Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ingenious Sculptures of Paul Eppling

Paul Eppling is a St. Petersburg sculptor, well known in Florida for his metallic animals, usually made from auto parts. I've started this posting with one of his most dramatic pieces, the giant "Security Lizard" that sits atop St. Petersburg's police car garage.

To give you a sense of scale, that yellow rectangle is an auto license plate. One clever aspect of this sculpture is that the fly at the end of the lizard's tongue is actually a security light that illuminates the outside of the garage at night.

Photo by Sandy Klim, for AAA Going Places magazine
Paul Eppling was working in a metal shop in the 1970s when he first had the idea to fabricate an animal from metal parts and scraps. Since then he's welded hundreds of animals, big and small.

My friend Marg Radens was kind enough to host me on a tour of St. Petersburg's Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, where there are a number of Eppling creatures. Car bumpers are the perfect armor for this giant armadillo.

Here's a view of Marg to show you the scale. The armadillo's skin is comprised of thousands of sheet metal cut-outs. The armadillo's face looks rather fierce, but the live armadillo will curl into a ball when approached — I've watched it happen.

Elsewhere in the preserve is a smaller armadillo, accompanied by a sign not to climb him (I guess it's pretty tempting). Notice those wonderful ears! Some of Eppling's favorite scraps are from older farm implements because their parts have such graceful curves.

What do you suppose this fellow is? Perhaps a sloth, perhaps pure fiction. Again, the skin is made of many overlapping sheet metal cut-outs.

Two views of a tree creature, side and front

click to enlarge
A cormorant sits atop a shiny heron.

I'll end the Eppling tour by taking you to the beach community of Pass-a-Grille, where these two giant flies hang out on the side of an old building. Paul Eppling has incorporated blown glass into his more recent work, and this is a fine example.

Here I've rotated the photo to give you a view of the fly's body. The store owner named the alley in Paul Eppling's honor:

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20 comments:

  1. Dear Mark, What fantastic art! What animation in every single piece! Paul Eppling is a true Artist, so original. What a talent and what imagination.
    Thank you Mark for introducing this wonderful artist and his considerable talent to us.

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    1. Dear Gina, I'm glad you enjoyed Paul's sculptures. Unlike the two armadillos, some of his pieces at the preserve are rather hidden, and it's a delightful surprise to come upon them.

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  2. Hello Mark, How I would love to visit that nature preserve. Eppling adds just the right touch of whimsy and humor, qualities that would have been easy to exaggerate.

    The armadillo reminds me of a drawing by Durer. Is that a giant spring that forms its body? I wonder what it was from. Incidentally, that is a great portrait of Ms. Radens.

    I can only imagine that work that goes into these pieces, but in the end we are impressed with Paul Eppling's vision and message.

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    1. Hello, Jim,

      I think you would indeed enjoy the preserve. The day I was photographing there, Marg and I saw a giant old tortoise, and I was introduced to a wild species of orchids, growing like weeds.

      The body of the large armadillo is a huge spring, but I don't know its origin. As I said in the post, Paul favors old farm equipment, and maybe that's a clue.

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  3. Hi, Mark - Really fantastic, unusual and impressive! Though metal and glass, the textures are so lifelike. And the sculptures are so dynamic!

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    1. Hi, Loi - I didn't feature them, but as you can see from the photo of Paul Eppling, he does smaller pieces as well, and they have a lot of charm.

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  4. Dear Mark - What a dynamic, powerful, and exciting sculptor Paul Eppling is.
    The security light on the lizards tongue would be enough to deter anyone who should not be lingering around the police car garage.
    What I particularly like is the fact that he has made bold statement pieces of art out of scrap metal - recycling at its best.
    My favourite piece has to be be the flies with their wonderful blue glass bodies. I also enjoy the way he has signed the wall in metal.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - The metal and glass flies that you like so much were commissioned by the man who owns that building, Evander Preston. Evander is a fine jeweler who also likes to cook, and his clients are often treated to meals in a dining room where condiments arrive by a miniature train, or so I've been told.

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  5. FABULOUS, Mark! I especially love the two flies on the side of the building. Paul Eppling's work is brilliant and ingenious, I don't think I've ever seen it before. I love this sort of thing. I like the whole idea of walking around the corner of a building and suddenly coming upon a creature or two. :)

    Love that armadillo, too! I'm especially liking the idea of using discarded bits and pieces of machinery, found objects, etc. Great post, Mark...as usual.

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    1. Hi, Yvette, and thanks! Your comment reminded me of the first time I saw those flies, and of the double-take I did! And of course the same thing happens with that giant lizard of the first photo. Thousands of people see it because the police garage is located next to Interstate Highway 275 that goes from Tampa to St. Petersburg and south.

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  6. Dear Mark,
    What an interesting post. It reminded me a little of your post of Alex Klahm and his sculptures in the shopping centre which is in the same city.

    Ingenious is the very word to describe this artist!

    I like the heron. At first I thought it was real!

    Kirk

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    1. Dear Kirk,

      Both artists interpret local animals, which is always fun. There are a number of tortoises at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, and I would be interested to see what scrap materials Eppling would use to create one of those!

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  7. Dear Mark,
    Wow! I so enjoyed seeing this work-- so much fun and so technically/aesthetically superb! My sons caught a glimpse of Paul Eppling's work over my shoulder, and have ammended their Christmas lists to include his giant creatures for the roof of our home... Perhaps not the wisest choice given our neighbors, but an intriguing one nonetheless! It's funny, being near Detroit, I've seen a lot of car-part sculpture, but never anything of this quality. I think in Eppling's case, the material has receeded behind his amazing imagination and skilled hands, as it should... Brilliant! Thank you for introducing him.
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika,

      I have actually seen some of the metalic sculptures in Detroit that you've mentioned — I know there is a large art center there that was (as I recall) utilizing an abandoned building. I love it when art communities spring up like that! Now that I think a little more about it, how could Detroit have possibly avoided automotive sculpture!?

      Best wishes,
      Mark

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  8. Whilst I've seen many sculptures formed from scrap metal, none measure up to the obvious artistic talent that Paul Eppling clearly has in abundance. Some of the creatures are so lifelike that if you were visiting at dusk, and were unaware of where you were, you could easily be scared witless!

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    1. Dear Columnist - Actually, my friend Marg directed my attention to the creature sitting in the tree, which I had missed, and I did do quite a double-take.

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  9. Does he ever sell his pieces? The dragon that was posted on Facebook is wonderful. Our high schools mascot in St. Albans, WV is a red dragon. This would be phenomenal sitting in front of the high school.

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    1. Dear Abbie and Tom,

      Paul Eppling appeared in many arts and crafts shows and did indeed sell his pieces. Unfortunately, he is in very poor health and essentially out of commission.

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