BROWNSVILLE — A loud noise emanated from the George Truan Sculpture Garden on recent afternoon on the UTB/TSC campus.
Not unlike a lawn mower, the sound means Gabriel Vega, a senior at the University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, is hard at work, creating sculptures from piles of plywood.
Vega’s work station is just outside the Rusteberg sculpture studio, where he works with a grinder and sands wood until figures fully emerge from the hefty blocks.
His recent work, Forward Movement, resulted from an attempt at sculpting with the time-consuming process of wood lamination, in which the artist uses glue and clamps to press together sheets of wood, such as plywood, into large blocks that are then sculpted. He said he was inspired to try the process after taking a trip with his advanced sculpture class in 2011 to Dallas for that year’s AURORA, a public art event with lights in the Dallas Arts District. While in Dallas, he viewed some of British sculptor Tony Cragg’s wood lamination artwork.
“I wanted to try it, but I didn’t want to copy his style,” Vega said during one of his breaks from shaping and grinding a sculpture. “So I started thinking of ways that I can add to it.”
He began researching different styles of art during history and landed on Egyptian hieroglyphs and the exaggerated knee-form in many of the images. He was also influenced by the elongated bodies of African sculptures, he said.
“I tried to put my own style into it,” Vega said. “The fact that it’s melting comes from a video game.”
The figure, which is composed of 30 layers of plywood sheets, took Vega almost a month to complete. Every time he added a layer, he waited for at least 45 minutes for glue to dry, he said. Then, with the sheets in place, the sculpting could begin.
Before exploring the art of sculpting with wood lamination, Vega experimented with a form of sculpture in which he would take pieces of furniture and place them through other pieces of furniture, he said.
“I had good success with it, but after a while I was bored with it,” the 27-year-old said.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Vega is drawn to wood when he creates sculpture. As a child, Vega helped his father, who was a carpenter, at work. Because of those experiences, he said, he’s comfortable with the tools needed to carve.
“I don’t think my dad understands the whole art thing,” Vega said. “But if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t know how to use the tools or I wouldn’t feel comfortable around the material.”
He and fellow students hosted an exhibition of their work Friday night at UTB/TSC, and Vega was satisfied with the results.
“My family was here. They finally got to see my work while it was displayed.” Vega said. “My dad really liked it. He got a little teary-eyed.”
Vega looks forward to continuing with his passion and hopes to make a career of sculpture.
He said he enjoys working with professor Angel Cabrales.
“I never would have gotten the idea,” Vega said. “It’s because of him that I saw Tony Cragg’s work, and I was inspired by that. I think he had a big influence with me.”
Melissa Montoya writes for The Brownsville Herald.