Zachary Coffin | B&W: 1997
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B&W: 1997

B&W: 1997

Man Of Steel

Sculptor Zachary Coffin

black & white

March 1997

page 42

By Alison Nichols

When Zachary Coffin begins talking about his work, he runs the gamut of description from Eastern religions, to the plight of the working class, to the properties of metals and the dynamics of movement against inert forces. “Really what I wanted to do,” he says stopping abruptly in mid-thought, “was to take a huge rock, shove a giant bolt through it and hang it from something.” Finally, the artist speaks.

Coffin works out of shed at Wade Sand and Gravel Company, and spends part of his day selecting boulders from the quarry as well as collecting other materials to use in his huge, industrial sculptures. The scale of the sculptures alone is startling, but combined with the weight of the materials, you have to wonder how someone actually works with a boulder of limestone or a slab of steel, much less makes it appear to be light. Yet all of Coffin’s sculptures are playful and interactive. One structure, made of two large rocks connected to a metal rod, was inspired by a Tibetan Prayer Wheel. A gentle push and the rock wheel turns.

Defying gravity is at the heart of several sculptures in which rocks of varying sizes hang from arched metal bases. With just a flick of the hand, Coffin makes the rock bounce wildly. “I’ve lived in industrial wastelands all over the place,” Coffin explains, “trying to understand friction and weight.”

Because Coffin is a student of mechanics and structure, his work is highly engineered. But he credits working directly with the materials with giving him the spontaneity to create work that will transform the viewer into an active participant. This is done by attaching weighted pivots, bells with pull cords, anything that will draw the viewer to the sculpture.

Coffin has been building large- scale sculpture for five years. A native of Atlanta, Coffin attended the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City. Ha has installed work in five shows throughout the New York area, and has shown three large works in Atlanta during the Olympics. Currently he is working on pieces that will be installed for his March 16 show in the sculpture garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art. One standout piece (although still in progress at print time) is Antelumpen, a play on the word antelope and more of Coffin’s deeper meanings that one is encouraged to explore or not. The sculpture is comprised of three steel poles welded to a limestone boulder. A steel head is attached to the top of each pole, suddenly transforming the piece into a heard of antelope. Pullcords located at the base of the sculpture allow the viewer to make the heads move. “I want my work to have a sense of humor,” Coffin offers almost unnecessarily. Two other pieces that will be in the show are Finnibar and Bouncing Bench.

Zachary Coffin will show his large-scale interactive works in the sculpture garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art, March 16 through the Fall of 1997. The artist will also give a slide lecture titled, Adventures in the Industrial Jungle at the museum, March 23 at 3 p.m., in the Steiner Auditorium. After the lecture, a reception for the artist will be held in the sculpture garden.

Coffin’s kinetic sculptures and works on paper will also be on show for one-night only, March 21, at the Omni Foods Warehouse, 2309 1st Avenue, North, 5:30-9:30 p.m. For more information about this show, call 879-8731.