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Isaac Duncan has undertaken the daunting and relevant task of renovating “Hands of God”, an early monumental sculpture by internationally acclaimed Mexican artist Victor Manuel Contreras. “Las Manos de Dios” had been situated near the Fine Arts Building at UTC, but this sculpture fell, impacting against concrete, resulting in significant damage to one of its sides.
The restoration project is being directed by Janet Spraker, head of UTC facilities, with the assistance of engineers, in order to assure a permanent placement that honors this magnificent and innovative work. Duncan will advise on this placement, and will remove the dents and restore the finish.
One of the hallmarks of Contreras’s work involves the wide variety of surfaces he imparts to his sculptures; sometimes he dynamically pairs smooth finishes with a rougher texture. With respect to “Hands of God”, bronze is combined with German silver into an intricate surface that may suggest scales, but more approximates an overlay of “dots” to produce a finish with a roughened three-dimensional texture that is actually composed of smooth elements.
For perspective, consider that “Hands of God” stands approximately 20 feet high, with dual, identical faces—a stereometic piece—with every square inch covered by the intricate welds that form its unique finish.
Isaac Duncan III stands among Chattanooga’s foremost sculptors. He is president of the Mid-South Sculpture Alliance, and he sits on Chattanooga’s Public Art Committee. Duncan is also on the board for the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, likely the most exciting art development currently going on in the city.
Artists often possess a special perspective with respect to other artists’ works. They have in common both conceptual acuity and skills. The recognition of forms and the choices made to realize materials into artistic reality provide an artist with the ability to intimately approach an artistic work by someone else. This special skill is required to restore an artwork.
Relatively early on in his stunning career, Victor Manuel Contreras connected to Chattanooga. At age 33, his prize-winning work “El Bien y El Mal” (“Good and Evil”), was installed in the Hamilton County Courthouse. Two years later, “Hands of God” was forged for UTC. Contreras’s work has been highly awarded, including receiving the French “Legion of Honor.”
The artist has been recognized for both his painting and his sculptures. The significance of “Hands of God”, along with “Good and Evil” appears in the crystallization of Contreras’s sculptural vision. The complexity of both his concepts and executions shines.
Contreras’s work has been difficult to explain. In Paris, a Sorbonne University professor, Paul Jouveau du Breuil, brought out the term “surnaturaliam” to describe a “school of art that goes beyond abstractionism and surrealism.” In the semantics of aesthetics, such terms can be quite confusing, for all their intention of promoting clarity.
Contreras’s vision seeks to realize essences. Gazing deeply into land and sky, he works with the forms they have produced, natural forms with archetypal significance. He often applies a quality of abstraction to these forms by “abstracting” their geometric qualities.
In his “Hand of God” maquette (small version or model), he actually articulated hands, so fingers are shown, but in his monumental realization, these “hands” are abstracted to the geometrical purpose of “framing” the identical sides of this work. Now, like a coin, a simple plane will do to frame two sides, but instead, Contreras uses a kind of essence of hands, as Duncan explains it.
Abstraction also refers to ideas, and ideas relate to archetypal forms. The representation of archetypes is a kind of surrealism seen, for example, in tarot cards. Contreras’s vision, as exemplified in “Hands of God”, shows a cosmic view, and the two surfaces of curves and rises may be seen as abstractions of feminine forms and as abstractions of ancient fertility icons. Also, the entire sculpture shows elegant geometric integrity, a cosmic essence.
We may begin to appreciate this artist’s genius by recognizing that more that more than one kind of abstraction infuses the concept of his work. There is so much more to “Hands of God”. The formal concept of this work, complex as it is, is further combined with other abstractions, exemplified by the intricate texture covering the entire work. Possibly, we may view the “microscopic” quality of this texture as relating to the larger “macroscopic” concept of the work. This perspective verges on fractal geometry.
The great works of art reward deep contemplation with multiple insights. The spectacular elegance of Contreras’s works presents a wonderful vision of cosmic harmony. We look forward to its resurrection.