The Abstract Organics
of Jonas Stirner

by Julie Clay

In an ever-shrinking world quickly filling up with steel structures, former metal furniture maker Jonas Stirner has turned his talents toward creating art from the leftovers. He describes his work as abstract organic with the occasional geometric element. “You can take regular objects and put them in a new context. There’s more industrial waste that is useless in a mechanical sense but can be admired in an aesthetical sense,” he shares. “I scavenge items from various sources, mostly scrap metal yards, and I combine these pieces into multi-textural and multi-formed objects.” Some of his favorites are old boat chains and the rebar found in concrete foundations. “When buildings are destroyed, the rebar removed from the concrete makes incredible organic shapes,” he says, adding that he has even turned gears into flowers.

Lately, Stirner’s works seem to defy gravity. His kinetic sculptures involving movement and water include wind-driven pieces that rotate, one of which does so in two locations. Another, also as yet to be named, weighs a good 1,000 pounds. Because it is on a bearing, it looks weightless while rotating in the wind. A similar, much smaller creation called ‘Wind Gear’ reflects the same principle. Stirner describes his latest water sculpture as a somewhat industrial piece. Standing almost six feet high, it moves a large quantity of water out of a 12-inch diameter pipe, spilling into a three-foot diameter pipe.

“I relate to things that exist and don’t exist; that can be kind of dreamlike invented objects,” Stirner explains of his work. His open mind to interpretation of his art invites others to pinpoint the meaning of his various pieces. One that was made for the postponed ACT auction on Sanibel was entitled ‘Cicatrix’, a medical term for scar tissue. Stirner recalls how someone else interpreted its organic shape wrapped in twisted metal as a wounded heart that had healed.

The barrier islands themselves have had a defining impact on Stirner’s work. Currently living and working on artist Robert Rauschenberg’s Captiva compound, Stirner is soaking in the tropical wonder while doing prep work and making frames for Rauschenberg and Darryl Pottorf. “Nature inspires me,” he says. “The atmosphere is incredible here, what with the amazing variety of natural forms and growth. The sunsets, animals, wild birds, etc. are all inspiring me. It’s fascinating even watching the regrowth after the hurricane. I love being here on Captiva.”

Inspired both by nature and the industrial revolution, Stirner traces his artistic roots back to growing up in Maine and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where his father Karl is also a metal sculptor and former art professor at Tyler and Moore Colleges in Philadelphia. Locally famous, Karl continues to do shows in New York City and Boston. Stirner reflects, “My father warned me early on that it’s a difficult proposition to be an artist. He never suggested it. I think he’s very satisfied that I chose to be an artist. We can share thoughts about what we do. He’s worked with me before. I go up there and we collect metal together. He pretty much stands back and lets me work and then critiques it.”

Contrary to his family influences, Stirner didn’t take to sculpting initially. He did take art courses in high school and college, however. His interests then branched out to architecture, design and photography. He also lists short stints as a bartender and licensed real estate agent on his resume. It wasn’t until he began making modern steel furniture that others saw his work and suggested he sculpt instead. He remembers the specific turning point, “I was making these chairs and I made 10 barstools for a bar. My neighbor, who was tolerant of all the noise I was making, suggested that I make sculpture instead of lamps and chairs. I was open to the idea.” Ten years and tons of scrap metal later, Stirner is officially an artist with a body of work to show for it. “I have always enjoyed making things,” he says. “I have enjoyed completing the job and admiring the work.”

Looking ahead, Stirner plans on making large scale metal pieces as well as incorporating other materials in his sculptures, including bronze. “I wouldn’t limit it to metal. Fabric, glass, you never know,” he ruminates, hinting, “I did buy six computers that were all outdated. I foresee using those for automating some sculptures.”
Jonas Stirner’s current works can be viewed at Eckert Fine Art in Naples, who will also be hosting an evening with Stirner as he presents his sculptures Thursday, March 10 from 6-8pm. Call Eckert Fine Art at 261-1100 for more information. •

from the March-April 2005 issue

"I relate to things that
exist and don't exist;
that can be kind of
dreamlike invented objects."