times I might be doing 3D drawings in the computer and then printing something three-dimensionally to make a mold and cast the final piece in bronze.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never imagined that I would be doing large scale community based educational projects like the work that I did in Michigan for the Art and Sol Festival. In this project I developed a series of workshops to teach kids how about solar power and art. I was essentially creating curriculum for public school kids in Michigan about one of the most exciting topics I can imagine.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I love to work early in the morning. Getting started at sunrise is ideal for me and helps me to be inspired and focused in whatever I need to do. I work full-time as an artist, so mainly Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm I’m in the studio.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Over the past five years I have explored many new venues and found many new collaborators for my work. While teaching as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Iowa, I made lots of contacts in the College of Engineering who were eager to collaborate. As a result, I now have multiple projects in the works related to data visualization from water quality or air quality sensors. This is an extension of what I was already doing with projects like Heliotropis, but working with renowned professionals allows a much more refined and scientific conclusion or result. My interest in ecology and the natural world as well as my interest in technology and robotics is an aspect of my work that always been there. Over the past five years I have continued to evolve my kinetic works like the robotic flowers and I have refined many aspects of this work from technical function to aesthetic refinement. Community based projects are a recent area of interest for me and projects like the Superfund Art Project, Ingenuity Festival, and the Art and Sol Festival have given me a new sense of public involvement in my work. Though each of these experiences are different they all involve an open sense of collaboration, and the work is experienced by a diverse public audience which I also interact with.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I have been influenced by so many people, it is hard to pick less than a handful but I would have to start with Edgar Cayce and Nicola Tesla. Edgar Cayce was a well know visionary and medium who could communicate with other realms in order to heal physical ailments. I believe I read about Cayce first when I was about 19 or 20 which was about the same time that I began seriously making sculpture. Since I didn’t know Cayce myself I can’t say for sure if he really had the powers that are claimed but I love the idea that this is even possible. So Edgar Cayce gave me a sense that magic was possible and I have always thought of my work as an artist as tapping into a similar potential. Likewise, Nicola Tesla was an engineer and inventor who challenged the conventional knowledge base and created his own system of knowledge about electricity and physics. I love the image of Tesla as this humble wizard who dedicated his life to deepening our understanding of electricity for the good of all people. I have also had many amazing teachers and Celeste Roberge was one of my first teachers and one who had an huge impact on my practice as an artist. Celeste taught me what a dedicated studio practice looked like and encouraged a diverse and multi-disciplinary research practice as a creative driver in the work. She was the first person to show me that art and science were symbiotic.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Engineering is obviously something I’m interested in and I would be excited to explore robotics in this field possibly even biomedical engineering using robotics in some way. The field of robotics is still very young and we are really at an exciting point with many new materials and processes drastically expanding our potential here. I would love to have access to cutting edge materials and tools to create innovative solutions to some of the many complex challenges we face.
Anthony Castronovo is an American artist who’s works blur the line between sculpture, ecology, engineering, and robotics. Born in Gainesville, FL, he received his B.F.A. in Sculpture from the University of Florida in 2003, and his M.F.A. in Art and Technology from The Ohio State University in 2006. Through his diverse interests he has explored the potential for public art to actively engage participants and create dialogue about the environment. He has taught various art courses from sculpture to performance art, robotics, and art & engineering collaborations. After Trillium is his latest outdoor commission and is a large solar powered robotic flower that changes its form based on environmental conditions. In addition to his sculptures he is a founding member of the Superfund Art Project and Technergeia.org. Anthony lives in Gainesville, Florida with his amazing wife Katy, daughter Raya, and son Leo.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.