“A new day for sculpture”: a quantum artist reflects on his career

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By the time Julian Voss-Andreae ’04 arrived in Portland, he was 29, spoke some English – but not fluently – and was soon to be a father.

He had just immigrated from Germany. His training was rooted in physics, but as he sought to pursue his lifelong interest in art, he did not fall completely into either discipline. He had no idea what he wanted to do.

But his first-year design class at the Pacific Northwest College of Art nudged him towards the quantum sculptures that have since become his signature: large-scale human figures in stainless steel that can weigh thousands of pounds but simultaneously vanish into thin air. tunes, works that have become public landmarks in 30 locations and delight viewers everywhere, from Taiwan to the Azores and Minnesota to Miami.

Connecting the worlds of art, technology and science has broadened its reach. Also an academic and writer, Voss-Andreae garnered the interest of dozens of art magazines, scholarly articles, and science and technology books throughout his career.

Even so, he said he only became truly sought after about three years ago. A Reddit post about his sculpture, “A Disappearing Act,” went viral and led to an Insider feature from 2018 that garnered millions of views.

“I was a complete underdog,” he said. “But I created my own niche and was able to make a name for myself in an unusual way.”

Early and critical acclaim

Voss-Andreae didn’t fully appreciate the value of uniting his interests in science and art until his first 3D design assignment, when he saw another student cut a 10-foot piece of wood and turn it into a tight little ball.

It was an epiphany: Voss-Andreae was struck by its similarity to the behavior of protein chains as they twist into three-dimensional configurations, so he wrote software that could turn protein structural data into cutting instructions that would allow him to build sculptures. of proteins.

“I love working with my hands and I was really intrigued,” he said. “With the technology available now, like 3D printing and scanning, I realized it was a new day for sculpting.”

Among his early works is a red alpha helix sculpture dedicated to Linus Pauling, the famous Portland chemist and two-time Nobel laureate. Realizing that Pauling’s connection to Portland and his discovery of the spiral protein structure was so exciting for Voss-Andreae, he contacted the owners of Pauling’s childhood home on Hawthorne Boulevard and offered the sculpture.

“All I wanted to do was do this piece,” he said. “They paid for the materials, mainly the steel and the powder coating. I donated my work. It was 10 feet tall and it was part of my thesis project.

By the time Voss-Andreae graduated, her work had appeared in several locations in the Portland area, Washington State, and even at Art Basel in Miami. He began working full-time in his garage-turned-workshop, grinding new sculptures for an increasing number of exhibitions with a welder his wife bought for her birthday.

Eventually, his plans went beyond space. One work, a three-strand steel cord structure based on the protein collagen, was so tall that he had to hang it from the top of a street pole to work on it. Eight hours of welding and grinding every day drove his neighbors crazy, so he rented a cheap studio nearby, he said.

Achieving success – and thick skin

Demand for Voss-Andreae’s work began to grow, but he had to force himself to keep reaching out. Shy and terrible at networking, he struggled with the marketing side of the art — the competition is so high and it’s so hard to get your foot in the door, he said.

“You must be so thick-skinned,” he said. “What I’ve learned after a few years of heartbreak is that the only trick is to keep applying yourself to new things. Be in the future — where do you want to go with art? You can’t not go back on the opportunities you didn’t have. It will devastate you.

His first major breakthrough came in 2006. A sculpture of sliced ​​stainless steel he created for a gallery in Sun Valley, Idaho, led to “Quantum Man,” an 8-foot-tall walking man made up of over 100 vertical steel sheets, and similar works he continues to create today. Now he has help – a team of seven employees grinds, sands and shapes the steel sheets for him in his 6,000 square foot Sellwood studio while he handles the designs and paperwork.

Serious stress dogged him throughout his career, from lack of confidence in his math skills to questioning whether his sculpting abilities were strong enough, but he kept pushing and pushing, and he didn’t. never compromised his determination to work full-time as an artist. At 51, he does not know what his next steps will be. He developed interests “beyond sculpture and art, in what you might call spirituality”, he said.

Until then, the projects follow one another: an order for a Moscow museum, two gallery sculptures and outstanding orders that can finally move forward – as well as an interest in public works. Last year, when the world was in lockdown, it had its best financial year ever.

“It can be such a mixed bag,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful.”

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