Metal sculptor Elisha Gold’s year didn’t start off well.
“l almost cut my nose off,” says Gold, 38. “Heavy metal fell on my face.”
He was rearranging his studio. “I heard a noise and looked up. It hit me and cut my nose almost all the way off.”
Gold drove by himself to the doctor, where he got 40 stitches. “All my friends say, ‘You can’t even notice it.’ Now I look like a big scary Viking.”
That happened in mid-January. Not long after that, the pandemic hit. People stopped buying art for their private collections, Gold says. “No one knows how long this will last. No one knows, really, when everything will get back to normal. What hurts art mostly is not knowing what will happen in the future.”
He remembered the Memphis art scene in 2009. “All the commercial galleries except two closed down because no one was spending money on art work. They’d say, ‘Now is not the time. I love your work, but now is not the time.’ We had over seven commercial galleries. All closed down except two. It was mostly the stock market and the housing fell.”
But Gold is doing OK. “At the time moment I’ve been blessed with just being able to focus on public sculptures for the past two years.”
And, he says, “I feel more inclined to invest in that line of work. I love making big public gallery pieces, but living through the crisis of 2009 and being an artist then, I feel that no one bought gallery pieces for two years. So, doing work that is commissioned-based, public-based, big-scale work, is where I’m at.”
Gold’s work can be seen around Memphis. “Beacon,” which stands across the street from Crosstown Concourse, is a piece he created. He built it with Colin Kidder. “It’s a 10-foot round orb similar to a disco ball created out of 51 repurposed bicycle wheels that are thinned to all turn into windmills. They all shimmer and spin in the wind.”
Gold currently is working on a large sculpture for the Cotton District in Starkville, Mississippi. “I’m doing my largest figurative work ever. It’s a 10-foot-high man inspired by Auguste Rodin, the French sculpture. A really super famous piece, ‘The Walking Man.’ I’m doing him but I’m making it out of nothing but rebar.”
Rebar is “a type of wrought iron, but it doesn’t rust away like steel.”
Rodin’s piece originally was a public commission, Gold says. It was a “traditional figure of a man with his hand out,” but later in his career, Rodin transformed the plaster form he used to make the original statue into an abstract piece. He “smashed it up and put it back together and re-did it. One of the legs is longer. He broke it up, so there’s a very abstract destructive element to it.
“I used to not be so classically inspired by figurative work ‘cause I was young and I had bias. In the last years, I’m trying to move past my own personal bias and look at things anew a little bit. Try to see things more historically and have more reverence for them. I’ve gotten to love Rodin a little bit more ‘cause I think I understand more what he’s trying to do. He was doing straightforward commission work. And later in his career it was about the figure itself and not who the figure represented.”
Gold also is a “huge fan of the Bauhaus - using industrial materials in high levels of art. Regular industrial materials to create fine art with higher levels of design.”
His sculpture will feature the torso, legs, and feet, but no arms and head. “The base weights almost 600 pounds.”
Gold wanted a heavy base since the statue is going to be near Mississippi State. “It’s in a college town. People might try to mess with it. It’s a big, indestructible base.”
The feet will “bolt down into that plate.”
He previously did a self-portrait sculpture, which was inspired by Rodin. The seven-foot-piece was in the sculpture garden for three years at University of Memphis.
Gold also has been working on small projects during the quarantine. “There are plentiful small jobs. No one is working, so they’re working on their houses or projects. People have called me since they’re putting money into their home or automobile. That work is there.
“I do a lot of work for nice people, so I have made a couple of fire pits. I made a big fire pit for Dixon’s ‘Art on Fire’ two years ago.”
He built a fire pit cover for a friend. “I just did the steel work. She wanted me to do a nice metal cover. Industrial enough to stand on. So they could use it like a dining room table.”
She wanted to get her patio ready so “when the quarantine is over she can be ready to entertain.”
Gold also has been doing large-scale side jobs, including a four-by-eight-foot gate he made for a house. “It’s got an immense amount of 12-inch rings that are arranged in an intricate overlapping pattern. The homeowner wanted the gate to be very open and inviting, so people could see how pretty the house was.”
When he’s not working on side projects or his seven-foot-man with no head, Gold is working on his nose. He’s been applying scar cream. And he’s been looking in the mirror. “I basically stayed home in bed for two weeks very upset about my pretty face, not looking at myself. And then I kind of like toughed it up.
“Some people think I look more masculine and fierce. Which is not something I always wanted to go for. ‘You look tougher now.’ I wasn’t trying to look tougher.”