Artist captures housing woes in sculpture - East Valley Tribune: News

Artist captures housing woes in sculpture

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Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009 4:22 pm | Updated: 2:41 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A Mesa artist with international clout has a poignant, larger-than-life sculpture piece depicting two life-sized figures holding aloft a gilded, oblong house; the image raises the question of whether the figures will drop the home, or balance it among the crushing pressures of today's imploding market.

Erected in his mind's eye years before the housing crash of 2008, William Barnhart said Friday his vision might be a glimpse into the true value of homes:

"It's monstrously difficult to balance a home, in terms of family relationships, work commitments," the 50-year-old father said. "It's not just the structure of the house, it's not just the financing of the mortgage; if these things are lost you're still a family."

Barnhart said the symbolic value of the 23K gold leaf, obelisk-shaped house held high above the heads of the life-sized man and woman is secondary, but no less appropriate given the times.

"It certainly is applicable to many people in this housing market," he said of the untitled sculpture piece that first appeared on paper six years ago.

"I like to start out with ideas as sketches - and then I create a cast," he said.

Barnhart has lived for decades in Mesa's downtown, where he and his wife own a home just a stone's throw away from his studio, directly on the cusp of one of the communities hit hardest by the spike in foreclosures that plague the area.

The golden house towers over the two roughly hewn figures offering an intentional feeling of imbalance from the 19-foot-tall static statement, which includes a base as tall as an average man's height.

The imbalance is exhibited through the two figures.

"She's shorter, and so she has to tip-toe," Barnhart said, also pointing to how the male figure's arms were bent. "He's making concessions, as well."

The statue couple offer for each other a statement that Barnhart says has helped him in his own marriage, and in the juggling of a household: "Compromise."

"The house itself is not that heavy," he said, detailing the effort that went into erecting the frame out of piping, covering it with sheet metal, welding the pieces and applying the texture and precious-metal facade.

"I wanted it to shine like something precious," he said of his choice to use gold.

While Barnhart's many paintings and sculptures are commissioned beforehand by private buyers, and in some cases public and corporate entities, he said the untitled sculpture ironically has no home.

Priced at $75,000, the completed work takes up residence in his massive studio, which in itself is an ongoing work of art.

The father of three, who has been married for about 20 years, said he moved to the Valley to attend graduate school at Arizona State University after attending Brigham Young University and receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in drawing and painting.

The artist purchased the land where his studio sits about five years ago, and it has been opened for more than two years up from the dust of an empty lot on Center Street near the cross street of University Drive.

The Barnhart building was conceived, designed and built by his own hands.

"If I didn't know how to do something, I got a book from the library," he said, using his hands to illustrate his point out of force of habit. "I was always in the home improvement section."

The building features a large barn-shaped ceiling, a second-story loft and separate living quarter cleverly crafted inside of a Volkswagen van suspended on a catwalk about 18 feet in the air, as well as additional office and gallery spaces.

Barnhart's projects of note include a 4-foot-by-8-foot print in wood that was acquired by a Japanese museum, as well as a project in the East Valley designing and implementing the last stop on the Valley Metro line at Superstition Springs.

But perhaps his biggest testament to the ages, which he hopes will not only be viewed as a work of art, but also a doorway and a window to his creative soul, is the very building he creates his sculptures and painting inside.

Barnhart stood in front of that looming structure of art, his largest sculpture to date, in a sense, and pointed to a detail in the front: Piping and rebar fashioned like a fluid, makeshift fence, with river rocks stuffed inside to the top.

"For my birthday my kids spent the whole day working on it and gathering the river rocks," he said. "It's the best gift because I'll always remember it."

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